The most dangerous time in a violent relationship is when a victim decides to leave.
“When an abuser says, ‘If you leave me, I’ll kill you,’ they really mean that,” said Susan Shipman, the executive director of 2nd Chance Inc., a nonprofit safety and support organization for victims of domestic and sexual violence serving serving Calhoun, Cherokee, Cleburne, Etowah, Randolph and Talladega counties in Northeast Alabama.
That’s why an exit strategy needs to emphasize safety first, Shipman said, and if possible, prioritize the documents needed to transition to a new town, job, school and home.
“It’s good to have practical things taken care of because in the heat of the moment, it’s hard to think of those things,” Shipman said. Ultimately, a victim’s safety matters most.
From getting new clothes to refilling medication to transitioning kids to new school districts, organizations like 2nd Chance help families rebuild their lives.
“If they get out of the house with the clothes on their back,” Shipman said, “we’re going to help them with all the other stuff.”
Steps for Safety
The following guidelines are recommendations from crisis advocates but should not replace one-on-one guidance from professionals.
Plan for the safest possible escape:
- Contact a crisis center or women’s shelter for individualized, expert guidance on ensuring your safety. Organizations like 2nd Chance have staff on-call 24/7 to talk you through your safest possible escape plan. Because of confidentiality laws, any information you share during the call will remain private and protected.
- If you confide in a friend or family member about your exit plan, be sure the person has no connections to your abuser — mutual friends, family, etc. You want to ensure your plan is completely secret and safe.
- Gather important documents for you and your children as discreetly as possible. Having your and your dependents’ driver’s licenses, photo IDs, birth certificates and Social Security cards will make transitioning much easier. Documents for your children, including school records and immunization forms, are useful but easily replaced.
- Give the documents to a trusted friend or family member but avoid next-door neighbors or mutual friends of your abuser.
- If removing these documents from your home will signal your exit to your abusive partner, then don’t do it. Shipman said part of their free service is helping survivors acquire new documents.
- Pack a bag with necessary health items like medicine, inhalers, prescriptions, etc. Again, avoid doing so if your abuser will notice.
- Memorize important phone numbers, including contacts for the local shelter.
- If you drive, keep gas in your car and hide an extra set of keys. Some agencies suggest regularly backing into your driveway.
- Create a code word for your children, friends and family. Use this code word if you’re in danger and need them to call the police.
- Do not remove firearms from the home. Doing so may signal your exit plan to your abuser and increase your chances for being critically harmed. Crisis counselors do not suggest victims buy firearms for protection. The presence of a firearm in the home increases the likelihood of physical violence and use of the gun against the victim.
- If you can save money and have a trusted friend keep the cash for you, do so. Having your own money will, of course, make things easier, but do not let money stop you from leaving.
- When you are leaving, if your abuser tries to stop you, do not run into an interior room without an exit. Do not run into a space with weapons, especially where firearms are kept. Avoid the kitchen where tools like knives can be deadly. Try to get out of the house.
- Remember, you are not the cause for your partner’s abuse. You do not deserve to be abused. You and your children deserve safety and happiness. You are not alone. People are nearby and ready to help you. Asking for help is not a weakness.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or Anniston’s 2nd Chance Inc. at 256-236-7233. Sources for Steps for Safety: 2nd Chance, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women’s Health.
This story was produced in conjunction with the Anniston Star. It is part of JJIE’s project on targeting gun violence. Support is provided by The Kendeda Fund. JJIE is solely responsible for the content and maintains editorial independence.