Many people in our community think that, as the lead agency for domestic violence response in Somerset County, we should encourage people to leave abusive relationships. It’s a common, valid response to violence. However, the issue of leaving is not that clear cut.
We understand that every survivor’s journey is different, so we work with them to find safety no matter where they are in their journey. We don’t encourage anyone to stay in an unsafe relationship, but to make the decision that works best for them at a particular time. We cannot know or understand all the circumstances of any survivor’s relationship with a person who uses abuse or what other factors may be influencing their decisions.
Leaving any relationship is a personal decision, and someone might hesitate to leave an abusive one for many reasons. Violence tends to get worse when a partner tries to leave, and ex-partners can be abusive too. Many survivors must interact with their abusive ex-partner for financial and child custody arrangements, divorce proceedings, and more. However, no one must stay in a relationship they don’t want to be in. There are ways to leave a relationship safely.
It’s important to give the target of abuse a choice of whether to leave or not. In an abusive relationship, one partner gains and keeps power and control over another. As a result, the target of the abuse loses the ability to make decisions, set boundaries, and give consent. When someone has a choice about staying or leaving, they gain some of their power and control back.
It can help to have a personalized safety plan. At Safe+Sound Somerset, the first thing we do with anyone reaching out to us is to create a safety plan based on the that person’s circumstances. Following are some tips for safely staying in or preparing to leave a relationship, or you can find additional information by reviewing our safety planning guide.
Tips for Staying:
- Choose a code word to share with children, family members, or friends. This could tell them to leave the house and go to a neighbor or call 911 or emergency services.
- When fighting, avoid rooms without exits, and rooms with items that can be used as weapons.
Tips for Leaving:
- Whether you are preparing to leave for a night, a week, or forever, tell a trusted friend or family member where you are going and what your current plan is. Keep them updated if anything changes.
- Ask someone you trust to hold some money for you, so that your partner cannot access it. \
- Make sure your geotagging and location-finding phone features are all turned off.
- If you feel comfortable, you can request a police escort to leave.
- Have a to-go bag ready that could include:
- IDs and legal documents
- Several changes of clothes
- Emergency money
- Extra sets of keys
- Child items including diapers, formula, backpacks, etc.
- Pay-as-you-go phone
For more information about how to prepare to leave or stay safe after leaving a relationship, review our online safety planning resources or call the Safe+Sound Somerset 24/7 call or text helpline at 866-685-1122. You are not alone, and there is safety, hope and healing available to all survivors.