By Emilie Trepanier
Leaving a domestic violence relationship is terrifying. A victim feels the weight of guilt, hope, and fear all at once. This is why leaving the relationship is a slow process, and why those who are connected with victims of domestic abuse need to be patient as well as helpful.
While still in the relationship, there are helpful resources that can aid victims while they are processing the abuse happening to them. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has an option available to those seeking help in the top left-hand side, “Chat Now.” After clicking it, a small survey of questions comes up. Using this feature in Incognito Mode can help make sure an abuser won’t know a victim was using this service. They also have a number available, 1-800-799-7233 as well as a number for Spanish speakers 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).
Having a few people the victim feels close to be aware of the abuse can also help the victim cope before and after leaving the abuser. If a victim doesn’t feel they have any close friends or family in their lives who could understand, they could join a support group online. There are several support groups available; Domestic Shelters has a list available here. Victims should still consider using fake names while online, in order to better protect themselves.
Patience is highly important for loved ones watching the abuse. Unless the victim is in immediate danger, it can put their lives in jeopardy if they leave their abusers hastily. Abusers have been known to stalk, and leaving without planning ahead of time can be deadly. Although being aware of a victim’s situation can be challenging, a victim’s safety is most important. Loved ones also need to take care to not push the victim away by treating them as though they are weak and helpless, as well as by causing them to fear their choices aren’t respected or understood. What a victim needs when they open up to someone is for that person to support them and listen.
Once a victim is at the point where they are ready to leave, they should create a safety plan. This includes slowly packing or bringing their personal belongings to a new residence (preferably with a loved one, so they are not alone) as well as gathering important documents. An article published by Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence, There’s a Way Out: How to Safety Plan outlines several important factors for a safety plan. The goal is to not have to think about anything except walking out the door and going from point A to B when the time comes. Victims should consider stowing away money and getting a protective order as well. This article has more in-depth and important suggestions for victims.
Next is the matter of emotionally preparing oneself. Leaving an abuser isn’t just leaving a life of fear; it’s leaving the idea of hope and love behind. A victim had a certain life planned ahead with the person they loved. It is a very confusing and painful time. Even though escape can feel like a breath of fresh air, it also can feel like a maddening loss of a life once lived. This is why support groups and preparing ahead of time, such as already having a date set to see a therapist, is so vital. A victim should give the therapist someone they trust about the situation’s number instead of their own.
A victim may want to consider writing a letter to their future self about what they want for their future, what future them looks like and feels like, and how they feel now. This can be motivating as well as serve as a warning to not return to the life they are currently leading. Writing this letter in a new journal to also write about their new life can also help them put the new chapter of their life into words. Using this journal during the therapy process can also be helpful later, as a victim reflects.
There is an endless amount of resources for victims and survivors. Preparing to leave is daunting just as leaving and then the aftermath of leaving is. Victims are not alone in their troubles, and the resources out there are ready to take them under their wing and bring them back to life.
More resources available:
List of resources by state
Chat rooms and message boards
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.