Getting Out Safely: How an Abused Woman Can Survive

In an ideal world, each woman would pick a healthy partner for a relationship. The reality is far different. Every year, victims of domestic abuse can be found lining the halls of emergency rooms and morgues.
 
In an ideal world, a woman would immediately end a relationship the first time a hand was raised to her. In reality, a battered woman will return to her batterer an average of seven times before leaving if she leaves at all.
 
For years, police would return over and over to the same addresses, and each time the battered party would refuse to press charges. Frustration over this situation led some states to pass laws requiring police to take a suspect into custody if evidence of domestic abuse is present. Often the battered party may even beg the police to let the suspected batterer go, but these laws leave them only one decision -- to make an arrest.
 
Until the abused partner is truly ready to leave, there are some actions they can take in order to increase their chances of getting through the next violent episode with fewer, less severe injuries. Statistics show that another violent argument will happen, and they also show that the battered partner will more often than not be at home when the batterer is released from jail.
 
A victim of domestic abuse must always be on alert as to how they can escape from their home. Which doors, windows, stairs, or other exits can you use to escape an enraged spouse or partner? Which ones will put you into a public area the fastest? Do you always know where your car keys are, if you plan on driving away from the situation? Do your neighbors and children understand that they're to call the police if they hear sounds of violence coming from your home?
 
Once the argument has begun, stay away from rooms where weapons are kept, and don't go into rooms with only one way out, such as bathrooms. Avoid getting cornered and trapped. Stay away from the tops of staircases while involved in the altercation. Unload all firearms while the batterer is out of the home, so they will be empty if there is an attempt to use them during an argument. Limit the number and locations of sharp objects in the home. For instance, keep sharp knives and scissors, etc. in one place, and not the first place an enraged spouse or partner would reach for. Avoid countertop knife blocks and avoid having scissors, knives or skewers in plain view. Attempt to keep cutlery washed and immediately stored away, for your safety, at all times. Limit the use of glassware as decoration, keep as many glass items as possible stored out of sight, such as in kitchen cabinets.
 
Look around your home for items that may be used toward you as a potential weapon. Store them out of the way, in a place where they can't be grabbed in the heat of an argument. In short: try to get away first. If you are unable to, call or get someone to call for help. Then, try not to get trapped, and if you are, keep your possessions in such a configuration that the batterer will have only body parts available to use as weapons. If cornered, curl into a ball, back toward the blows, in order to attempt to protect your organs, head, and throat from the worst of the attack. True, punching fists and kicking legs have killed many times, but you have a better chance of surviving if stab wounds or bullets aren't in the equation.
 
Battered spouses or partners will often stay because they believe that they'll be killed if they leave. The batterer may have even specified that this would happen. It would be naive to dismiss this fear as irrational. Women especially have been killed for daring to leave. It's important to remember, however, that even more women have been killed because they did stay. Because they were within arm's reach when something set the batterer off. Something that didn't have anything to do with the actions of the victim can, at any time, lead the batterer on a rampage that will only end with the death of the victim.
 
But leaving must also be done in a way that helps lower the risk of the one fleeing, if possible. True, sometimes women literally run for their lives, but if you feel you have a little time to plan, it will reduce your need to return to the abusive home later to get things you need. If your abuser has reason to think you're planning to leave, things will get worse and fast. Therefore contact your local battered women's shelter to get help with a plan. Get copies of all your important documentation ahead of time, and then leave them with a trusted friend or family member. Such documents include your Social Security cards, ATM or credit cards, cash, checkbook, a copy of important keys, medications, birth certificates for you and your children, important immigration documents if applicable, vaccination and school records for your children, the deed to your home, insurance policies, and other documents that you'll need. If you have children, make sure that a favorite toy or blanket that will comfort them is also in storage at this safe spot.
 
Discuss with a representative of your local shelter whether or not you'll be able to find emergency lodging there, and if so for how long. Do they offer help once that time is up to get you into safe, permanent living quarters? If needed, do they offer help with employment or welfare? If not, will you have to stay with friends or family? Who will take you and your children in, for how long, and how much money, if any, will you have to contribute to the household while you're there? If your abuser will know where you're going, is this person likely to rampage through this place as well? If so, do you have a restraining order? Yes, they can be violated, but if they are, the penalty is often more severe than if one isn't in effect.
 
Protection for the victims of domestic abuse is still wanting. In the past few years, however, positive legal steps have been taken to try to protect victims. From mandatory arrest by the police when evidence of abuse is present to antistalking laws and stiffer penalties for age-old offenses, progress is beign made. That progress is only enriched with each battered woman courageous enough to leave.
 
-- Bob Stuber
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