Whether or not you are prepared to leave the abuser, there are some things you can do to protect yourself. Paying attention to details can make the difference between being seriously injured or killed and safely escaping the abusive relationship.
Prepare for emergency situations
- Know your abuser’s red flags. Be on alert for signs and clues that notify your abuser’s getting upset and imminent anger or violence. Come up with several believable reasons you can use to leave the house (both during the day and at night) if you sense trouble brewing.
- Identify safe areas in the house. Know where to go if your abuser attacks or if an argument starts. Avoid small enclosed spaces without exits (such as closets or bathrooms) or rooms with weapons (such as the kitchen). If possible, head for a room with a phone and an outside door or window.
- Come up with a word code. Establish a word, phrase, or signal you can use to let your children, friends, neighbors, or co-workers know that you’re in danger and that the police should be called.
Make an escape plan
- Be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Keep the car’s fuel filled, if you have one, and in an easy to escape position in the parking lot. Hide a spare car key somewhere you can retrieve it quickly from. Have emergency cash, clothing, and important phone numbers and documents stashed in a safe place (at a friend’s house, for example).
- Practice escaping quickly and safely. Rehearse your escape plan so you know exactly what to do if you are under attack from your abuser. If you have children, have them practice the escape plan too.
- Create and memorize a list of emergency contacts. Ask several trusted individuals if you can contact them if you need a ride, a place to stay, or help contacting the police. Memorize the phone numbers of your emergency contacts and local shelter.
Protecting your privacy
You may be afraid to leave or ask for help because your partner might get his revenge on you if he finds out. This is a legitimate concern. However, there are precautions you can take to stay safe and keep your abuser from finding out what you’re doing. When seeking help for domestic violence and abuse, it’s important to cover your tracks, especially when you’re using the phone or the computer.
When seeking help for domestic violence, call from a public pay phone or another phone outside the house if possible.
- Call, collect or use a prepaid phone sim card. Remember that if you use your own phone, the phone numbers that you call are listed on the monthly bill that is sent to your house. Even if you have already left by the time the bill arrives, your abuser might be able to track you down through the phone numbers you’ve called for help.
- 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.” So consider turning it off when not in use or leaving it behind when fleeing your abuser.
- Get your own cell phone. Consider purchasing a prepaid cell phone or another cell phone that your abuser doesn’t know about.
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 partner 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, it would be best to use a computer outside your home. You can use a computer at work, a friend’s house, the library etc.
- Be cautious with email and instant messaging. Email and instant messaging are not the safest way to get help for domestic violence. Be especially careful when sending email, as your abuser may know how to access your account. You may want to consider creating a new email account that your abuser doesn’t know about.
- Change your user names and passwords. Create new usernames and passwords for your email, online banking, and other sensitive accounts. Even if you don’t think your abuser has your passwords, he may have guessed or used a spyware or keylogging program to get them. Choose passwords that your abuser can’t 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 movements and listen in on your conversations. Be aware that your abuser may be using hidden cameras, such as a “Nanny Cam,” or even a baby monitor to check 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 to see where you’ve been.
If you discover any tracking or recording devices, leave them be 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 him.
Protecting yourself after you’ve left
Keeping yourself safe from your abuser is just as important after you’ve left as before. To protect yourself, you may need to relocate so your former partner can’t find you. If you have children, they might need to switch schools.
To keep your new location a secret:
- Get an unlisted phone number.
- Use a post office box rather than your home address.
- Cancel your old bank accounts and credit cards, especially if you shared them with your abuser. When you open new accounts, be sure to use a different bank.
If you remain in the same area, change your routine. Take a new route to work, avoid places where your abuser might be able to locate you, change any appointments he knows about, and find new places to shop and run errands. You should also keep a cell phone on you all the time and be ready to call 112 if you spot your abuser.
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