Help and Advice for Women who are Victims of Domestic Abuse
If you are one of the thousands of women who are suffering domestic violence, it can seem as though you are in a hopeless situation. You’re frightened and you’re hurting, and you don’t know where to turn. But, there are things that you can do to help yourself. And, there is help available from shelters, advice lines and professionals who know what to do for the best.
Our firm believe is that no woman should suffer through regular domestic abuse — either emotional or physical. However, we are not you and ever situation is unique, so you are going to have to decide whether you want to leave the relationship or stick it out. It’s our experience that abusive behavior on the part of your partner rarely, if ever, will change, however — so the safest and best option is to usually LEAVE YOUR PARTNER.
Understanding your situation
Unless they are trained to deal with domestic violence or have suffered it themselves, people generally do not have a good understanding of your situation as an abused woman. They will ask ; ‘Why don’t you just leave him ?’
But, it isn’t always that simple. Maybe you still love him, maybe you believe that he can change. Perhaps you are too afraid to leave, fearing retribution, or perhaps you simply can’t afford to go.
Every individual situation is different, and the right advice for one person is not the right advice for another. That’s why taking the first steps to getting help from a trained professional is essential. Don’t feel ashamed. Many women who are abused begin to lose self esteem and feel that they have somehow brought the violence on themselves. Don’t understimate the danger, either. Domestic abuse claims lives…don’t let yours be one of them.
IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT ! Nothing you have done justifies violence, remember that. You deserve help. You deserve to live your life without fear and without injury. And, there is help out there that you can access.
If you’re in immediate danger, you can call 911 or any of the emergency services in your country for help.
Protecting yourself in an abusive relationship
If you are in an abusive relationship, there are a number of things that you can do to lessen the danger.
- Learn to avoid your partner’s ‘triggers’. Even if it means appearing to accept something that you don’t agree with, it’s better than being beaten.
- Make an excuse to leave the house when you sense your partner becoming angry. Leaving before he becomes out of control can keep you safe.
- Find a safe place in the house that you can retreat to. Ideally this should be a room that has another exit, a telephone and does not contain items that can be used as weapons.
- Establish a code word or phrase you can use to alert family or friends that you are in danger.
- Make sure that the car always has enough fuel so that if necessary you can make a swift getaway.
- If you have children, teach them exactly what to do in the event of your having to leave urgently. That way they’ll be ready and less panicked if the time comes.
- Make several lists of emergency contact numbers, coded so that if your partner finds them he won’t be suspicious. Making multiple lists ensures that even if he finds and destroys one, you still have access to them.
Should you stay, or should you go ?
It is never going to be an easy decision. Abused women often have little or no cash of their own, and also frequently have lost touch with friends and family during years of abuse from a partner. However, if you are being abused you have to consider the possibility of leaving. It could save your life.
It is also possible that your relationship can be saved and your partner can learn to control his anger through counselling and professional help. However, research shows that an abusive partner only really changes if he is able to fully accept responsibility for his actions and has appropriate long term professional support.
If your partner displays any of the following traits, he is not ready to change and you should seriously consider leaving.
- He refuses to accept or request professional help.
- He refuses to accept full blame or responsibility for his violence, blaming you, his past, his present stresses or anything else.
- He refuses to accept the seriousness of the abuse, saying it was ‘just a little slap’.
- He exercises emotional blackmail to make you stay, saying he can ‘t change without you.
- He tries to get your family, children or friends ‘on his side’.
- He puts pressure on you to attend couples counselling with him.
- He gives up attending counselling before the end of the program saying he has solved the problem.
If you decide to stay
Only you can make the decision whether to stay or to leave an abusive partner. Just be sure that your decision is an informed one, based on fact and if possible, on professional advice.
- If you do decide to stay with your partner, there is no need to face it all alone. You can still turn to the professionals for help and advice, and this is strongly advised. Make contact with a domestic violence support program for your locality. Here you can obtain support, advice and be given options for escape should the situation become intolerable.
- Build a network of friends who can provide support. Get involved in activities outside the home, both as a means of escape and to prevent a feeling of isolation and also to find friends who can offer support.
- Build your self esteem. This sounds easier than it is, but taking part in activities you enjoy, developing skills and making new friends all helps. Make time to be kind to yourself.
- If possible, take a college course or try to get qualifications to help you find good employment. If you do then decide to leave your partner you will have an independant income.
Staying safe and maintaining privacy
If you are living with an abusive partner, it is vital that you take certain steps to maintain your privacy and keep yourself safe. Some abusive men may monitor your telephone calls or internet usage to check up on you. If you have been searching for help on the net or calling advice lines, your partner could use this against you and it may fuel his anger. So it’s important to follow these steps to protect yourself.
- Try to use a fixed telephone rather than a cell phone. A phone with a cord is also more difficult to tap than a walkabout model.
- If you are using your home phone to call for help, make sure you either call collect or use a prepaid phone card. Otherwise the phone bill can give you away when it arrives.
- If you use a cell phone, make it a prepaid one so there are no monthly bills for your partner to find. If you are leaving him, throw away any cell phones he knows about and get a new one. Cell phones can be tracked or hacked.
- Be careful about your computer useage too. It is relatively easy for your computer activity to be tracked, so go to a friend’s house or use the local library facilities. Refuges and help agencies for abused women may also be able to allow you to use safe computers.
- Choose passwords for all your activities that your partner cannot guess. This includes for your banking, email accounts, social networking sites and membership of any groups or forums for battered women.
There are a lot of ways that your partner can effectively spy on you these days. Spy technology is relatively cheap and common now, so always bear this in mind. GPS trackers can be hidden in the car to track your movements, so be very vigilant in checking if you don’t want him to know where you are. Check your purse, pockets and anything else that you habitually carry as well. If you find such a device, bear in mind that it is counter productive to remove it immediately or every time you go out. This would only alert your abuser to the fact that you have found it. Wait until you really need to…when you are leaving him…before removing the devices.
Be aware too that even innocent household equipment such as video cameras and baby monitors can be used to spy on you and listen to your phone calls and conversations.
What to do in an emergency
If you have stayed with your partner but the situation becomes really dangerous and you have to leave in a hurry, here’s what to do. Firstly, try not to panic, especially if you have children, as this will make them unpredictable and difficult to get away safely and quickly.
If you have friends or family that you can safely go to, well and good. However, it is not a good idea to go anywhere that your partner will know about as he could easily follow you and cause more trouble, even endangering your family and friends. It’s better to go to a refuge for battered and abused women at first, at least until,you have established how your partner will react. A domestic violence refuge or shelter is well trained in keeping your whereabouts secret. Most will take mothers with their children if need be, and have everything needed to take care of you and your kids for a set amount of time.
A domestic violence refuge is intended to offer you emergency care and help, not to be a lifelong or long term answer. However, most refuges can help you to get on your feet, to find a job, arrange child care and help you to find a more permanent place to live where you will be safe from your abuser. They will also be likely to offer counselling for you and your children, health care, emergency financial assistance, education and training, children’s services and legal aid.
A refuge does not have to have all the details of your identity, although they may ask. You do not have to give a real identification if you do not think it is safe to do so. This is particularly pertinent if you live in a small town or the refuge is not far from your home. The prime responsibility of the refuge is to keep you safe, not to find out anything about you.
Here are the websites to use and the numbers to call if you need emergency help and refuge:
- If you are in the US, call 911 in an emergency situation. In the UK, call 999. In other countries, use the normal emergency service numbers.
- US: National Domestic Violence Hotline. http://www.thehotline.org/ . Tel: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.
Or, to find a shelter or refuge, go to:
- UK: Women’s Aid. http://www.womensaid.org.uk/ Tel: 0808 2000 247
- Canada: National Domestic Violence Hotline. Tel: 1-800-363-9010
- Australia: 1800RESPECT. http://www.1800respect.org.au/ Tel: 1800-737-732
- Elsewhere: The website http://www.hotpeachpages.net/ can help in many countries and over 80 languages.
If you decide to leave
If you decide to leave, a whole load of new issues will arrive at your door. You need to make a new life for yourself and your kids, but your partner may have other ideas. Some abusive men will accept that the marriage or relationship is over if you leave, but others will become vengeful and even dangerous. So, it’s vital to take steps to keep yourself safe.
- If you have children of school age, consider sending them to new schools. You have to weigh up the potential disruption to your children’s education against the potential danger of abduction or threats from your ex partner.
- If at all possible move to a different neighborhood.
- Sign up for an unlisted phone number.
- Use a PO Box number instead of a postal address, at least temporarily until things have settled down and you are fairly sure that your ex will not be trying to find or harm you.
- If you are in the US you can apply to your state’s confidentiality pogram and have your mail forwarded safely and secretly to you.
- Change bank and bank accounts so that your ex cannot trace you through these.
- Change your habits. If you aren’t able to leave the neighborhood, simple changes to your everyday routines can help to keep you safe. If your ex knew the route you used to take to work, for example, change the route. Use diffferent shops if possible, and alter any appointments that he may have been aware of.
- Always carry a cell phone with emergency numbers programmed into speed dial. That way, you don’t lose any time if your ex spots you and comes after you.
- Take out a restraining order on your ex. This can help, if he has shown himself to be a persistent danger to you, but it is not a fail safe. You can find out more about restraining orders and their efficacy by calling 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) if you are in the US. If you are in the UK or any other country, the organisations mentioned in the section above will be able to give you information.
Recovery: Building a new life after domestic violence
So, you’ve done it. You’ve left your violent partner, sought emergency help and you are on the road to building a new and safer life for yourself. Congratulations, you’ve shown courage and fortitude and you deserve a pat on the back. But, it isn’t always an easy road, to complete recovery. You…and your children if they were involved…have been through a very traumatic experience and you may need help for quite some time. Accept the help if it is offered, and don’t be afraid to seek it if it isn’t. Take part in therapy groups, counselling sessions, join support groups and internet forums where survivors of domestic abuse can get together and chat.
Don’t jump into a new relationship too soon. You need time to heal the scars, both mental and physical before you are ready to make a new commitment to anyone. You need to learn to trust again, and to be sure that your trust will never be abused again. Research has shown that women who are too quick to form new relationships after abuse are more vulnerable to new abuse. Take your time.
At the opposite end of the scale, you may be feeling that you will never be able to trust again. You may be thinking that all men are abusive and that you will never feel safe in a relationship again. But, believe me, you can, and will feel better and be able to move on. It takes different lengths of time for different people, that’s all.
Domestic violence to women is something that happens, sadly, but it is something that you can get over. Just don’t try to do it alone. Make the most of all the help that is waiting for you.
NB: Although this article is aimed at women who have been abused within a relationship, it is also a fact that men can be and are abused in similar ways. Should you be an abused man who is looking for help, you can find it through the following sites:
- US: http://dahmw.org/ (Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women)
- UK: http://www.mankind.org.uk/ (Mankind Initiative)
- Australia: http://www.oneinthree.com.au/ (One in Three Campaign)