By Kirsten Pindar
Did you know that according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States?
Domestic violence is more common than we think, and it can affect anyone regardless of their gender, race, age, etc. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and to help raise awareness we’ve outlined tips for anyone looking to leave an abusive relationship.
Create a Safety Plan
Since domestic violence is a prevalent issue across the country, it’s crucial that individuals know how to safely leave an abusive relationship. When preparing to leave an abuser, there are steps that should be taken to protect yourself as much as possible.
- Remaining safe is the top priority during this stage and it should be handled with care. Start by recognizing your abusers’ red flags. This will help you stay vigilant as time goes on.
- Next, you’ll want to pinpoint safe areas of your home that you can utilize. Safe areas should be free of any weapons, sharp objects, or places you could be locked into. You’ll also want to stay clear of rooms that are small and have no windows. Ideally, your safe room should have a door and windows to ensure there is a safe and quick way to escape.
- Additionally, keep a bag of cash, important documents or front-and-back copies of them, clothes, and medication ready to go at all times – but make sure it’s hidden from the abuser. Having a bag full of your belongings out in the open or in a place they can easily find it may send a negative signal to your abuser, which could potentially cause more issues and abuse.
- If you have children, pack and hide bags for them as well which include their important documents, comforting toys, clothes, etc. If you don’t feel comfortable keeping this bag in your home, reach out to a trusted neighbor or friend to hold on to the bag for you.
- Lastly, you’ll want to reach out for support. Find someone who is trustworthy that can aid you during troubling times and memorize their contact information. This way, if you happen to not have any of your personal items on you, you can still find shelter.
Build a Support Group
Leaving an abusive relationship can feel isolating and scary. Having a support network you can depend on will help you feel less alone, and help you get back on track. There are many support resources you can take advantage of. At Peace River Center, there are hotlines available 24/7 and managed by victim advocates:
- 24-Hour Domestic Violence Hotline Hardee/ Highlands Counties: 863.386.1167
- 24-Hour Domestic Violence Hotline Polk County: 863.413.2700
The hotline can be called anytime for safety planning, counseling, shelter needs, etc.
Support groups are a great way to connect with other individuals who are in similar situations. PRC Victim Services offers domestic violence support groups and domestic violence classes for clients as well.
We have two shelters in Polk county and Highlands county for those who are fleeing domestic violence. Our shelters welcome women, men, children, and pets. Shelters, hotlines, and support groups are all great ways to start building your support network. It’s crucial that before you leave an abusive relationship, you have someone who you can depend on for safety while you start to rebuild your life.
Prepare for Life After Leaving
Preparing for life after leaving an abusive relationship can seem very daunting. During this phase, it’s important to take it one step at a time and stay resilient as you move forward. As mentioned before, collecting all of your important documents is crucial for this stage. Documents such as ID, birth certificates, and Social Security cards should be kept safe at all times. Safety is always a priority though and PRC Victim Services staff can help you request duplicate copies of these important documents if needed.
After you leave an abusive relationship you may want to file for and obtain an injunction for protection (IFP). Speak with your PRC Victim Services advocate about this and ask for assistance. We have a court house advocate and lawyer as part of our team. The injunction is a court issued document that tells an individual what they can and cannot do to another person. PRC Victim Services offers free legal representation to assist in obtaining the IFP in a timely manner. Additionally, PRC Victim Services can provide support during the court process and aid in counseling services if requested.
While it’ll take time to rebuild your life and gain back independence, it’s well worth it in the end.
Once you feel safe enough to start building towards your independence, consider working on improving your financial well-being. Our advocates can help guide you with planning and financial education if needed. The more financially secure you are, the more likely you are to not return to your abuser. In fact, the CDC found that greater financial stability can reduce the chances of domestic violence. Many will not leave an abusive environment if they’re financially unstable, so having this type of security for yourself will improve your well-being.
If you’re just getting started on your financial independence journey, there are resources you can use to get started. Finding a safe place to live should be made a priority after leaving an abusive relationship. If you’re unsure of how to find a safe place for yourself, look into mortgage options that have looser financial requirements, like lower credit score requirements or a smaller mandatory down payment. For example, credit scores for an FHA loan can be as low as 580 and you can pay as little as 3.5% for a down payment. These looser financial requirements will make it easier for you to get back on your feet in the comfort of your own space, separate from your abuser and start working towards your independence. As you’re on this financial journey, it can be helpful to have an expert’s opinion to help guide you. PRC Victim Services has relocation advocates who work with clients on locating housing or transitioning from a shelter to a new location. We know that finding affordable housing can be a challenge so our advocates work diligently to assist in streamlining the process.
Leaving an abusive relationship can feel very scary and intimidating. Having a solid plan will allow you to feel more confident and secure in the decisions you make moving forward. Your safety plan is all about taking care of yourself and being able to safely escape at any moment. Lean on your support network for advice and comfort as you navigate life after leaving. While it’ll take time to rebuild your life and gain back independence, it’s well worth it in the end.