Preparing to Leave?
What to do to escape an unsafe living environment
Create a Safety Plan
No person deserves to be abused. If you are in an abusive relationship, and you feel that you are ready to leave the abuser, here are some tips to help keep you as safe as possible when preparing to leave. The following suggestions cannot guarantee your safety, but could help make you safer. It is important that you create a safety plan that is right for you. Not all suggestions will work for everyone and some could place you in greater danger. Do what is best for yourself and your child(ren).
Evidence of Abuse
If you can, keep any evidence of the physical abuse and take it with you when you leave. Make sure to keep this evidence in a safe place that the abuser will not find – this may mean that you have to keep it in a locked drawer at work or with a trusted family member. If the abuser finds it, you could be in more danger. Such evidence of physical abuse might include:
Pictures you have of bruises or other injuries. If possible, try to have these pictures dated
Torn or bloody clothing
Household objects that the abuser damaged or broke during a violent episode
Pictures that show your home destroyed or messed up after violence happened
Records you have from doctors or the police that document the abuse
A journal that you may have kept with details about the abuse, which could help prove the abuse in court.
Anything else you think could help show that you've been abused
What to Bring Along
Spare car keys
Your driver's license
A list of your credit cards so that you can track any activity on them
Phone numbers for friends, relatives, doctors, schools, taxi services, and your local domestic violence organization
A change of clothing for you and your children
Any medication that you or your children usually take
Copies of your children's birth certificates, social security cards, school records and immunizations
Copies of legal documents for you and the abuser, such as social security cards, passports, green cards, medical records, insurance information, birth certificates, marriage license, wills, welfare identification information and copies of any court orders (such as your protection order or custody order)
Copies of financial documents for you and the abuser, such as pay stubs, bank account information, a list of credit cards you hold by yourself or together with the abuser
A few things you want to keep, like photographs, jewelry or other personal items
Hide this bag somewhere the abuser will not find it. Try to keep it at a trusted friend or neighbor's house. Avoid using next-door neighbors, close family members, or mutual friends, as the abuser might be more likely to find it there. If you're in an emergency and need to get out right away, don't worry about gathering these things. While they're helpful to have, getting out safely should come first.
Hide an extra set of car keys in a place you can get to easily in case the abuser takes the car keys to prevent you from leaving.
Try to set money aside. If the abuser controls the household money, this might mean that you can only save a few dollars per week; the most important thing is that you save whatever amount you can that will not tip off the abuser and put you in further danger. You can ask trusted friends or family members to hold money for you so that the abuser cannot find it and/or use it.
If you are not employed, try to get job skills by taking classes at a community college or a vocational school if you can. This will help you to get a job either before or after you leave so that you won't need to be financially dependent on the abuser.
Getting a protective order can be an important part of a safety plan when preparing to leave. Even if you get a protective order, you should still take other safety planning steps to keep yourself and your children safe. A legal protective order is not always enough to keep you safe. Locate your state in our Know the Laws section to find out more information about getting a protective order.
Leave when the abuser will least expect it. This will give you more time to get away before the abuser realizes that you are gone.
If you have time to call the police before leaving, you can ask the police to escort you out of the house as you leave. You can also ask them to be "on call" while you're leaving, in case you need help.
Whenever you are hurt, go to a doctor or to an emergency room as soon as possible if you can. Tell them what happened. Ask them to make a record of your visit and of what happened to you. Be sure to get a copy of the record.
If You Plan to Take Your Children with You
If you plan on taking your children with you when you leave, it is generally best to talk to a lawyer who specializes in domestic violence and custody issues beforehand to make sure that you are not in danger of violating any court custody order you may have or any criminal parental kidnapping laws. This is especially true if you want to leave the state with the children. Read more about this under the Parental Kidnapping section of our website and/or go to our Finding a Lawyer page for a list of free and paid legal services.
If you are considering leaving without your children, please talk to a lawyer who specializes in custody before doing this. Leaving your children with an abuser may negatively affect your chances of getting custody of them in court later on. Go to our Finding a Lawyer page for a list of free and paid legal services.
After You Leave
If you are fleeing to a confidential location and you fear that the abuser will come to look for you, you might want to create a false trail AFTER you leave.
You could call motels, real estate agencies, schools, etc. in a town at least six hours away from where you plan to go.
Ask them questions that will require them to call you back. Give them your old phone number (the number at the home you shared with the abuser, not the number to the place you are going).
However, DO NOT make these phone calls before you leave. If anyone calls you back while you are still with the abuser, or if the abuser is able to check your phone to see what numbers you have called, the abuser would be tipped off that you are preparing to leave, which could put you in great danger.