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Q: Hello, I moved into a gated community to try to get away [from an abusive ex-partner]. I believe he has found out where I live. I am scared. I plan on leaving out of the state but I have older children. They do not know what I have been going through. What can I do? I am afraid he may also come after my children when he can't find me. I have told very few what has been going on for years. I'm ashamed and do not want my job to know. Can you offer advice? Thanks for listening. I don't know what to do.
A: As if living through abuse isn’t enough trauma, then there’s the fear that follows after escape, and a shame that drives survivors into silence. Simultaneously, the abuse can continue through harassment and stalking. It’s maddening. I understand the exasperation of not knowing what your next move should be. Why can’t abusers just leave their ex-partners alone? The answer is in their very reason for abusing in the first place—power and control. Abusers believe that they’re entitled to their partners, and sometimes this means stalking a survivor without relent.
Have you considered getting an order of protection? Sometimes also called restraining orders, this legal document can prohibit your ex-partner from contacting you, coming near your home or your workplace, and otherwise stalking or harassing you. You would just need to go down to your local courthouse and file the paperwork. You may need to see a judge to discuss the reasons for filing. Any evidence you have of current or past abuse, stalking or harassment will be helpful to make your case. You can also call your local domestic violence shelter and ask an advocate to assist you in the filing process.
Your adult children can also file for their own orders of protection, but of course, this would involve you letting them know what’s going on. I’m not going to tell you that you have to disclose your ex-partner’s abuse or stalking to anyone unless you’re ready for that, but if you think your children might be in danger, this is an important consideration.
It sounds like you’ve been keeping your ex-partner’s abuse a secret out of shame or self-blame, and I’m sorry you feel that way. If only we could have as much empathy for ourselves as we would for a best friend or loved one who’s being abused. Know that you’re not alone in feeling reluctant to disclose. There are many reasons survivors keep abuse private, and many only come forward when they feel their life or their children’s lives are in danger. But also know that abuse is never your fault. The more you can learn about the cycle of abuse and why abusers abuse, you’ll realize that his abuse was nothing you caused. It’s a choice he made to try and control you. Your children, friends and employer shouldn’t blame you for any of what’s happened. You shouldn’t be dealing with this all on your own—it’s a lot for one person to take on. It’s OK to reach out for help and, if not your children, consider a support group of other survivors going through similar ordeals.
If you are afraid your abusive ex is going to show up at your workplace, it is important that you consider disclosing this. Please read, “On the Clock: How to Protect Yourself at Work” for some important safety advice. Some survivors are fearful that disclosing abuse or a stalker will impede their employment. While we hope that isn’t the case, read “Afraid of Being Fired?” for more about disclosing safely. Hopefully, your place of employment will do more to help you than to hinder your safety. Your employer may benefit from reading our piece, “6 Steps to Create a Corporate Domestic Violence Program” if they don’t have something like that in place already.
I also consulted with Michael Corwin who’s spent over 30 years working in criminal defense investigations and now teaches personal safety and self-defense as well as workplace violence prevention. I asked him how likely it is for stalkers to follow through on in-person contact. He said that it all depends on what level of control your ex had during your time together. The more controlling he was during your relationship, the more likely he’ll continue that control afterward.
“Her biggest safety risk is probably not at her gated community, but in her workplace parking lot” says Corwin. “Workplace violence homicides from a domestic abuser are the number two cause of workplace [homicides] for women in the US. The abuser knows the woman needs to earn a paycheck, and where she earns it.”
He highly suggests you consider warning your workplace and providing them a photo of your ex as well as the make and model of his car, if you know it. It’s also important to note, as scary as it is to consider, that two-thirds of all mass shootings are either directly related to domestic violence, or the shooter had a history of domestic violence.
“So with that level of percentages, I’d say caution and preparation should always be the rule not the exception,” says Corwin.
An order of protection can prohibit your ex-partner from possessing a firearm with a few exceptions, unfortunately. If he needs a gun for his job—typically police officers and military servicemembers—or if you were dating but never married, then this rule may not apply.
Also, if your ex ever strangled you, this is a high lethality indicator meaning abusers who use this tactic are more likely to commit murder.
While moving somewhere new may seem like the best option, keep in mind that if he found you in this new home, he can likely find you in the next one. It’s hard to hide nowadays given the vastness of information online. If you do move, learn more about the ways you can hide your address from public records.
Here are some more ideas for how to feel more safe in the meantime:
- No matter if you move or not, it can be empowering to take some training in personal safety. Local places like the YMCA often offer self-defense classes, or you can Google one near you. Girls Fight Back is a national organization that teaches basic self-defense to schools and corporations—maybe it’s something your workplace would be interested in sponsoring for all the employees.
- A personal alarm isn’t a bad idea—these small panic buttons can attach to your key chain and, if pressed, can alert people near and far that you’re in danger.
- Our home security checklist gives you 9 things to look for in and around your home that can help or hinder your safety.
- Two books I highly recommend to help you learn more about situation awareness, or assessing the environment around you for danger, are The Safety Trap and The Gift of Fear.
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I hope some of these things help you. Just know that you don’t need to go this alone. Anytime you need support, you can always call the helpline at your local domestic violence shelter and talk to an advocate who will listen.
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