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Q: I have been trying to leave my abusive husband for quite some time now. He is always ten steps ahead of me. At this point I’ve been able to allocate $1,300 to leave, but I’m isolated in [a rural area]. I want to go home to [an urban area] where my family is and I can have emotional support for me and my daughters, but we need help. The programs here are few, underfunded and overwhelmed with need.
Are there relocation assistance programs that you are aware of to help with costs of fleeing? Are there financial assistance programs that help to repair the massive debt we are in as the result of financial abuse? Are there donation sites women can apply to for peer financial support? Once I’m out of this, how can I advocate for women, impact laws and educate the public about domestic violence? Because we are definitely a silenced population and need help. – N.
Silenced, indeed. Many survivors I’ve heard from feel this away. Abusers have stolen away their self-worth and they struggle to find validation for what they’ve endured after they leave. But hopefully you can see, just by writing this letter, you’ve been able to shout louder and further than before. It’s a start, and a good one.
I often equate domestic violence to being held hostage, except the survivor is supposed to figure out how to rescue herself from her hostage-taker. That’s not to say there aren’t many, many dedicated, caring, concerned, hard-working advocates out there doing their best every day to Harriet Tubman survivors out of abuse, if I could go so far as to use that shero as a verb. But their efforts are often hindered by those very barriers you’re up against — lack of funding, space and help from those who don’t understand how complex this issue is.
Let’s get to your questions without delay. I reached out to Delores Jones, MSW, a survivor herself of domestic violence. She calls herself “The Comeback Coach.” She was homeless at 17—her mom died of a heroin overdose when Jones was only 5. When she was 17, Jones’ grandmother, her guardian, also became a drug addict. Jones ended up having a baby early in life, but still graduated college on a scholarship she earned with good grades and went on to become a successful local radio talk show host. But she ended up marrying an abusive man who would eventually try to strangle her to death. Jones and her young son left that day.
“I walked away from everything. The only thing I had was a car and an education. When you’re ready to go, you’re not going to fight over anything.”
Sometimes, survivors can just walk away. Sometimes, it’s a long process. Jones had to fight her abusive ex-husband in court over custody of their son for a long time. It’s a tough road and you’re going to have to make some tough choices, but N., think about where you want to be a year from now. Still with someone who abuses you? Or free.
Here are a few suggestions for ways to afford leaving your abusive partner:
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- Affordable housing. It’s a great idea to put your name on a waiting list for affordable housing immediately, says Jones. You can find rental assistance programs here by state and more about affordable housing here. You may want to consider applying for a home with Habitat for Humanity. Be aware that COVID-19 may affect the availability of these programs (but hopefully not for the long-term).
- Transitional housing programs. (Look at TransitionalHousing.org for ones that exist in the state you want to move to, N.). These programs often allow mothers with children to live rent-free while working or completing school. The process could take up to two years, says Jones, but it is well worth it.
- Shelters in other areas. In the meantime, call shelters in the area you want to move to. Tell them the shelters in your area are full. Be as honest as possible about your situation and the danger you are in if you stay. If their shelters are full, ask about alternate housing opportunities for survivors in the area.
- Free flights for survivors. You may want to reach out to a nonprofit like Angel Flight West, which uses volunteer private pilots to fly survivors of domestic violence to safety, as well as those in need of medical care. You will likely need to have an advocate who can vouch for your situation as well, so it’s good to do Step #3 on this list first.
- Safety plan. Leaving is notoriously the most dangerous time for a survivor. Consider having a safety plan in place before you go (here’s a DIY worksheet) and pack a go-bag of the things you absolutely need, like important paperwork, medical records, custody paperwork or an order of protection. Make sure you know the custody laws in your state before relocating with children—“Fleeing an Abuser With Your Children” has more details on that. Your best bet may be to establish custody of your children in your home state before you relocate to another state, in order to avoid getting entangled in a custody battle across state lines (which could be complicated and expensive). In that case, you may want to start by finding temporary refuge somewhere within your state before moving further away.
- Repairing finances. As far as undoing the damage of financial abuse, there are many programs out there that will help survivors achieve financial independence after leaving an abuser. I’m not sure how many actually give financial aid or grants, unfortunately. But it’s worth it to peruse our Financial section to learn about things like free online courses on rebuilding your credit, how to make a household budget, ideas on how to use your skill set to start your own business and more.
- Peer financial support. In regards to this question, you may want to check out ModestNeeds.org where you can apply for a grant to help gain self-sufficiency that, once accepted, can be fulfilled by do-gooding individuals. You may also want to check out TogetherRising.org, a community-driven nonprofit that helps fill financial requests from both individuals and nonprofits.
- Becoming an advocate. Your final inquiry—how to advocate for other women who feel silenced—is so admirable. Many advocates are survivors themselves. “Speaking Out” will give you some tips on public speaking, if that’s your goal. Or, you could look at this previous Ask Amanda column for instructions on becoming a domestic violence advocate.
I hope this is a good start and you find the right places that will be able to help you. Per Jones: “Be encouraged and remember that this too shall pass and you have what it takes to start over. Ask questions until you get the answers you need. Ask for help and keep asking until you get it.”
Ask Amanda is meant to offer helpful resources and information about domestic violence. If in crisis, please reach out to your nearest domestic violence shelter for the guidance of a trained advocate.
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