Chapter Four – Getting Out of an Abusive Relationship
Barriers to Leaving a Violent Relationship
There are many barriers to leaving a violent relationship. The abused person may have limited resources as they are not permitted to work or may not make enough money to support themselves and children. There are victims who continue to believe that the abuser will change. Others have moral or religious opposition to divorce which keeps them in an abusive relationship. Some of the specific reasons that victims have given who have remained in an abusive relationship include:
Lack of Resources
- Most women have at least one dependent child
- Many women are not employed outside of the home.
- Many women have no property that is solely their
- Some women lack access to cash or bank accounts.
- Women fear being charged with desertion and losing children or joint assets.
- A woman may face a decline in living standards for herself and her children.
- Some clergy and secular counselors are trained only to see the goal of “saving” the marriage at all costs rather than the goal of stopping the violence.
- Some police officers do not provide support to women. They treat violence as a domestic “dispute” instead of a crime.
- Some police officers may try to dissuade women from filing charges.
- Some prosecutors are reluctant to prosecute cases. Some judges rarely levy the maximum sentence upon convicted abusers. Probation or a fine is much more common.
- Despite a restraining order, little prevents a released abuser from returning and repeating the assault. There are not enough shelters to keep women safe.
- Many women do not believe divorce is a viable alternative
- Many women believe that a single-parent family is unacceptable and that even a violent father is better than no father at all.
- Many women are taught by family, religious leaders or cultural norms to believe that they are responsible for making their marriages work. Failure to maintain the marriage equals failure as a woman.
- Many women become isolated from friends and families, contributing to a sense that there is nowhere to turn.
- Many women rationalize their abusers’ behaviors by blaming stress, alcohol, problems at work, unemployment, or other factors.
- Many women are taught that their identity and worth are contingent upon getting and keeping a man.
- During non-violent phases, he may fulfill the woman’s dream of romantic love. She believes he is basically a “good man.” The abuser rarely beats the woman all of the time.
- The battering may occur over a relatively short period of time. He may tell her – and she may believe – that this battering was the last. Generally, the less severe and less frequent the incidents, the more likely she is to stay.
Making the Decision to Leave
Making the decision to leave can be a difficult one. It is important to remember that the abuse will happen again unless the abuser takes full responsibility for their actions. By staying and accepting the abuse, the victim reinforces the behavior, which is not helping the abuser but perpetuating the problem. Abusers almost always plead for another chance when faced with the consequences of their actions, but promises are quickly forgotten when they realize the victim is not leaving. Even if the abuser is in a counseling program, there are no guarantees they will stop being violent, controlling or abusive. If there are signs that they are accepting responsibility, that is good, but a decision to stay or go should be based on how they are in the present, not how they will be in the future. Fear may be another reason to keep a victim in the relationship, but there is as much danger in staying with a violent person as there is leaving. There are things that can be done to keep the victim as safe as possible once they leave the abusive partner.
Once the decision has been made to leave, there are steps that should be taken in order to keep the victim safe. These include:
- Exit Strategy – Keep the car fueled and facing the driveway exit with the driver’s door unlocked. When the abuser is not home, practice escaping quickly and safely. Hide a spare key to the car where it can be found quickly. Have emergency cash, clothing, important phone numbers and critical documents stashed at a friend’s house. Make a list of emergency contacts, such as people who would provide transportation in an emergency, a place to stay or help contacting the police.
- Phone Safety – Use corded phones as much as possible as cell or cordless phones are easily tapped. Call collect or use prepaid phone cards so that the number does not show on the phone bill. Check cell phone settings to be sure that tracking is not turned on. If fleeing the abuser, leave the cell phone behind. Consider purchasing a prepaid cell phone and keep it in a safe location where the abuser cannot discover it.
- Computer and Internet – If seeking online help, use a friend’s computer, one at work or one at the local library. Do not seek help using a home email or instant message program and avoid discussing plans in emails, texts or instant messages. Change passwords on email, online banking and other accounts.
- Domestic Violence Shelters – Locate the nearest domestic violence shelter. If possible, reach out to them to discuss their requirements and what steps must be taken to use their services once out of the abusive relationship. Most domestic violence shelters have room for children as well and they do not require identifying information.
Protecting Yourself Once You Have Left
Once you are out of the abusive relationship, the danger may not be over. As previously mentioned, a woman is 70 time more likely to be injured or killed after leaving an abusive partner than she is in the relationship. Therefore, it is important to keep yourself safe even after you have relocated. Get an unlisted phone number and use a post office box rather than a home address. Cancel all old bank accounts and credit cards. Use a different bank to set up new accounts. Some states offer confidentiality programs that will confidentially forward mail to a new address. Change your routine. Take a new route to work and change any appointments the abuser is aware of. Find new places to shop and run errands differently.
Restraining orders are designed to keep an abuser away from their victim and they do have value. However, the police can only enforce the order if the abuser violates it, which means you must be endangered for the police to step in. It is also important to know how restraining orders are enforced in your area. In some places, the police may simply talk to the abuser or give them a citation. This may lead the abuser to feel as if the police will not do anything and they may be empowered to further harass or pursue you.
Although restraining orders are valuable tools, you should not feel as if you are significantly safer with a restraining order and let down your guard. Continue to protect yourself as much as possible and report any violations of the order, no matter how slight, to the police.
Taking Steps to Heal and Move On
Domestic abuse can leave lasting scars, both physically and mentally. It is important to consider counseling, therapy and support groups for domestic abuse survivors that can help you process and manage the violence you have suffered.
Support from family and friends is also critical during this time of healing, so be sure to reach out to those who will help you through the emotions, fear and memories that may linger long after you have left the relationship.
Building Healthy New Relationships
For some victims, the need for companionship is strong after leaving an abusive relationship. It may be due to a need to feel loved or because self-esteem is destroyed in such relationships. However, it is critical to take the time to learn about yourself during this period in order to avoid making the same mistake. Many times victims of abuse neglect to address the damage done to them by their abuser and end up in another abusive relationship.
Whether you have a friend or family member that you feel is in an abusive relationship or you are in one yourself, there is help out there. There are programs that can help abusers overcome the cycle of abuse and there are tools available that can help victims escape the abuse safely. By reaching out for help, you can escape an abusive relationship.
Below Are Resources Where You Can Find More Information And Help