No one deserves to live with abuse. But if you’re a victim of domestic and family violence, you know that leaving the relationship isn’t as simple as it sounds.
It’s not always safe to leave an abusive relationship. In fact, the time leading up to and just after leaving is often the most dangerous for a victim of abuse. Telling the abuser the relationship is over can lead to an increase in violence.
It’s also important to remember that on average, it can take seven attempts to leave an abusive relationship before getting out for good.
If you’re considering whether to stay or go, you might be feeling confused and torn about your decision. You might be hoping your partner will change, or maybe you’re worried about how they will react if you try to leave.
These are normal concerns that can keep victims in abusive relationships. But while it can be easy to feel trapped by these feelings, your safety is the only thing that matters.
Here are some suggestions to consider if you’re thinking about leaving an abusive relationship.
Create a support network
Many people experiencing domestic and family violence feel embarrassed or ashamed about their situation. They may not want their friends and family to know about the abuse.
But it’s important to confide in at least one person so they can provide support and potentially be a witness. You don’t have to cope on your own, and help from a loved one can make things a little easier.
There are also services out there to support you. Finding one that meets your needs can be very helpful during this time.
Organise a code word
Create a code word or signal with your children, neighbour, friends, family or colleague that means you’re in danger and they should call the police. This could be anything from a hand gesture to a particular word or even an emoji.
Try to keep a record of the abuse somewhere secret. This may be helpful if you choose to press charges in the future. If you can, take photos of physical evidence of violence, such as bruises and cuts, or holes in walls.
Find local support services
Research support services that might be able to help you if you choose to leave. This might include emergency housing, counselling, and free legal advice. Keep these contacts somewhere safe, or ask a trusted friend to hold onto them for you.
Relationships Australia QLD can help you find relevant support services in your area. Call us on 1300 364 277 for advice and referrals.
Make an escape plan
Leaving an abusive relationship often takes a lot of planning, courage and support. Having an escape plan prepared in advance can help you leave quickly if things become unsafe.
Your escape plan should include the who, what, where, when and how. How would you leave the home? When would be the safest time to do so? Where would you go? Who would be involved?
It can help to create your plan with a friend so they know how they can help. For example, you might plan to call them with your code word and have them pick you up from behind your house. It can also help to practise your escape plan so you know exactly what you’d do.
If children are involved, it’s important to think about how to safely include them in the escape plan, or if they should develop their own.
We talk more about how to make a domestic violence escape plan in this blog post.
Have a ‘go bag’ ready
A ‘go bag’ or escape bag should contain essentials you’ll need to take with you if you have to leave in a hurry. If you can’t keep this bag hidden at home, ask a loved one or neighbour to hold onto it for you.
Your go bag might contain:
- Spare keys
- Phone charger
- Clothes for you and children (if applicable)
- Essential toiletries (e.g. toothpaste, toothbrush, sanitary items)
- Medications and prescriptions
- Passport and licence (or copies)
- Contact numbers (e.g. friends, family, support services)
- Copies of important documents (e.g. birth certificates)
If you need support making a safety plan or escape bag checklist, call us on 1300 364 277.
Protect your privacy online
Some perpetrators of domestic and family abuse will use technology and the internet to continue to stalk, harass, and abuse their victim once they’ve left the relationship.
You can protect your online safety with these tips:
- Disable location services on your phone and computer
- Ensure your social media accounts are set to ‘private’
- Don’t ‘check in’ to places and venues on social media
- Avoid downloading apps that track your location or contacts
- Enable Bluetooth only when needed and ‘remove’ paired devices when you’re not using them
- Avoid posting content online that may put you or your children at risk, such as revealing where you go and what you do together.
Learn more in our article Keeping Yourself Safe Online.
If you or someone you know is living with domestic and family violence, help is available. You can call us on 1300 364 277 for guidance finding the right support for you, or learn about our Domestic and Family Violence Prevention service here.
1800RESPECT: 1800 737 732
DVConnect Womensline: 1800 811 811
DVConnect Mensline: 1800 600 636
Sexual Assault Helpline: 1800 010 120
Kids Help Line: 1800 55 1800
Lifeline: 13 11 14
If you believe you or your children are in immediate danger, please call 000.