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Q: My best friend is going to leave her abuser soon. She made a safety plan for when she leaves, but how should she safety plan for the part that comes after she’s left? Isn’t she still in danger? – Sandy P.
Without knowing your friend’s specific circumstances, it’s hard to say unequivocally that she’ll be in danger after she’s left her abuser, Sandy. But sadly, in the majority of cases, the most dangerous time for a survivor is when she decides it’s time to go. It’s the time the abuser feels like he’s losing control, and tries to amp up that level of control by becoming more abusive.
Creating a safety plan before leaving is an instrumental step toward staying safe. As Marylouise Kelley, director, Division of Family Violence Prevention and Service told DomesticShelters.org last September, “If you’re in the midst of a crisis it’s really hard to think straight. Putting a plan in place ahead of time, knowing where things are and having children understand what steps they can take to be safe—those are all things that are best done in advance.”
After she leaves, there are still myriad precautions she should consider even though, hopefully, ending the relationship will also end his abuse. Survivor Amy Phoenix says that after she left her abusive husband and sought refuge in a shelter, her abuser began breaking everything he could in their house before threatening to burn their home to the ground. After he was served with an order of protection, he left her alone and she was able to begin a new and healthier life.
Survivor Alyssa says that when she broke up with her verbally and psychologically abusive boyfriend at age 19, he tried to hit her. It was the first and last time he would. She was able to break off their relationship without further consequence and says she feels like she escaped a much more violent future.
Other tactics abusers may resort to once a relationship ends may include stalking, cyberstalking, harassment and violating orders of protection. These are all things survivors should be aware of for their own safety.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers up the following safety tips for survivors once they leave their abuser. Please advise your friend to consider:
- Changing her locks, if she’s staying in the same residence, as well as her phone number.
- Changing the route that she takes to and from work, or the hours that she works, in case her abuser decides to stalk her.
- Alerting school authorities of her situation, if she is attending school.
- Changing her children’s school, if possible.
- Informing friends, neighbors and her employer if she has a restraining order in place against her abuser.
- Changing up her schedule — altering times of regular appointments that the abuser may be aware of.
- Using different stores or frequenting different social spots.
- Installing a security system and/or motion-sensitive lighting system at her home, if possible.
- Telling people at her place of employment about her situation and having someone screen her calls, if possible, as to avoid communication with her abuser.
Additionally, 38 states offer Address Confidentiality Programs that could help your friend if she is moving to a new address within one of those states and wants to keep her new location a secret.
If she hasn’t already, please encourage your friend to locate a trained domestic violence advocate near her who may have other resources to help her after leaving, such as lay legal help, financial assistance, tuition assistance or help with finding employment.
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