Most people feel scared and confused when they think about separating from an abusive partner. The dangers of a severe assault, and even homicide, increase in the separation period. If you alert your partner to your plan to leave, this could put you and your loved ones at risk.
As you consider the following eight tips concerning the separation process, remember that you know your situation better than anyone else. Safety planning with a domestic violence advocate will help you choose the steps that are right for you.
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1. The Abuser Threatens You
Your Move: Save evidence and document threats, violence and control tactics. Keep multiple copies of this record somewhere safe outside your home. For instance, email it to someone you trust, or keep a copy of it at work. And, if possible, tell someone else at the time it happens so you have a simultaneous report (may help if you need evidence in court).
2. The Abuser Threatens to Call Child Protective Services
Your Move: This is a common abusive strategy wherein an abuser will say they have the ability to take your child away from you by making a report. If you have a history of drug or alcohol abuse, or mental health problems, you may feel especially vulnerable to these charges. However, you do not have to let this threat control you. Write down the threat and the date and the time. You may want to call child protective services and let them know what is going on. Keep in mind, if you make this call, they might launch an investigation into your children’s safety. You will need to show that you are doing your best to protect your children.
3. The Abuser Threatens to Call the Police
Your Move: When the abuser says they’re going to make false domestic violence charges against you, or self-injures to get you in trouble, document everything. Tell someone you trust about what is going on, and contact an advocate from your local domestic violence agency to develop a safety plan. Do not stick up for the person who abused you or defend them to the police or the courts.
4. The Abuser Threatens to Leave You Penniless
Your Move: Read up on financial abuse. Consider secreting away money and valuables somewhere—at the home of a trusted friend or family member, or in a secret bank account, preparing for your departure. Get a free copy of your credit report to see if your partner has used your name without your consent. Also, ask one of the main credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) to put a Fraud Alert on your account, so your partner cannot take on new debt in your name. Consider cancelling joint credit cards and withdrawing half the money from joint bank accounts. Remember, your partner may find out about these actions; so be cautious if you think these actions might put you at risk. Financial fraud and identity theft are crimes, even when perpetrated by a spouse. The process to reclaim your money can be long and involved—it is better to prevent the theft in the first place, if you can. But there are ways to become financially independent after leaving an abuser—read more in our Financial section.
5. You See Signs That the Abuser Is About to Explode in Anger or Violence
Your Move: Find a believable reason to leave the house. Prepare to leave at a moment’s notice, or just leave.Have emergency cash, clothing and important phone numbers and documents stashed in a safe place (at a friend’s house, for example). Mentally rehearse your escape and make sure all the pieces are in place. If you have children, make sure you have figured out how to keep them safe, too.
6. The Abuser Threatens to Kill You
Your Move: You should take this threat very seriously, especially if the abuser has previously strangled you, sexually assaulted you, has threatened you with weapons or has used weapons against you before. If you have time, contact your local domestic violence agency and develop a safety plan or ask for emergency shelter (make sure to mention the death threat as survivors whose life is in immediate danger often get top priority for placement). If you do not have time, just get out. Your life is more valuable than anything else. Alert the police to the threats (bring a domestic violence advocate or a friend with you to the police, if possible) and let the police know if your partner has access to a gun. You can then file for an order of protection.
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7. The Abuser Threatens to Distribute Images of You Naked
Your Move: This is a crime called revenge porn and it could land the abuser in jail no matter if you gave these images to the abuser willingly or the abuser took these without your consent. The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative has a 24-hour crisis line and website with resources to help you with this threat. If you still can, protect yourself from this threat by never sharing images of yourself naked with anyone, ever, or sending them through email or text.
8. You Suspect Your Communications and Movements Are Being Monitored
Your Move: The abuser may use hidden cameras; a GPS in your car or phone; or apps installed in your smartphone that track your location, monitor your conversations, and read everything you type into your phone. The abuser can even access the camera built into your laptop, notebook or phone without you realizing it’s on. If you suspect that you are being monitored in this way, do not alert the abuser by suddenly removing or turning off a monitoring device. Instead, find another, secure way to communicate so you can set up your plan to leave. For instance, if you are being monitored from your phone, leave your phone at home or at a friend’s house while you visit your local domestic violence agency.
In general, the safer you are day-to-day while in the relationship, the safer you will be when you leave. Build a support system for yourself and your children. As much as the abuser will allow, get involved with people and activities outside your home, and encourage your children to do the same. This will make it easier for you to leave and establish a new life when you do.
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