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What can an abused woman do to protect herself when leaving?

Leaving an Abusive Relationship Requires Planning
Protection Against the Additional Risks when Leaving an Abusive Partner

Leaving a relationship that has largely been healthy is difficult enough, but one where manipulation and abuse developed into mainstays can actually become deadlier when the victimized partner tries to leave. Here is some important information on how to protect yourself when you are leaving a violent, abusive relationship. Leaving takes time, and it is best done before the situation worsens. Being prepared legally, mentally, and physically all require forethought and planning.
Domestic violence is no longer confined to only heterosexual couples, but now includes any relationship, so this information can also assist anyone involved in a relationship where they are being abused and want to leave. The majority of this article focuses on heterosexual couples but anyone in abusive relationship deserves support that facilitates safely leaving and starting a new life.
Law enforcement now sees abuse towards one partner in a domestic union as a criminal offense. This does not mean leaving such a relationship has gotten any easier. Abuse includes physical harm, such as beating, hitting, slapping, scratching, hair-pulling, and anything else that involves using a woman’s body to control her actions, thoughts, or other activities.
Abuse can also involve manipulation, or threats regarding a woman’s health and well-being, her children, pets, belongings, money, legal documents (titles, contracts, etc.), or anything else that matters to her. To the person abusing her, gaining control of these things equals retaining control of her, too. Mental abuse and manipulation are also quite involved in the majority of abusive relationships and help continue the pattern of behaviors.

Legal protection includes assets, children, and requirements given to her by a judge during divorce proceedings. Gaining a protective order (PO) does not always result in real-life protection. Too often, a PO serves only as a formal warning to calm down, or get sneakier, in some cases, to the abusive partner.
If a woman goes to a domestic violence shelter, she may not have access to the courts to petition for emergency custody of the couple’s minor children. Many times, the abuser uses this to gain custody of the children and then force the woman to come back, or punishes her by keeping her from seeing the children at all.
Having a custody order in place before leaving can prevent this from taking place and keep the children with her, instead. Doing so also protects the children from harmful disruptions, especially during a time when they most likely are already in a state of bewilderment at leaving home and entering the shelter. Discussing the matter with an attorney can help obtain an emergency custody order from a judge before going to the shelter. Having evidence of abuse that is presented to the judge can help significantly. Visitation should be outlined in the petition to also protect the children.

Abusive patterns in a relationship rarely appear at the relationship’s beginning stages. Instead, abuse starts slowly and wears away at a person’s sense of self. This can cause many women in this situation to doubt if the abuse is really as bad as it feels to her. This doubt, as well as concerns over the financial impact leaving might cause, can keep many from leaving in the earlier stages of abuse.
Unless the abusive husband seeks help with anger management and other traits that lead to abusive behaviors, the abuse may never stop. Wives cannot control their husbands, no matter how much better they act, perform in bed, cook, clean, or anything else. Realizing that she can control only her reaction to his abuse and not stop it except by removing herself from the situation can put her ahead of the next violent outburst.
Being abused is never the victim’s fault, or a result of failure to do this or that. Abuse is the result of someone refusing to control himself. Showing an abused wife how her husband only targets her and not other women, his boss, his sisters, mother, aunts, female cousins, neighbors, and others, including other men, may make her realize that he controls his behavior in all those other situations.
Abuse is largely a result of wanting to gain, and then continually maintain, control over another person. However, it is each individual’s right and responsibility to control their own actions.

When an abusive spouse realizes that he is going to lose control over his wife, things can quickly escalate. This is the most dangerous time in a relationship for an abused woman, making it crucial for her safety to do so in a manner that provides her the most protection. Just like the legal and psychological aspects, an abused wife needs to leave for a place of safety where her abusive husband cannot reach her.
If her husband works in law enforcement, local government, or military, her task in obtaining a safe new start becomes more complicated but doing so remains possible. She may need to gather more evidence to show her need to appear in front of special judges to start her divorce or separation.
Physical protection, such as a gun or a knife, can seriously backfire against a woman in a bad marriage. Not only can such weapons be taken away from her and then used against her, causing her injury or death instead of giving her the protection she needs, these items can also land her in jail. Maiming or killing an abusive husband all too often results in prosecution against the woman, as the mindset of police and prosecutors all too often falls back on the ‘she could have left instead’ mentality.
The best option for a woman in a physically violent relationship to protect herself from additional injury is to keep distance between herself and the abusive husband. Locking herself in a room and calling the police can help protect her as well as get additional evidence of marital assaults. The time he sits in jail before being released can give her the perfect opportunity to leave while also filing for custody of the children, protective orders for herself, and the initial divorce petition.

Preparing to Leave
Keeping things ready and letting friends know can help a woman leave. Much of the shame that accompanied the stigma of being a domestic violence victim held fast because of the common habit of blaming the wife for her abuse – “if you did such-and-such better, I would never hit you” is an example. Now, there is no reason to not let friends and family know, especially when much of the support needed to leave can come from these circles.
The best way to leave such a situation is the one that works and keeps her and her children safe. One way that worked for one woman may not be the right fit for another. Most often, doing so unexpectedly can also help a woman succeed in leaving.
All too often, not being prepared forces a woman to reconcile and return to an abusive husband. Being prepared with money gained by selling jewelry or other items around the home, a loan from family or friends, or any other source can make things easier. Supplies such as an extra tank of gas stored in the garage can help drive to a friend’s home on the other side of town.
Creatively coming up with ideas can seem difficult, and this is why having supportive friends and family members come up with ideas can help immensely. If a woman has become isolated to the extent this seems unlikely, domestic violence shelter staff can also help.
Another aspect of leaving that many women face comes after the fact. Once they leave, there is nobody controlling her behavior. No one to please, or to fear. This may sound like a good thing, but to someone who has endured years of abuse can find herself confused and feeling like everything is now out of control, and this can be a source of aggravation and confusion. Counseling about this new obstacle can help a woman maneuver through her new life, and succeed in staying free of abuse.

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