Safety tips to follow after leaving abusive relationship
This is the eighth in a series about domestic violence.
Q: What are safety and survival strategies for domestic violence victims?
A: On average, abused women make seven attempts to leave abusers before they actually succeed in leaving. The Domestic Violence Roundtable of Sudbury-Wayland-Lincoln Massachusetts published strategies for victims to protect themselves at home and when they leave.
At home, when in conflict, victims should stay out of kitchens where there are knives and out of bathrooms where they can be trapped or falls can be fatal. Victims should assemble bags with important papers and documents necessary for quick escapes and keep them with friends or in safe deposit boxes.
During confrontation, victims should go to rooms with doors that allow escapes, or victims can go to rooms with doors they can lock from the inside so they can call the police. Victims should teach their children not to attempt to help during fights. Creating code words for your children, family and friends to let them know you need the police is a recommendation. With physical abuse, victims should document the injuries with photographs.
The Domestic Violence Roundtable offers strategies to protect victims once they have left. First, victims need to change phone numbers and block caller ID. Then after victims no longer live with their abusers, they should notify neighbors to call the police if they see the abusers around their residences. Victims should change their locks if they stay in their previous residences.
Victims should provide co-workers and security, as well as the children's schools, with photos of abusers. In addition, victims should make sure these places understand not to give out home addresses or phone numbers.
Victims need to change their routines and vary their patterns of activities. When leaving work, victims should be accompanied by security guards or co-workers on the way to their cars. Finally, victims need to contact domestic violence agencies and resources to find out how to stay safe.
Eliminating risks from technology to reinforce safety is a must for victims to stay safe. If abusers seem to know a lot about victim whereabouts, victims should make sure their phones, computers and emails are secure. Using computers at libraries, Internet cafes or other public facilities offers anonymity to victims.
Victims need to create new email accounts with new passwords set up on secure computers. Passwords for other accounts and PIN numbers need to be replaced. Examples of such accounts are online banking, voicemail and medical records. Using passwords abusers might guess is not wise.
Regarding cellphones, victims should withdraw from family plans which produce records and phone logs. Victims should use prepaid phone cards and new cellphones. Victims should beware of cellphones that have been provided by abusers. Victims also need to be certain their newer phones do not have GPS.
Experts advise victims to stay away from cordless phones and use landlines with corded phones. Victims should check court records to see if they can be secured or sealed. Victims need private mailboxes or P.O. boxes and should give out those mailboxes or P.O. boxes when asked for addresses.
Victims need to search online for their identifying data and to check phone directories to make sure their unlisted numbers have not been published. Recommendations to victims are to delete their social-networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. Other advice to victims includes, closing out discount cards for stores or services. Credit card accounts known to abusers should be closed.
In an article from the Mayo Clinic, there is a reminder to domestic violence victims that the longer they stay in abusive situations, the greater the damage to their self-esteem. Through time, victims become depressed, feel more helpless, feel more dependent on the abusers and start to doubt their abilities to take care of themselves. The Mayo Clinic staff recommends victims start dealing with their situations by telling somebody about their abuse. Third persons who listen can help victims sort out and clarify their feelings and help them choose alternatives for action.
From an article published in 2003 in the Child Welfare Information Gateway of the Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, Children's Bureau, there is a list of tactics for victims to use when staying in abusive situations. Victims usually choose self-protection methods based on their insight into abusers and by trial and error. Protective strategies include the following:
* Complying, placating, colluding with abusers;
* Minimizing, denying or refusing to talk about the abuse for fear of making it worse;
* Leaving or staying, whichever keeps violence from escalating;
* Fighting back or defying the abuser;
* Sending children to a neighbor or family member's home;
* Engaging in lying as a way to survive;
* Refusing or not following through with activities that would make the abuser angry;
* Using or abusing substances to lessen or escape physical pain.
* Lying about the abuser's criminal activities or abuse to the children to avoid an escalation in violence;
* Trying to improve the relationship or find help for the abuser.
Victims need to assess their abusive situations in order to keep themselves safe. An aspect of personal safety is to recognize the danger signs of abusers while dating, before living with or marrying abusers. A common example of how women misjudge men is their thinking men's possessiveness, jealousy, neediness and wanting women all to themselves means they care. The truth is, such men treat women as their property and want total control over their lives.
* Next week's discussion will include personal safety skills from other experts.
Judy Caprez is associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work.