“I secretly planned it with my mom, brother and sister-in-law.”
“I told a close friend and my pastor.”
“I told no one until I was in the hospital with a possible stroke and needed to alert security to his possible arrival.”
“Most people thought we had a great marriage. No one would have understood my side of things.”
“I told my boss, whom I trusted, and they helped me secure a place before my husband found out.”
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“I only told my family to show up with trucks … and I would explain later.”
“I told my best friend and then called the police, who got me to victim services.”
The above are answers from our readers, survivors of domestic violence, when asked the question: Who did you tell, if anyone, when you were ready to leave your abuser?
Some told just one or two people—close friends, a sister, a boss. One survivor said family members came ready to defend themselves if need be.
“I called my sister-in-law and told her I needed to get out because … I was beaten to pieces. She came to my house with a baseball bat in hand and took my son and me to her house. No doubt she saved us that day.”
Survivors know leaving an abuser can be a life-and-death situation—it’s proven to be the most dangerous time for a survivor, the time when abusers are most likely to kill their victim. The abuser will have lost control, and for many, the only way to regain control is through increased violence.
As a result, some survivors feel like they have to go it alone—they’re afraid to put those closest to them in harm’s way if they involve them in their escape plans. Others are afraid that if they tell anyone, their abuser will somehow find out.
Not only is this a hard road to travel alone for a survivor, but it can be hard for friends and family to find out later. “Why didn’t you tell me?” loved ones might wonder.
The reasons vary, but the important thing to know is that a survivor is making such decisions to save her life.
Abusers Isolate Survivors
“Most people in the town I left didn’t believe me because he was a master manipulator.”
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“I told no one until two weeks after I went to the shelter with my toddler and infant. My family wasn’t helpful. They didn’t want to get involved.”
Ginger Butcher, director of Victim Services for the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, says survivors are sometimes staying quiet because they don’t think they have any support system left.
“When the survivor plans to leave, who to tell could depend upon how successful the abuser has been in isolating them,” Butcher says.
In fact, in a survey on DomesticShelters.org, when asked where survivors found the most support when going through domestic abuse, more than half of those who responded, or 53 percent, answered, “I relied on myself for strength.” After that, family and friends, and a domestic violence advocate or support group, were the most common sources of support.
Butcher says other factors that dictate whom a survivor tells when she’s ready to leave include how the survivor’s support system has responded to the abuse. For example, have they been judgmental? Understanding? Do they understand domestic violence dynamics, or do they tend to think the abusive relationship is just full of “drama,” asks Butcher.
If survivors do have a support system, the emotional support can be invaluable, says Butcher. Friends and family can provide a temporary place for the survivor to relocate to, help out financially—since many abusers will ensure a survivor is financially destitute as a means of convincing her to return—as well as simply be a shoulder to lean on when feelings of doubt, uncertainty and anxiety arise.
Afraid For Their Lives
“Tell no one if you want to live through it,” comments one reader.
“Some survivors might decide not to share their plans to leave with anyone. There are many valid reasons that a survivor might make this choice,” says Butcher. Among them—fear that their abuser could track them down, or try to harm or kill anyone who helps them leave. Survivors often feel like they need to keep their plans a secret to protect themselves and their children, and keep under wraps the new place they’re relocating to.
Whether or not to disclose plans to family and friends is entirely up to the survivor and what she feels will keep her the safest. Only the survivor can see her unique situation clearest. But if she’s lucky, says Butcher, she will find a support system, such as an advocate at a nearby domestic violence shelter, that she can safety plan with before leaving.
“When they are working with an advocate to plan when and how to leave, the advocate should be allowing the survivor to take the lead on how best to navigate a plan to leave, and will offer support, resources and insight,” says Butcher. “But it should always be the survivor who makes the decisions about when and how, and who is involved in their plans.”
Survivors should try to plan for all possible scenarios that could derail their plans when leaving an abuser. Read more in “The Perils of Trying to Leave.”
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