You and only you are the expert of your situation and only you can decide if and when it is best to leave an abusive home. Safety is never guaranteed, but having a plan in place should you decide to leave your abuser increases your chances for survival.
It is very important to understand that abusers can be more violent when they believe their partner is leaving the relationship or even thinking of leaving. That is why it is essential to be very cautious and to not leave traces of your plan anywhere an abuser can find. Keep any and all information like brochures or cards about crisis intervention agencies, shelters, or domestic violence counseling with a trusted friend or family member or at work, not at your residence or car. If found by your abuser, it could cause him to try and stop you from leaving by any means necessary.
Begin by discreetly doing things that will increase your independence.
It is important to open your own post office box so you can have mail from any new accounts or memberships be sent there instead of the residence you share with your abuser. Again, you don’t want your abuser to find any signs you are thinking about leaving in order to avoid retaliation.
If possible, open a savings or checking account in your own name at a different bank than your abuser. If you can, obtain a credit card in your own name to establish credit. Make sure when you open these new accounts to use the P.O. box address. If an establishment does not allow a P.O. box address, then have any mail from new sources sent to a trusted family member or friend. A pay-as-you-go cell phone is something else to consider in case your partner checks your cell phone or call records.
It is also a good idea to keep any evidence of physical abuse. Make sure to take pictures of any bruises, scrapes, cuts or other injuries. Keep a journal of all violent incidences, noting dates, events and threats made, if possible. Keep your journal in a safe place. If there is nowhere to safely store evidence, leave it in your desk or locker at work or with a trusted friend or family member. If you ever visit a doctor or emergency room for any abuse related injuries, ask that they document your visit.
Another thing you might want to do is to leave a bag containing important things with a trusted person: things like money, an extra set of keys, extra clothes and medicine for you and your children as well as copies of important papers. It is ideal to leave it with someone at a residence your abuser has not been to or is familiar with. If you don’t have a friend or family member you can leave things with, you can rent a locker at a bus station or a storage facility.
Here is a list of items you can use as a guide to figure out what you will need to bring with you or have access to when you leave:
- Identification Documents, such as your, driver’s license, birth certificate and children’s birth certificates, social security cards, passports, money and/or credit cards in your name, and checking and/or savings account books.
- Legal Papers like a protective order, if one is in place, copies of any lease or rental agreements, or the deed to your home, car registration and insurance papers, health and life insurance papers, medical and school records for you and your children, work permits, green cards, visas, divorce and custody papers, and your marriage license. If it will be obvious that these items are missing, make copies to take with you.
- Emergency Numbers that are important to have are: your local police and/or sheriff’s department, friends, relatives and family members, your local doctor’s office and hospital, county and/or district attorney’s office, and our 24-hour crisis hotline number which is 281-342-4357. If your abuser routinely checks your phone, you can always program numbers in your phone under something innocuous, like the name of a restaurant you like to frequent.
- Other items to consider bringing or stashing away are: medications, extra set of house and car keys, valuable jewelry, pay-as-you-go cell phone, address book, pictures and sentimental items, several changes of clothes for you and your children, and emergency money.
Make sure you make copies of anything your abuser is likely to notice is missing. Do not risk your life over anything that may tip your abuser off to your plans. Like previously stated, it is always best to leave copies of paperwork and extra items in a safe place your partner does not have access to, like with someone you trust or a secure locker. You know your relationship best, so use your best judgment on what to bring and leave depending on what your abuser is likely to notice.
Once you feel prepared to leave and have an established place you will be staying once you leave, make sure to leave at a time your abuser is not home. Possible times could be when your abuser is at work or out of town, but be aware he or she could always surprise you, so you may always request a police escort or stand-by when you leave. In order to be prepared if you try to leave while an abusive incident is occurring, you will need to have a quick exit safety plan in place. Please view our video, “Safety Planning When Living with an Abuser” for information on how to best attempt a quick and safe exit for you and your children, if you have any.
If you have pets, there are several things you can do to ensure their safety for when you leave as well. See our Safety Planning With Pets Blog.
Leaving an abusive relationship can be stressful and dangerous, and only you know what is best for you and your family. Always consider your safety, as well as that of your children and pets, in all decisions you make. Be realistic about what your abuser is capable of doing. In other words, do not minimize his/her abusive behaviors. If you feel afraid, there is probably a good reason for that even if you are unable to verbalize the exact reasons. A well-thought plan will not guarantee your safety, but will certainly improve the odds of making a safe exit. Do not hesitate to ask for assistance from law enforcement or your local advocates.