**Trigger Warning: Detailed descriptions of abuse**
The scene plays like a movie; a beaten, tattered victim is crying in the corner of the room that is in shambles from the violence that just took place.
A baby is screaming in the other room while the abuser towers over the victim, huddled in fear, and demands they stand up and stop crying. The abuser begins choking the victim, telling them that if they ever leave, they will kill them and the baby.
Then one day, after the abuser finally pushes the victim over the edge, the victim sees an opportunity to escape. They take the child and run for their lives with nowhere to go and no way to support themselves once they get there. They have no money and are unprepared to fight the battle they will have to endure once they have escaped.
Knowing the victim is unprepared to fight, the abuser then either tries to coax the victim back home by promising they will never do it again, or they go on the attack and use the child and the victim’s lack of resources as weapons to mount a legal battle against the victim.
This scenario is one that I frequently hear in my practice, except it is not a movie; it’s a real-life scenario where the victim has just escaped and needs serious help. The victims that are the best equipped to fight that battle that ensues are the victims that have a good escape plan, which often determines success versus failure and life versus death.
Step 1. Plan for An Emergency Escape (Get out alive)
Leaving an abusive relationship is not easy, and the best-laid plans can sometimes fail. Something unexpected may happen, and the abuser discovers the victim’s plan to leave and has become enraged. An abuser must control the victim, and when that control is threatened, the abuser will often do whatever is necessary to regain that control. When planning to leave an abuser, it is best first to plan an emergency escape.
Walk through all the rooms in the house and visualize an attack. While walking through the house, locate the escape routes and exits, determine what might be obstacles in the way of escaping, and look for items that could be used as weapons if caught in an inescapable situation. If possible, avoid arguments in the kitchen, bathroom, or the garage, as they typically contain the most dangers to the victim’s safety.
Talk to a trusted neighbor or a friend and tell them of the escape plans. Find someplace safe to call the police. Knowing ahead of time how to escape and where to go once escaped can save valuable time and increase the chances of staying alive.
Step 2. Create The Master Plan
After developing an emergency escape plan, it’s time to craft the master plan. While all the steps are vital in a successful escape, the planning phase is the point in time where the victim will have the most control over their environment, so even though it’s not fun to advise that someone stays in an abusive situation, the better the plan, the better the chance at survival. However, IF YOU FEEL YOUR LIFE OR THE LIFE OF
If Someone Else is In Danger, CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY
Begin by noticing patterns of behavior by the abuser. Notice when they go to work when they come home and what regular activities they do during a typical week. Knowing this information will help the victim stay safe while creating their master plan and ultimately executing the escape. Take inventory of the assets of the marriage or relationship.
Discover the information for the financial accounts, know where important documents are located, and make an inventory of all household goods.
The victim should assume that they will not have access to these documents or information once they leave home. It is important to note that the victim must be extremely careful to cover their tracks when compiling surveillance.; batterers will often strike back when they discover the victim is trying to leave.
Use computers at the library or at a trusted friend’s house to do research and surveillance, commit important details of your escape to memory or find good hiding spots for journals and evidence.
Victims must be financially prepared to leave the situation because escaping is only half the battle. Victims must find a way to support themselves financially once they escape the relationship or their chances of success will decrease dramatically. Transportation, shelter, food, and funds for the ensuing legal battle must be obtained.
It is essential to know what it will cost to complete the plan and know where shortfalls and weak spots exist. Talk to trusted friends, call abuse hotlines to help plan, and talk to attorneys to help understand the legal battle. If the victim can, they should open up a bank account and begin stashing money away.
Talk to the bank and let them know the situation so they can help cover any tracks by eliminating paper statements or other communications. If there is a financial deficiency, ask family or friends to help. Have account numbers memorized and know how to withdraw funds quickly before an abuser learns of the escape and freezes the funds.
Know if any small household valuables can be quickly taken and sold for cash. If there are still financial shortfalls, research what services the local domestic violence shelters can provide to fill in any gaps.
Your Packing List
When it is time to leave, the victim should assume that they might not have access to certain documents or items once they leave. If there is time and a good place to store some of these items, like a hiding spot or at a friend’s house, secure these things ahead of time. If these things can be secured ahead of the escape, know where these items are located and practice gathering them quickly. Below is an excellent example of items you will need to complete your escape:
- Birth certificates/SSN cards for yourself and your children
- Driver’s license and passports
- W2s and paystubs
- Work permits
- Government benefits cards
- Green card or immigration papers
- Marriage, divorce, and custody papers
- Legal protection or restraining orders and records of any police reports
- Health insurance cards and medical records
- Financial records and bank account numbers
- Apartment rental agreement or lease, or house deed
- Car title, registration, and insurance documentation
- Cash and prepaid credit cards that can’t be traced
- Credit cards and the PINs needed to withdraw cash
- ATM card
- Small valuables to sell
- Post office box or safe address to forwarding mail
- Phone calling card
- Prepaid cell phone or cell phone with a new contract and number
- Address book or cell phone contracts
- Current medications and prescriptions
- Eyeglasses, contact lenses, hearing aids, and other medical devices
- Pets, their records, food, leash
- Small toys and books for children
- Any keepsakes
Once the victim leaves, they need a safe and secret place to go as the abuser will soon learn of the escape and will be a significant threat to the victim’s safety. Destinations such as a hotel, a friend’s house, or a domestic violence shelter where third parties can monitor the victim’s safety should be preferred over locations where the victim would be isolated.
While the thought of a domestic violence shelter might not be the most desirable to victims, the benefits should be considered, which include: safety, little to no cost, free transportation, basic necessities will be provided, pet assistance, and will ensure the confidentiality of the stay.
Below is a list of local shelters that are prepared to help:
- City Union Mission for Single Men
- City Union Mission Family Center (for women and children)
- HOPE House
- KC Rescue Mission Men’s Shelter
- Mothers Refuge
- Restart Inc.
- Rose Brooks Center
- Sheffield Place
- The Whole Person
- Domestic shelters .org
Step 3. Time to Leave
Leaving when the abuser is not home is the best time to go. Alternate times to leave could be taking out the trash, a trip to the grocery store, or walking the family pet. Careful surveillance will allow the victim to know the best times to leave. Keep in mind that leaving will threaten the abuser’s control, so if the victim decides to go, it must be a permanent decision.
The victim should practice their escape several times before the actual escape. Experts also suggest that a victim should try and set false trails so the abuser has difficulty locating the victim’s whereabouts.
The victim can call services such as motels or schools in locations more than 6 hours away from their actual location and ask them to return calls to the house number, so the abuser will think the victim is in another location.
The victim should never underestimate their abuser and make sure they cannot be tracked by phone, car, or other means.
Once the victim is safely away from the abuser, they should try and obtain an order of protection to keep the abuser away from the victim and begin taking the legal steps necessary to escape a permanent departure.
If you are facing domestic violence issues, let the experienced family law attorneys at Hale Robinson and Robinson help you figure out a path to peace.
Please request a free consultation, and let’s discuss your situation.