One of the most common calls we get at Genesis is concerned friends and family asking how to best help their loved one get away from the abuse she is experiencing. These callers are usually scared, angry and confused, and feel helpless and overwhelmed. They have lots of questions, and ask how to get their loved one out of the violence, how to talk to her about the danger and how to help her find resources.
The fear and confusion are understandable. Dynamics of domestic violence make the issue very complicated and complex. We know that 99% of victims experience some form of financial abuse such as not having access to resources, not being able to work or financial control. Victims, often times, have not left on their own because they have nowhere to safely go and limited to no way of obtaining stable housing quickly. We also know that there are serious risk factors when leaving. Women are 1,500 times more likely to be killed by their partner after leaving the abusive relationship. We hear over and over again that she has remained in the home due to fear that the violence will escalate if she leaves. Often, we hear family and friends make statements about needing to “get her out as soon as possible.” Again, we understand the desire for her to be immediately better. Our answer though may be the opposite of what callers expected to hear. It is important that she be the one to freely choose to leave and it is imperative that she have a planned out and supported exit strategy. To point it bluntly, leaving quickly may put her in more danger. She will need to take time to prepare to leave.
Preparing an exit strategy means taking the time needed to plan the following:
- WHERE – where will she go when she leaves? Is this a safe and stable place? Relocating to a friend or family member’s house may be dangerous if he knows where this friend and family member lives. If able, it is best for her to have arranged for a place to stay for an extended period of time. Maybe this is a roommate agreement, an independent apartment or a transitional program that allows for longer stays. The important part is that it be a place that she can stay while she gets back on her feet. Insecure housing could increase and complicate the safety concerns.
- WHEN – when will she literally leave the home? Planning on when means considering how she can leave without him knowing. Could she leave while he is at work? Does he have a regularly scheduled time that she knows she can gather things and walk out without him being there and things potentially escalating?
- WHAT – what should she take with her? The what of planning to exit an abusive relationship is in part what may take some time. It is encouraged for her to gather documents such as birth certificates, social security cards, information regarding banking accounts and financials, children’s records, etc. Because she may be cut off from financial resources when she leaves, can she save money secretly to move out and live on? If she has children, it may be necessary to seek legal counsel regarding custody arrangements, but as advocates we highly encourage moms to take their children with them when they leave.
- HOW – how can she leave and increase her safety, receive support and heal from the trauma of the abuse she has experienced? This is where Genesis comes in. Our Clinical and Advocacy programs are designed to support a woman through this. We provide customized and individualized safety planning in order to increase a woman’s safety. Clinicians support victims through the grief, trauma and fear that she may continue to experience even after leaving. Our advocates have referrals and resources to help her find the support she needs to live independently. Our lawyers assist clients in filing for divorce, protective orders or custody to provide safety through the legal system.
Leaving an abusive relationship is complicated, complex and has risks. At Genesis, we advocate for empowering women to take steps to increase their safety, independence and welfare. This means supporting their right to make the best decision for themselves. This also means understanding that sometimes it isn’t yet the right time to leave, she isn’t ready to leave or she isn’t adequately supported in leaving. Supporting victims of domestic violence means remaining patient and empathetic, and telling them “I am here for you when you are ready,” or “How can I help you through this situation, because I am scared for you?”
*In some situations, the danger has escalated to a level that she may need to immediately leave the home. In these moments, the 24-hour hotline is always available to talk a victim through her options, to offer emergency shelter, to discuss safety planning for immediate concerns and to provide her with other local resources. For more information call our 24-hour hotline number at 214.946.HELP (4357).
Written by Jordyn Lawson, director of residential services at Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support