Domestic Violence: How to Get Help

Being in an abusive relationship can be devastating to victims and their children, but leaving can be just as difficult. These tips can help keep your family safe.

mother hugging children Juice Images Photography/ Veer

When you're involved in an abusive relationship, getting help can feel like an overwhelming task. Your spouse may have isolated you from family and friends, or it may seem as though they have given up on you; your abuser may have made you believe the mistreatment is your fault; and you may question if the abuse is "really so bad" and hope it will stop.

The truth is, unless the abuser realizes he has a problem and gets help, it's very likely that the abuse will continue and probably escalate.

Still, leaving can be difficult. "The average woman leaves an abusive relationship seven times before she leaves for good," says Katie Ray-Jones, president of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The period immediately after the victim attempts to leave can be extremely dangerous, so some women go back to the abuser out of fear.

Whether you plan to leave soon or aren't ready or able to go for some time, following these steps can help protect you and your children.

Create a Safety Plan. A safety plan is a tool designed to help walk you through your exit from the relationship. It includes information about when you will leave, where you will go, how you'll get there, what you will do if certain things happen, and more. You can find information about safety planning on the Internet, but experts say it's best to speak with a domestic violence advocate so that your safety plan is tailored specifically to you and your situation.

Do Prep Work. Start putting aside money, even if it's only a few dollars here and there. Ask friends or family members to hold it for you. If you share a checking and savings account with the abuser or if you don't have accounts, open one without your partner's knowledge. Make a copies of the car and house keys; hide them or give them to a trusted neighbor.

Know What You Need. It will be much easier to do things such as file for emergency temporary custody, file for divorce, or transfer your children to a different school if you have the needed documents. The abuser might notice if originals are missing, so make copies and give them to someone you trust.

Some important documents:

- your driver's license
- you and your children's birth certificates
- Social Security cards for you and your children
- marriage license
- immunization records
- credit card and bank account information (a recent statement, card numbers, and account numbers)
- car title and registration
- tax records
- insurance papers
- a copy of the lease or mortgage statement
- a list of phone numbers for family and friends

If you aren't able to get all (or any) of the documents, don't let it be a reason to stay in the relationship. Proceed with your plans.

Memorize Numbers. You may not be able to take your phone or a written list when you leave, so it's important to memorize the phone numbers of at least a couple of friends or family members. Other numbers you should try to commit to memory include a local or national domestic violence helpline and a taxi service.

Keep Safe While Waiting. It's important to keep yourself safe if you aren't able to end the relationship yet. If violence occurs, "stay out of the kitchen where there are knives, sharp objects, and sometimes boiling water, and avoid the bathroom because of razors, chemicals and cords that could be used to strangle someone," warns Ray-Jones. The safest area has a phone and more than one exit (such as a window and a door leading outside). Always keep gas in your car and try to back into the driveway in case you need to leave quickly. Ray-Jones says it's also a good idea to develop a code or system with your children and possibly a neighbor. For instance, you could tell your kids, "If mommy says [code word],that means go get help." Or tell the neighbor, "If my porch light is on during the day, please call the police."

Pack a getaway bag. Regardless of whether you or your ex will be leaving the home after the relationship is over, pack a bag. If he's moving and you?re staying, you still might need to go away for a few days in case he returns. Include cash, a copy of your identification, a couple of outfits for yourself and each child, any prescription medications, toiletries, and a few of your kids' favorite books or toys. Keep the bag hidden somewhere or at a friend or relative's home.

Tend to Legal Issues. A huge barrier to ending an abusive relationship for many women is fear that the abuser will try to take the kids or that she won't have money to support them. Some worry they will face kidnapping charges if they leave with the children. "Find a lawyer who understands domestic violence law and the rules for divorce, custody, and support matters in your state to represent you and advocate for you in all matters," says Bari Weinberger, a divorce and family attorney with the Weinberger Law Group in Parsippany, New Jersey. Most domestic violence services can assist you in finding free or reduced-rate legal aid. Another legal option worth considering is filing for a protective order, which will require the abuser to keep his distance.

Alert Work and Schools. Your ex could try to take your kids from school without your knowledge or come to your workplace to harm you. As it gets closer to the day that you plan to end the relationship, remove the abuser from the list of people who have permission to visit or pick up your children from school or day care. If it won't affect your job, it might be a good idea to inform your employer of the situation. Giving everyone the heads-up means a few more people will be watching out for you.

Copyright © 2013 Meredith Corporation.

All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.