Planning Your Escape: 12 Things You Must Know As A Domestic Violence Victim

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October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, recognized as a national effort to promote awareness and prevention of domestic violence. Too many women have suffered and continue to suffer in silence at the hands of their domestic partner without knowing and/or understanding their legal rights to protect themselves. There are numerous steps a person and/or family may take from a legal perspective to ensure their family’s safety.

Womenslaw.org provides detailed information and advice on how to deal with an abusive situation from developing a “ready to leave plan” to filing a restraining order and getting police reports.

We will highlight specific information each week of October based upon your rights, starting today with an exit plan.

Getting Ready To Leave:
1. Make a plan for how you are going to leave, including where you’re going to go, and how to cover your tracks.
2. Make one plan for if you have time to prepare to leave the home.
3. Make another plan for if you have to leave the home in a hurry. If you can, keep any evidence of the physical abuse and take it with you when you leave.
4. Make sure to keep this evidence in a safe place that the abuser will not find – this may mean that you have to keep it in a locked drawer at work or with a trusted family member. If the abuser finds it, you could be in more danger. Such evidence of physical abuse might include:
  • Pictures you have of bruises or other injuries. If possible, try to have these pictures dated;
  • Torn or bloody clothing;
  • Household objects that the abuser damaged or broke during a violent episode;
  • Pictures that show your home destroyed or messed up after violence happened;
  • Any records you have from doctors or the police that document the abuse;
  • Whenever you are hurt, go to a doctor or to an emergency room as soon as possible if you can. Tell them what happened. Ask them to make a record of your visit and of what happened to you. Be sure to get a copy of the record.
  • A journal that you may have kept with details about the abuse, which could help prove the abuse in court.
  • Anything else you think could help show that you’ve been abused.

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5. Get a bag together that you can easily grab when you leave. Some things to include in the bag are:
  • Your driver’s license
  • Spare car keys
  • A list of your credit cards so that you can track any activity on them
  • Your checkbook
  • Money
  • Phone numbers for friends, relatives, doctors, schools, taxi services, and your local domestic violence organization
  • A change of clothing for you and your children
  • Any medication that you or your children usually take
  • Copies of your children’s birth certificates, social security cards, school records and immunizations
  • Copies of legal documents for you and the abuser, such as social security cards, passports, green cards, medical records, insurance information, birth certificates, marriage license, wills, welfare identification information and copies of any court orders (such as your protection order or custody order)
  • Copies of financial documents for you and the abuser, such as pay stubs, bank account information, a list of credit cards you hold by yourself or together with the abuser
  • Any evidence you’ve been collecting to show that you’ve been abused; and a few things you want to keep, like photographs, jewelry or other personal items.
6. Hide this bag somewhere the abuser will not find it. Try to keep it at a trusted friend or neighbor’s house. Avoid using next-door neighbors, close family members, or mutual friends, as the abuser might be more likely to find it there. If you’re in an emergency and need to get out right away, don’t worry about gathering these things. While they’re helpful to have, getting out safely should come first.
7. Hide an extra set of car keys in a place you can get to easily in case the abuser takes the car keys to prevent you from leaving.
8. Try to set money aside. If the abuser controls the household money, this might mean that you can only save a few dollars per week; the most important thing is that you save whatever amount you can that will not tip off the abuser and put you in further danger. You can ask trusted friends or family members to hold money for you so that the abuser cannot find it and/or use it.
9. If you are not employed, try to get job skills by taking classes at a community college or a vocational school if you can. This will help you to get a job either before or after you leave so that you won’t need to be financially dependent on the abuser.
10. Getting a protective order can be an important part of a safety plan when preparing to leave. Even if you get a protective order, you should still take other safety planning steps to keep yourself and your children safe. A legal protective order is not always enough to keep you safe. Locate your state in ourKnow the Laws section to find out more information about getting a protective order.
11. Leave when the abuser will least expect it. This will give you more time to get away before the abuser realizes that you are gone.
12. If you have time to call the police before leaving, you can ask the police to escort you out of the house as you leave. You can also ask them to be “on call” while you’re leaving, in case you need help.
Why is all of this necessary?
Outside of protecting yourself physically from an abuser, the above tips will also aid if you ever have to obtain a restraining order and/or seek custody of any children who may have been victims to abuse or witnessed the abuse. Documentation and valid evidence are necessary for permanent restraining orders and to determine what is in the best interest of a child.
Unfortunately, many of the abused who leave tend to return to the abusers. However, once you have made the final decision to seek safety, the previously mentioned advice will make it easier to seek court ordered protection for both you and your children.
Please visit www.womenslaw.org for additional information.

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