Keep Your Family Safe After You Leave an Abuser

The most dangerous time for a domestic violence survivor is when she leaves the relationship. These tips can help protect you and your children.

mother hugging children Juice Images Photography/ Veer

When a domestic violence survivor leaves a relationship, it would seem her safety concerns would also end. That's far from the truth. More than 70 percent of visits to the emergency rooms by battered women occur after separation, according to a study in the International Journal of Health Services. One of the most dangerous times for a victim is the period immediately after she ends the relationship with the abuser. "Perpetrators escalate their abuse to attempt to regain control and keep the person in the relationship," explains Sheryl Clinger, director of advocacy, policy, and community engagement in The Center for Family Safety and Healing at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Leaving an abuser could lead to stalking or physical or sexual assaults; as a last act of control some abusers kill their victims, Clinger says.

If you or a loved one are thinking of leaving an abusive relationship, it's essential to be prepared. Use our checklist to help keep you and your children safe after a violent relationship ends.

At Home

- Even if the abuser gives back his key, change the locks on the door and check window locks. If you're able to, install an alarm system for extra security.
- Change your phone number and request that the new one be unlisted. Be careful who you share your new number with, and screen calls from unfamiliar numbers.
- Keep the outside of your home well lit. Trim bushes, trees, and other shrubbery to eliminate hiding spots.
- Protect your mail. If you can't or don't want to get a post office box, check your mailbox every day and shred any mail with identifying information (bank statements, pre-approved credit cards or appointments). Send outgoing mail from the post office instead of from your home.

At School and Day Care

- Take a different route than usual when dropping off or picking up your kids.
- "Inform your children's school of the situation and let them know who is allowed to pick up the children in your absence," says Adrienne Lamar-Snider, chief operations officer at a domestic violence intervention program in Los Angeles. Don't forget to remove your ex from the form that allows him to have lunch with the kids.
- If your child rides a bus, notify the driver or transportation department so they know not to release the child to anyone other than you. Be there when your child gets on and off the bus.
- Speak to your kids so they know they aren't to talk to your ex or leave school with him or anyone else. Discuss and prepare them for possible tricks an abuser might use. For example, Your mom told me to pick you up today; your mom is waiting in the car; or don't you still love Dad?

On the Job

- Vary your routines. Don't leave for work or come home at the same time every day. Take a different route if you can.
- Notify your employer of the situation. If you have a protection order, provide a copy.
- Ask about having your calls screened or have threatening calls transferred to security.
- Have Security escort you to your vehicle.

Away from Home

- If you have a restraining order, keep a copy with you at all times.
- Switch the days and routes you use to run errands. If you usually do your grocery shopping on Sunday morning, go on Thursday evening; if you always stop by the bank on Friday after work, go to a different branch on Saturday morning.
- "Visitation exchanges should always be done in a well-lit and populated location," says Lamar-Snider. Police departments are good, safe exchange places when dealing with an abusive person or if there is a restraining order in place, she adds.
- If your ex knows about any appointments you made before the relationship ended, reschedule.

Online and Technology

- Create a new e-mail account, if possible, so the abuser won't be able to contact you online. If you can't (or don't want to) change the address, change your password and set up a filter so messages from him are automatically sent to a separate folder or deleted.
- Change passwords and block him on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. Set your page to private. Be careful who you friend or follow, as some exes will create a fake identity or have friends harass and spy on you.
- Have your computer checked by a professional or a tech-savvy friend to make sure your ex didn't install monitoring software.
- Some abusers install software on their partner's cell phone so they're able to track her location. Turn off GPS and have your phone checked.

With Finances

- Change all debit card PINs and online banking passwords.
- "Close any joint accounts to stop them from being abused by the other party," says Denise Winston, author of Money Starts Here! Your Practical Guide to Survive and Thrive in Any Economy. If your ex overdraws the account or bounces checks, it could affect your credit if the account is also in your name.
- Check your credit report to make sure the abuser hasn't secured credit in your name. It may be a good idea to place a fraud alert on your file so creditors have to contact you to verify your identity before issuing new credit or making changes on existing accounts.
- "Set up text and e-mail alerts on all bank accounts, credit cards, and loans so you're informed of every transaction," Winston says.
- Update insurance plans and your will if your ex was listed as the beneficiary.

Copyright © 2013 Meredith Corporation.

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