If You’re Leaving Your Abuser, You Need A Plan. Here’s How To Make One.
The right plan will save you from additional and avoidable trauma.
Leaving an abusive relationship isn’t as simple as breaking up. Statistics show that the greatest chance for physical violence between intimate partners is immediately after the relationship has ended, which is why you need a well-thought-out plan before severing ties.
Here are five things you can do to get started:
1. Gather evidence of the abuse.
This can include photos, text messages, audio recordings or other types of evidence. Store them someplace safe (ideally digital) and make sure that someone you trust can also access them. Even if you’re worried about having enough evidence, do not jeopardize your safety by attempting to provoke your abuser in an effort to obtain more. No potential benefit outweighs the risk of your life.
What this may entail: create a Google Drive folder containing screenshots of abusive messages, photos of personal injuries and property destruction, and screenshots of messages you’ve sent to people that describe the abuse; share the folder with a best friend or relative who can make their own copy in the event your abusive partner has access to your accounts and tries to delete this evidence.
2. Build your social support network.
Make sure you have a few people that know your situation who you can count on for support. That support can be emotional or more tangible. Consider using your smartphone to share your location with these people so that there’s always someone who can verify where you are at any given time. This group should remain intact after the breakup until you feel as physically secure as possible.
What this may entail: make a group chat with people who can check in on your safety and wellbeing, and track your location in the event that you become unreachable. Have regularly scheduled times for checking in, and a plan for what they should do if you fail to do so. Let them know whenever you’re expecting to be in contact with your abuser (ie, if they’re coming to pick up things from the home after the breakup) and when that contact safely ends.
3. Decide where you’re physically going.
Assuming you live with your abuser, you’ll need to pick a safe place where you can stay until you’re fully independent. Even if you don’t live with your abuser, it may be best to stay somewhere else temporarily if you think they may seek to retaliate by harming or stalking you. Consider how long you’ll need to stay there and plan what you’ll need to bring with you accordingly.
What this may entail: ask a friend or relative with the capacity to host you if you can stay with them for a few weeks and have at least one other back-up plan for where you can live in the event the first one falls through. Make sure whomever you stay with is fully aware of the situation. If you plan to stay at a women’s shelter, locate one well in advance and establish contact prior to leaving.
4. Get your finances in order.
Run a full credit check that will show you if your abuser has taken out any loans or lines of credit in your name. Ensure you have your own bank account that they can’t access, and that you have enough funds to subsist for as long as you expect it will take to get back on your feet. You may not have enough time to save the money you need, but remember that your safety and wellbeing is always more important than your finances. You’ll have the rest of your life to straighten out the former, but you may only have the rest of your life, period, if you escape the abusive relationship.
What this may entail: opening a new bank account under your name only and removing your abuser from any accounts on which they are an authorized user (credit cards, etc). Consider which devices your partner has access to that may have your payment information saved. Ensure critical things, like your cell phone or car, are in your name and unable to be cancelled at-will by your partner.
5. Clear your browser history and secure your devices.
When your abuser finds out you intend to leave, they may react with more aggression than you’ve seen from them yet. Try not to let them discover your intent to leave before you’re ready to execute your escape plan. Be sure to clear your browser history if you have shared devices, or suspect your partner monitors your internet usage. For your protection, when accessing resources from The Domestic Violence Hotline’s website, pressing the “x” displayed on the right side of any page or the “escape” key on your keyboard will automatically take you to Google’s homepage, with no ability to hit the “Back” button on your browser.
What this may entail: Change the passwords on all your devices and important accounts. Make sure the back-up accounts and phone numbers used to regain access after a lock-out are also controlled by you or someone you trust. Tell this trusted person your important passwords in the event someone needs to access your devices without you (you can change them again once you feel the immediate threat of danger has passed).
Optional: Decide who’s coming with you.
If you have children or pets, you’ll need to formulate an escape plan that includes them. Consider carefully the language you’ll use with children to discuss the situation in a way that prioritizes their safety but doesn’t frighten them. Remember to bring everything your child and/or pet will need and be sure that the place you’re going will be comfortable for them.
What this may entail: If utilizing a women’s shelter, check in advance that they accept children and pets. If staying with a friend or relative, make sure they’re okay with this and that any pets they have are compatible with your own.
You may be in a state of danger so great that you cannot complete the above steps in full, but to the extent possible, you should try. If your abuser was willing to hurt you (whether that’s physically, mentally or emotionally) while you were together, that willingness to cause you pain is likely to increase once they believe there’s no salvaging the relationship. A thorough plan will help protect you from some of the avoidable fallout.
Remember: hope for the best, but always plan for the worst.
Abuse can come in many forms and from any type of person — regardless of gender or sexual orientation. If you feel that you may be in an abusive relationship, seek help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can help victims and survivors of domestic violence. Call 1–800–799–7233 or chat with an advocate on their website. Click here for updated information on COVID-19 for survivors and victims of domestic violence.