Saturday, June 30, 2012

Getting Out of an Abusive Relationship with Kids and/or Pets - Tips for Creating a Safety Plan

Ending an important relationship is never easy.  It’s even harder if you have been isolated from your family and friends.  Chances are you’ve been physically and psychologically beaten down and financially controlled.  You, your loved ones and your family pets may also be targets of constant threats.

If you’re trying to decide whether to stay or leave, you may be feeling confused, uncertain, frightened, and torn.  One moment, you may desperately want to get away and the next you may want to hang on to the relationship.  Maybe you even blame yourself for the abuse or feel weak and embarrassed because you’ve stuck around in spite of it. Don’t be trapped by confusion, guilt or self-blame.  The only thing that matters is your safety.

If you are being abused, please remember:
You are not to blame for being abused or mistreated.
You are not the cause of your partner’s abusive behavior.
You deserve to be treated with respect.
You are worthy of real true love.
You deserve a safe and happy life free from abuse.
Your children, friends, family and pets deserve a life free from abuse.
You can take control of your life.
You are not alone. There are people waiting to help.

There are things you can do to protect yourself.  These safety tips can make the difference between being severely injured or killed and escaping with your life.  These safety tips are provided to demonstrate there is hope and help out there waiting for you.  These safety tips are NOT intended to be a substitute for the professional help of a domestic violence counselor.

Prepare Yourself for Emergencies
Chances are you know your abuser’s red flags.  Be on alert for signs and clues that your abuser is getting upset and may explode in anger or violence.  Come up with several believable reasons you can use to leave the house during the day and at night if you feel trouble brewing.  For example, return a movie or a library book.

Identify safe areas of the house where you can go.  Plan to go there if your abuser attacks or an argument starts.  Avoid small enclosed spaces without exits like closets or bathrooms; or rooms with weapons like the kitchen or garage.  If possible, head for a room with a phone and an outside door or window.
Come up with a code word.  Establish a word, phrase or signal you can use to let your children, friends, neighbors or co-workers know that you are in danger and the police should be called immediately. 

Some Tips on Money
If you are employed and make your own money, open your own checking account at a different bank as soon as you can.  If credit is an issue, purchase a prepaid Visa or MasterCard from a local grocery or drug store.  Deposit as much money into the account that is safely possible to avoid detection as often as you can.

If you are unemployed and have no source of income other than your abuser, there is still hope!  Start selling items you no longer need or want whether it is clothing, furniture, jewelry, toys, DVDs, video games or books.  Contact a local consignment shop, have a garage sale or open an eBay account.

Purchase name brand products for your kitchen and bathroom such as shampoo, conditioner, detergents and cleaners.  Save and hide the name brand product package away when it’s all gone.  When you go shopping to replace those items, buy the less expensive store brand and refill the name brand containers with it.  Perhaps your abuser scrutinizes your receipts – no problem.  Repurchase the name brands and take them home for a receipt review.   As soon as you can, take the products with the receipt back to the store for a refund and purchase the less expensive store brand again.  You can deposit the difference into your new account!
Sell your blood plasma.  You can generally get $40 for the first and second visit.  When you become a frequent donor they will likely pay around $30. If you do it twice a week you may get, up to, an extra $240. Be prepared for a lengthy physical.  Then a needle in you for 45 minutes, afterward you don't need the physical; just the 45 minute needle.  Research what companies are paying in your area.

Open your own checking account at a different bank as soon as you can.  If credit is an issue, purchase a prepaid Visa or MasterCard from a local grocery or drug store.  Deposit as much money into the account that is safely possible to avoid detection as often as you can.

Make Your Escape Plan
Be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.  Keep your car fueled up and facing the driveway exit with the driver’s door unlocked.  Hide a spare car key where you can get it quickly.  Keep emergency cash, clothing, important phone numbers, medications and legal documents such as I.D., passports, birth certificates, titles and registrations, insurance cards – medical and auto – and medical files for family pets hidden in a safe place.  For example, consider getting a safety deposit box at a different bank; secure them at work or at a trusted friend’s house.  Get a P.O. Box.

Practice escaping quickly and safely.  Rehearse your escape plan so you know exactly what to do if under attack from your abuser.  If you have children, practice the escape plan with them. 

Make and memorize a list of emergency contacts.  Ask trusted individuals if you can contact them if you need a ride, a place to stay, need a pet sitter or help contacting the police.  Memorize the numbers of your emergency contacts, local shelter and domestic violence hotline.

Phone Safety
If you don’t have a cell phone, consider getting one - even an emergency prepaid one.  Seek out where the closest public phone is in case of emergency.  When seeking help for domestic violence call from a public pay phone, a cell phone that your abuser does not know about or another phone outside the house if possible.  In the U.S., call 911.

Avoid cordless telephones.  If you’re calling from your home, use a corded phone if you have one rather than a cordless phone or cell phone that your abuser isn’t aware of.  A corded phone is more private, and less easy to tap.

Call collect or use a prepaid phone card.  Remember that if you use your own home phone the phone numbers that you call will be listed on the monthly bill that is sent to your home.  Even if you’ve already left by the time the bill arrives, your abuser may be able to track you down by the phone numbers you’ve called for help.  For that very reason, deliberately make calls to businesses like hotels and rental car companies that are way out of town, out of state or in the complete opposite direction of where you will be going to before you leave.  Do not make calls to friends, relatives or co-workers as it may put them in danger if your abuser thinks they are hiding you.

Check your cell phone settings.  There are cell phone technologies your abuser can use to listen in on your calls or track your location.  Your abuser can use your cell phone as a tracking device if it has GPS, is in silent mode or is set to auto answer.   Turn it off when not in use or leave it behind when you flee from your abuser.

Computer and Internet Safety
Abusers often monitor their partner’s activities, including their computer use.  While there are ways to delete your internet history, this can be a red flag to your abuser that you’re trying to hide something.  So be very careful.  Furthermore, it is almost impossible to clear a computer of all evidence of the websites that you have visited unless you know a lot about computers.

Use a safe computer.  If you seek help online, you are safest if you use a computer outside of your home.  You can use a computer at work, a friend’s house, the library, your local community center or a domestic violence shelter/agency.

Be careful with email and instant messaging.  Email and instant messaging are not the safest way to get help for domestic violence.  Be particularly careful when sending email as your abuser may know how to access your account.  Create a new email account that your abuser does not know about.

Change your user names and passwords.  Create new usernames and passwords for your email, online banking and other sensitive accounts when it’s safe to do so.  Even if you think your abuser doesn’t have your passwords, they may be able to guess it, use spyware or a key-logging program to get them.  Choose passwords that your abuser cannot guess - avoid birthdays, nicknames and other personal information.

Protecting Yourself from GPS Surveillance and Recording Devices
Your abuser doesn’t need to be tech savvy in order to use surveillance technology to monitor your activities and listen in on your conversations.  Be aware that your abuser may be using hidden cameras such as a Nanny Cam or a baby monitor to check in on you.  Global Positioning System (GPS) devices are also cheap and easy to use.  GPS devices can be hidden in your car, your purse or other objects you carry with you.  Your abuser can also use your car’s GPS system (if installed) to see where you’ve been.

If you discover any tracking or recording devices, leave them alone until you’re ready to leave.  While it may be tempting to remove them or shut them off, this will alert your abuser that you’re on to them.

Help from Domestic Violence Shelters
For women, domestic violence shelters generally have room for both mothers and their children. However, most do not house the family pet(s).   Search HERE for shelters around the country that house families and pets together.  Some shelters partner with local animal shelters to house pets temporarily if you’re unable to make arrangements for your pet on your own.  Contact shelters in your area beforehand to identify pet friendly shelters available to you.

Shelters will provide for all your basic living needs, including food and childcare.  The length of time you can stay at a shelter varies, but most shelters will also help you find a permanent home, job and other things you need to start a new life.  The shelter should also be able to refer you to other services in your area for abused women including, but not limited to:  legal help, services for children, support groups, counseling, education opportunities, employment programs or health care services.

Getting Started
In the U.S. and Canada contact:  The Hotline

For Men
Emergency Shelters for men, with or without children, can be limited.  Please speak to a helpline advocate as soon as safely possible to find out what’s available in your area.
In the US and Canada contact:
The Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men & Women Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women
In the UK contact: ManKind
In Australia contact:  One In Three

Restraining orders
Get a restraining order or protective order against your abuser.  Make sure to include your pets in the order as well.  Understand that the police can only enforce a restraining order if your abuser violates it and if you report the violation.
Find out how restraining orders are enforced in your area.  Will your abuser will be given a citation or will they actually be taken to jail?  If the police simply talk to the abuser or issue a citation, your abuser may see it as a sign that the police will do nothing and feel there are no real consequences for pursuing you.

In any event, a restraining order or protective order is not what will keep you safe. It's an important tool that you can use to keep yourself safe.  Do not allow yourself to fall into a false sense of security because an order was issued!  You and the people you trust in your life must remain vigilant for your personal safety.

Change your routine as much as possible and always be alert to your surroundings.  Shop at different stores at different times, fill any prescriptions at a different pharmacy, take a different route to school or work and/or move your children to a new day care.

Remember, you are in control now!

Moving On
It’s best to take the time you need to get to know yourself and understand how you got into an abusive relationship.  Take advantage of every resource that is available to you, particularly counseling or group therapy.  There’s no sense in rushing into another relationship that will likely end the same way, especially if you have a child.  This video explains why you must Choose Your Partner Carefully.

Surviving an abusive relationship is a victory for you.  Be proud of yourself!   It's likely it will take a while to get over the pain and for you to feel safe again. Just trust that you will.  With professional treatment and support from family and friends you can speed your recovery from the emotional and physical trauma you've survived.                                                   .

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