No one deserves to be abused. If you are in an abusive relationship, and you feel that you would like to leave the abuser, here are some tips to help keep you as safe as possible when preparing to leave.
- Make a plan for how you are going to leave, including where you're going to go, and how to cover your tracks. Make one plan for if you have time to prepare to leave the home. Make another plan for if you have to leave the home in a hurry.
- 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;
- Any records you have from doctors or the police that document the abuse;
- 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.
- 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.
- If you have evidence of other types of abuse (threatening voicemails, text messages, emails, etc.), bring copies of those with you as well.
- Get a bag together that you can easily grab when you leave. Some things to include in the bag are:
- Spare car keys;
- Your driver's license;
- A list of your credit cards so that you can track any activity on them;
- Your checkbook;
- 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;
- Any evidence you've been collecting to show that you've been abused; and
- 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 the home of a trusted friend or neighbor. 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 have not worked outside of the home and worry about your ability to support yourself, try to get job skills by taking classes at a community college or a vocational school if you can. This may 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 Restraining Orders 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. Not all police precincts will help you in these ways but you may want to ask your local police station if they will.
- If you have pets and you are worried about their safety and welfare if they were left behind, consider reading through the Animals & Family Violence section in the Animal Welfare Institute webpage. They provide information about this topic including safety planning for pets and including pets in protection orders.
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. Another resource may be the Legal Resource Center for Violence Against Women, which specializes in interstate custody matters for victims of abuse – they can provide legal information and referrals to pro bono attorneys who can help you figure out if leaving the state with your children would violate any criminal laws.
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.
If you are fleeing to a confidential location and you fear that the abuser will go looking for you, you might want to create a false trail after you leave. For example, you could call motels, real estate agencies, schools, etc., in a town at least six hours away from where you plan to go and 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.