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Where to turn when your partner suddenly becomes violent
One of the most terrifying things I have ever experienced is witnessing the man who had vowed to protect and honor me for the rest of my life become violent toward me. Intimate partner abuse happens across the globe to millions of women and men. It can encompass four types of abuse: emotional, sexual, physical, and threats of harm. Many abusers begin abusing their partners emotionally, and, over time, the abuse often will escalate into physical violence.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that “On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men,” and, “1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of [some form of] physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.”
If you currently are the victim of physical violence by a partner, you have options. When I was in your place, I felt terrified, confused, and devastated. The logistics of leaving my ex-husband and deciding whether to sever my marriage and raise my children on my own felt overwhelming. It was as though I was staring at the slope of an enormous mountain, and—already exhausted from years of emotional abuse—I wasn’t sure I could climb it. But I did. And you will, too.
Here are some thoughts and suggestions for how to move forward after your partner becomes violent.
If you choose to leave
First of all, leaving is 100% your choice. As a victim of abuse, you have the best knowledge and intuition about whether or not it is safe for you to leave. Nobody else can make that decision for you.
The first time I really and truly considered leaving my marriage was after my partner turned violent. I had been miserable for years but figured we were just in a rut that we’d eventually outgrow; however, I could not ignore the physical abuse that had been done to me, and so I decided to leave. I made this decision because I was scared of him, but also before I learned that leaving is the most dangerous time for someone who is escaping an abuser. Victims are 70 times more likely to be killed in the two weeks after leaving an abuser.
If you choose to leave, here are some crucial guidelines:
Do not warn your abuser.
Make sure that you have a safe place to go and, if possible, the support of a trusted friend or loved one to help you navigate the logistics of moving.
Consider blocking and filtering all communications. If you are worried about being hoovered (an emotional tactic used by the abuser to draw you back to him), you may choose to block your abuser’s phone number or filter all e-mail communications from your abuser to a trusted friend who can read them to scan for anything significant or threats of danger.
If you have concerns about your abuser stalking you or tracing your phone, computer, or car, it’s wise to have your devices or vehicles checked by professionals. Digital stalking is a huge issue nowadays and is prevalent among abusers.
Finding a lawyer who understands the nuances of domestic violence is very important. If you cannot afford to retain a lawyer, there may be free or low-cost legal resources in your community.
Consider getting a restraining order, which prevents your abuser from contacting you or being within a certain physical proximity to you and/or your children. Restraining-order laws vary by state, so make sure you are well versed in the laws where you live.
Know the laws in your state about removing children from the home. There are generally specific laws that prevent restricting one parent’s access to the children. This is usually not relevant if you can prove that you have removed the children because of physical violence by your partner.
Document the abuse. If possible, and only if it is safe for you to do so, document the abuse or any other illegal or unethical activities by your partner as best as you can, as this will be helpful in court. If this is not safe for you to do, do not take the risk.
If you choose to stay
If you choose to stay with your abuser, the abuse does not become your fault. You are still a victim of abuse, and what is happening to you is unjust, unethical, and illegal. While you remain in your home:
Develop a safety plan. If your partner becomes severely violent, how will you exit your home? Whom will you call? Where will your children go? Some abuse victims choose to keep a bag of necessities or a supply of cash with a trusted friend, just in case they must leave suddenly.
If and only if it is safe, begin documenting the abuse. An abuser counts on manipulating his victim’s sense of reality, which often means gaslighting or trying to convince you that the abuse is entirely in your head. If you are journaling or recording the abuse, it’s much easier to remember how it actually occurred. This might also be helpful later, should you need to use it in court. If you are worried about finding a safe place to store documentation, consider a password-restricted online journal, such as Penzu. Another option is to set up a secret e-mail account for yourself, and send yourself e-mails each time an incident happens.
Become familiar with the cycle of abuse and abuse tactics (both overt and covert). Once you begin to see these things, you can’t unsee them. An abuser depends on keeping his victim in the dark. But knowledge is power and is often the key to our freedom.
Consult with an attorney or legal-aid services. Making plans for the future is important, as is knowing your rights. If you are able to slowly chip away at some of the logistical barriers involved in leaving your abuser, it will be easier for you to successfully leave your abuser when the time is right.
Make sure that someone knows what is happening in your life—a friend, a family member, or members of an online or in-person support group. Abuse thrives in secrecy, but once you begin to expose it to the light, it begins to wither.
Finally, joining a support group is one of the best things I ever did, and it is one of my immediate recommendations for anyone in an abusive relationship. In a support group, members are in various stages of recovering from abuse. Some have already left their abusers. Some are biding time, gathering resources, and making plans to leave. And nearly everyone is sorting through the lies and confusion that come along with being exposed to abuse. It is incredibly validating to be heard, believed, and held up by sisters who have been right where you are standing.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.