Leaving is a dangerous time
A safety plan is a personalised, practical plan that can help you avoid dangerous situations and know the best way to react when you’re in danger. It includes not only protecting your physical safety, but also taking steps to protect yourself against harassment or stalking. If you’re experiencing abuse or are in an unhealthy relationship, creating a safety plan can be very helpful. Whether you decide to end the relationship or stay, it’s a good idea to empower yourself with the knowledge of how to act in different scenarios.
If you or a friend are leaving an abusive relationship then it is important that you realise that leaving is a dangerous time. This does not mean that the person shouldn't leave the relationship, but rather that they should make a plan to keep themselves safe at the time of leaving and in the months afterwards.
Don't under estimate your situation, all people leaving an abusive relationship need a safety plan. If you have already left you still need a safety plan for the months following separation, it is not too late to start. Violence frequently escalates at the time of separation and shortly following separation, and sometimes an abuser who was never physical during the relationship can suddenly become physically abusive after the relationship ends. Everybody needs a safety plan.
Download a booklet on leaving safely
A women's refuge in the Northern Territory has prepared a booklet on leaving safely. Some of the information is specific to the Northern Territory, for instance it tells you to contact electricity providers that don't exist in your state, but you can probably figure that out and contact your own provider in your own state instead. It is a good checklist for the things you should go through, no checklist is complete (it would be too long), but this is a good start.
Talk to someone
There are many numbers that you can call to talk to someone about domestic violence, about the services that might be able to help (for things like funding or accommodation), or about leaving the home safely. They include:
- 1800 Respect is a government help line that you can contact by dialing 1800 737 732 or visiting www.1800respect.org.au
- Women's Legal Services NSW can be contacted on 1800 801 501
- Men's Line Australia is a 24/7 service that can be contacted on 1300 789 978
- NSW Government Domestic Violence Line 1800 65 64 63
Watch a video
If you find it easier to absorb information by watching a video, then you could watch this video on the 1800 Respect website about leaving safely and safety planning.
Get an AVO
If the violence if physical or sexual then the victim should contact the Police about getting an Apprehended Violence Order, including an order that the abuser is not to come within 50 metres of the person, and an order that the abuser is not to come within 50 metres of any premises where the victim may be living or working.
Unfortunately, most women do not report violence to police and when they do, only about half of them succeed in having a restraining order. Of those who obtain a restraining order, 58% experienced further violence. (Click here for those statistics).
A victim of physical or sexual violence should still seek an AVO, but don't think that this is all that needs to be done to protect the victim. The victim still needs a safety plan.
The government defines domestic violence as 'acts of violence that occur between people who have, or have had, an intimate relationship' and this can include physical, sexual, financial, emotional or psychological abuse. To understand more about the different types of abuse, read our article by clicking on the blue button to the left. The government also notes that the 'central element of domestic violence is an ongoing pattern of behaviour aimed at controlling a partner through fear'. You can find those definitions by clicking here.
It is because of this need for control that leaving can be a dangerous time, they have lost control. Be aware that the type of violence experienced during the relationship is not necessarily the same as the type of violence experienced at the end, that is, just because the violence wasn't physical during the relationship doesn't mean that it won't turn physical after the victim leaves. An American study found that the majority (67%–80%) of intimate partner homicides involve physical abuse of the female by the male before the murder (see those statistics here). This means that in 20%-33% of the cases where the female was murdered, there was no history of physical violence before the murder. There are no statistics on the incidence of physical violence not ending in death after the victim leaves the house where there was no history of physical violence during the relationship.
Just because there was no history of physical violence doesn't mean that you shouldn't undertake a safety plan.
The same Amercian study found that women who left the home experienced increased risk of abuse or death at the time of leaving, or shortly thereafter, particularly when the abuser was highly controlling. Some of the examples of controlling behaviour included stalking and threats of suicide, which don't meet the definition of 'physical' violence. A person can be very controlling without resorting to physical violence.
More importantly, non-physical violence (stalking, intimidation, threats, psychological abuse, harrassment) is still very damaging to the victim and still requires a safety plan. If you think that the violence is 'just verbal', imagine what it would be like to receive an abusive phone call from a person 50 times a day, every day. Imagine trying to go about living your life when your electricity gets cut off on a regular basis because somebody calls your supplier and informs them that you are swapping to a new supplier. Non-physical violence is very damaging to the victim, and to those around the victim including the children or the family of the victim.
Don't be a hero
If you are supporting a person who is leaving the home, don't insert yourself into the violence. Take similar safety precautions for yourself and your family, don't confront the abuser, and don't take unnecessary risks. There are many reasons for this including:
- Statistics vary, but most victims of domestic violence take on average seven attempts to leave the house, including physically moving out of the house and then moving back in. If your friend moves back in, the abuser will move immediately to cut you off from the victim, convincing the victim that you are not good for them (for instance by convincing them that you gossiped and told all your friends that the victim was a silly person who deserved the abuse). The victim is used to being manipulated by the abuser, they will believe the abuser, and you will no longer be able to help.
- You cannot help your friend if you or your family are being stalked, harassed and intimidated, and it is a common tactic for the abuser to attack you or your family as they do not believe that they (the abuser) are the problem, so they need to find someone else to blame.
- The abuser will be embarrassed and therefore more likely to lash out at the victim. The abuser is highly unlikely to suddenly realise, because of anything you say, that they have done the wrong thing. You are escalating the situation if you further upset or embarrass the abuser.
Most importantly, get help for yourself. Make sure that you have someone that you can talk to about this, helping someone leave an abusive relationship is upsetting and stressful. If you don't help yourself, you can't help your friend.
Get Legal Advise
It can help when you are thinking about leaving a relationship to understand what your legal rights are, and what the process will look like.
At Coode & Corry we have dealt with and assisted many victims of domestic violence over forty years, and we can explain the legal process to you in simple plain language. Our first consultation is free, and we will not attempt to contact you at home, or attempt to contact the abuser unless you instruct us to do so. Rather than Google or guess what your legal rights are, come and speak to an expert about your situation so that you know what you need to do next.