Personal relationships – especially when there are children involved – are complicated and abuse will only compound the complexities. There are many different types of abuse and every situation is different so only you know which actions will be right for your situation.
But know that you CAN leave an abusive relationship and there are people and organisations that can help when you do. If you’re in an abusive relationship and want to leave, here’s what to do:
Speak to someone
It’s important that the person you choose to confide in about your situation is not a part of your home or family that you live with. As you educate yourself on your rights, and think about the next steps to take, you need to ensure that at least one other adult knows about what is happening to you.
Consider your physical safety
If your physical safety, or that of your children, is in danger then you should prepare a Safety Plan before considering looking into legal routes. Putting together a Safety Plan (click here to download a helpful template) will enable you to plan exactly how you will get yourself and your children to safety the next time you are in danger. If you have a plan, you will be able to work on other, more effective solutions without feeling anxious about what you will do when the abuse happens again.
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Safety tips to follow if you are in physical danger:
- If possible, ensure that there is a part of the home in which you can lock yourself and your children.
- Remove weapons and sharp objects from the environment.
- Save an emergency number on your phone or the number of another adult who you have arranged to contact in an emergency.
- Ensure that you always have a small amount of airtime and data available for emergencies.
- Keep a small amount of cash available for emergencies.
- If you are physically hurt, take photos/videos using your mobile phone and send them to someone else, or send them to yourself by email, so that the photos can be deleted from your phone but you still have them saved. This way you can use them as evidence later if you need to.
Understand that you may now be under increased risk
Now that you are educating yourself and looking at taking action to help yourself and your children, you may be in more danger than usual. If your abuser finds out that you are considering telling someone or are looking for help, he or she may become more violent or abusive. Be very, very careful at this stage and do not threaten your abuser with seeking help.
Managing your children
Trying to manage children who are exposed to domestic violence is very difficult. The important thing to know is that children who are exposed to domestic violence have a high risk of being involved in abusive relationships when they grow up. This is because exposure to domestic violence can lead children to think that abuse is a normal part of relationships and an appropriate way to resolve relationship conflict. If your children have been exposed to domestic violence, they need to be told again and again (at times when things are calm), that it is not right, not normal and not appropriate for adult relationships.
Leaving an abusive relationship: what’s next?
Now that you’ve considered these factors and put these crucial steps in place, you can move on to the next steps. Options include:
- Following the legal procedures available to you. You can read about the legal procedures you can follow, including filing for protection orders and criminal procedures, by clicking HERE.
- Get counselling for yourself, for you and your abuser as a couple, or for your children.
- Move to a safe place like a friend or family member’s home, or shelter. You can find a list of shelters around South Africa by clicking HERE.