The list below was compiled with help from regular visitors to the “Survivor’s Post” forum of our message board. Thanks to AJ, Kiara, Lynn, Nancie, Sunny and Vella for the well thought-out posts that contributed.
Getting Prepared Emotionally
- Visualize yourself having left, going through everything, where would you stay, how would you feel, what would you do next, etc. If you start thinking through the process and about your reactions, it will be easier to deal with the reality of leaving.
- Decide if and when you’ve had enough. You have to be sure that what you’re doing is the right thing for you and your children at the time. It’s a big change.
- Keeping a diary or journal (hidden privately) can help. Many victims write journal notes or diaries as a way to sort out their feelings and the situation. It helps to have these notes to read through and reflect. If you keep a diary, be sure it is in a well-hidden place and cannot be found.
- Realize staying is not a long term solution to protect yourself, your safety or your children’s safety. The classic pattern of abuse escalates over time. Think about what you want in your life and how you want your children to grow up. Ask yourself if the relationship or family situation is getting better or is it progressively getting worse.
- Realize that there will still be problems to overcome if you leave and an abusive partner may still try to control you through emotional, financial or other means. Those who leave abusive relationships still face challenges; their lives improve greatly by leaving but they know there are challenges ahead and make a decision to face them. Many choose counseling or support groups to help themselves meet this challenge.
The key to safety planning is taking a problem, considering the full range of available options, evaluating the risks and benefits of different options, and identifying ways to reduce the risks. Here are some tips:
- Gather together any documents you may need. Store them in a safe place such a bank safe deposit box, with a trusted relative or friend. Ensuring the documents are available if you must leave in a hurry due to danger, or are actually planning to leave, is important. Documents will help you in getting assistance, filing other paperwork and protecting your interests. These documents include:
- Social security cards/numbers for yourself and any children
- Birth certificates for yourself and any children
- Medical records and immunization records for the children
- Marriage certificate
- Insurance cards or policy numbers
- Bank account numbers (checking, saving, credit cards too) and a copy of any recent statements showing balances
- List of everything of any value at all in the house that may later be needed for divorce court or distribution of property
- Keys - house, car, office, post office box, safety deposit box
- Drivers license, car registration and title
- Medications and prescriptions
- Passport, green card, work permit and any other immigration documents
- Children’s favorite toys, security blankets
- Start putting back a little money here and there, just enough that isn’t going to be missed. Be prepared as much as you can be financially.
- Mortgage payment book, copies of current unpaid bills
- Pictures, jewelry, items of sentimental value
- Pictures of injuries you may have gotten from your partner’s abuse
- Any evidence that might help police in investigating your case, for example, threatening letters or phone message tapes
- Is there anyone you can ask to call the police if they hear suspicious noises coming from your house or apartment?
- If you need to get out of your house or apartment in a hurry, what door, window, elevator or stairwell will you be able to use in order to get out safely?
- Where can you keep your purse, car keys and some change to make a phone call so that you can grab them quickly?
- Is there a code word you can use with friends, family and/or your children to alert them to call for help? Do your children know how to use the phone to contact police?
- If an argument occurs, how can you get to a room where there are fewer things that can be used as weapons? Avoid getting trapped in the kitchen, bathroom, basement or garage.
- Counseling or a Support Group - When you leave an abusive relationship, you need support to help sort through the emotions, feelings of lost hopes, and rebuild your self esteem and personal strength. Counseling and support groups help many victims tremendously through this difficult time.
Let police help you - What the police can do for you depends in part on what you tell them or give them. Be as open as you can, help the police by telling them all you can. Any statement you give to the police is very important. Read your statement carefully and if there is anything that is incorrect, ask the officers to change the written statement so that it matches what actually happened. Sign it only when it says what you want it to say.
Get a Protective order or Restraining order - if you are afraid of your partner or that you will be pursued, or if violence has been shown previously; get a protective order. Many people think protective orders don’t work, but it is actually your first line of legal defense. Follow up, if the order is violated in any way, file charges.
- Seek help and support from local domestic violence organizations and shelters - Programs offer safe shelter for victims and their children, resources and contacts to legal help, court advocates to assist you in court, and counseling or support group services. Look in your local phone book for these groups, call your local social services, or state or regional domestic violence coalitions for help and advice.
- Legal help - Investigate your legal rights and position. You should feel comfortable when you talk to your lawyer and be sure that she/he understands your situation and knows how to help. If you do not have confidence in the first lawyer you speak with, you should seek another one. Your local social services or domestic violence organizations can usually refer you to a lawyer. Seeking legal help is particularly important to protect your safety, child custody and financial issues. Know your rights.
- Family and Friends - The first place an abusive partner will look for you when you leave is with family or friends. Choose very carefully about where you will stay. If you fear the partner will become violent, then chose a shelter to protect everyone’s safety. Ask your family and friends for emotional support. Survivors of domestic violence and abuse need emotional support. Be careful to ask those closest to you, who you feel the abusive partner could never persuade. A survivor of domestic abuse cannot afford contact with anyone who may side or feel sympathetic with their former partner.
This list was developed by experienced domestic violence survivors - women who have already been through the challenge of leaving an abusive partner and made it.