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We know that leaving is the most dangerous time for a domestic violence survivor. Abusers often lash out in an attempt to regain control over their partner or may resort to extreme violence, even homicide, because they feel they have nothing left to lose. But not all abusers escalate violence when the survivor leaves. So how do you know if your abuser will?
There are plenty of stories in which an abuser becomes violent after the survivor decides to end the relationship, even though no physical abuse was present while they were together. Survivor Audrey Mabrey has one such story—she told DomesticShelters her husband became violent for the first time only after they became estranged.
For the most part, though, examining your partner’s behavior during the relationship will give you the best clues as to how he will act once you leave.
Danger Ahead—Red Flags to Watch For
“Human behavior is one of the hardest things to predict,” says Melanie Carlson, MSW, a former shelter advocate and case manager who is currently working on her Ph.D. in gender-based violence. “Still, past behavior is the most predictive of future behavior. There are often clear patterns in behavior.”
Domestic violence has a high rate of recidivism, meaning if it happens once, it’s likely to happen again. A Bureau of Justice survey found that women ages 35 to 49 who reported an incident of intimate partner abuse had previously been abused by the same partner.
If your partner was physically abusive during the relationship, he or she may continue to be physically abusive after the relationship ends. And if the physical violence escalated during the relationship, it is best to assume it may continue to escalate after leaving. There are other red flags to look out for, too, Carlson says.
“If there was physical abuse while pregnant or in public, strangulation, threats with a weapon or statements like, ‘If you leave, I’ll kill myself,’ use extreme caution when leaving,” she says. “Those kinds of behaviors show they’re really not concerned with consequences.”
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Access to weapons is another predictor of intimate partner homicide, particularly intimate partner femicide, or the murder of a woman. A woman’s chance of being murdered by her abuser increases by 500 percent if a gun is present in the home.
“Abusive partners with any military or police training—that makes the situation more dangerous because of their access to weapons and being more effective at doing max physical harm,” Carlson says.
Don’t Ignore Nonphysical Warning Signs
Of course, abusers may resort to violence once the relationship ends even if they weren’t physically abusive during the relationship. Carlson recommends taking caution when leaving a relationship if your partner showed any signs of controlling behavior, including financial abuse, sexual coercion, isolating you from loved ones, verbal abuse and gaslighting.
“If you’re dealing with any of this, it’s best to talk to someone who has expertise in safety planning and the resources to get you the help you need,” Carlson says. “Call a hotline or reach out to a shelter to talk to someone who can coach you through all the mechanisms you can use to leave safely.”
Thinking about leaving but scared of what your partner might do? Read “Leave Without Dying” for tips on what to think about when it comes to getting out safely.
Looking for someone to speak with? Enter your location to find phone numbers for domestic violence experts in your area.
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