Also, this post is written as a worst case scenario. Your abusive partner may not be monitoring your actions as heavily as this post eludes to. However, you should still read all of this as the level of control may extend this far at some point during your exit strategy. Be prepared for the worst and pray for the best. NEVER do anything that would jeopardize your safety or provoke abuse. Only follow this advice if you can do so without conflict.
Establishing an Escape Plan:Do not tell anyone about your plan. Even the most well-meaning relative who is there to help you should not be told. Your abuser could be perceptive enough to pick up on subtle innuendo's and may guess your plan. This will only make things harder for you and could escalate the abuse. Don't even tell the one person who is most willing to help you get out. You can tell them once your plan is in motion and they can actually be of use. Just them knowing is not going to be helpful to you.
Get access to the internet outside of your home and relationship. By that I mean don't use your home computer, your cell phone, etc. to do the following tasks. You never know when your abusive partner has installed a key logger or a monitor to log every single site you visit. Do not underestimate an abuser. Even if you think they don't have the skills, there is software available and friends who don't know the truth who will make it easy for them.
Set up a brand new email account. Do not use your real name. It doesn't matter what the profile name says as long as it's not linked to you. So don't use your real name, your children's names, or that favored nickname you had in college. Likewise, do not use any easily guessed password. You'll need something you can remember as this is the one time you should not write down your username and password. Your goal is to make sure that if your abusive partner somehow suspects or finds out what you are doing, that you don't give him any possibility of finding evidence of this account. You will only use this account for the purpose of getting out and you should not replace your normal email account or ever mention this account anywhere in your current personal accounts. Not even in a private message. NEVER put it in writing that you have this account. EVER. Not even to your mother or best friend. No one in your personal life needs to know about it but you.
Get a new, free bank account. Do this on a day when you can safely take your documents from the home without him noticing. Maybe you need your child's birth certificate to register for school. Take the child's and your documents at the same time and put the child's on top of yours. It's less likely to be noticed and you can get them out and put them back undetected. That's just one example. Just make sure you don't move the documents when the abuser can see you and put them back immediately upon return home so that if he checks, your documents will still be where he left them. When you get your account, do not get an account that charges maintenance fees. Find a local bank offering a free account instead. Set this up so that the statements come directly to your new email and not to your home. (Called paperless billing usually.)
Save your pennies. You can't just take money in noticeable amounts. Take advantage of the fact most people don't think about pennies or small amounts of change. You know your abuser, what amount can you safely take without being noticed? Watch the ground around you as you walk through parking lots, etc. and pick up stray change. Yes, the amounts are small but they add up and every penny counts when you start out on your own. Don't count on anyone else being able to support you long term or having a job to leave through. Another thought to consider, if your abusive partner doesn't check your pay stubs and you already work, set up a direct deposit to the new account for a small amount out of each paycheck.
Build up your nest egg. Consider selling items around the house that you know won't be missed. You can do this online (you'll need to set up a PayPal account and link it to your new bank account to hide the transacations), or sell to friends, etc. If your abuser finds out or you can't do this covertly, then don't disclose the true price of the items. Always subtract part of the price and keep that bit for yourself. You could always say you gave the items to the thrift store or any other story that allows you to keep part or all of the money. Make your deposits frequently, even if they're tiny. This eliminates the chances the abuser will find them.
Set up a donation site. Something like GoFundMe will work well. Be honest while sharing your story about everything except your real name. Use an online handle and set up all correspondence to come directly to your new email.
Document the abuse. This is a critical step you cannot afford to miss. When/if it comes time for court the only way you can get any long-term protection at all is if you can prove you were abused. So you have to go to the hospital, you have to call the police and you have to get pictures of the abuse. Do whatever you can to document it in as safe a manner as possible. Then get copies of all of the reports and stash them somewhere outside of your home. Save the photos to your new email account. This way, even if they get deleted by the abuser (or you need to show the abuser you have deleted them yourself in good faith) then you still have the backup copies in a safe location. If there are any adult witnesses, ask them to write a statement and sign and date it. Then find somewhere safe to stash this. If you have to, now is the time to tell that well-meaning friend who wants to help that you need them to keep it safe for you "just in case." That way they won't know your plan but can still help you without giving the abuser any signals. Another safe option is to get a safety deposit box at the new bank.
Leave clothing at a friends/relatives house. You may not be able to pack before you leave when the moment arises. So loaning clothing to a friend or accidentally leaving it while on a family vacation could be a tremendous help when you leave. This will all be done long-term so pretend to be absent minded and leave something behind. If it's an item the abuser doesn't like or won't miss, even better. If possible, do some planned spring cleaning and say you're taking old clothing to the thrift store. Instead, leave it with someone who will keep it for you. (You may need to illicit the help of multiple friends and relatives for each of these tasks so that no one person discovers your full plan.
Find out the contact information for your local domestic violence shelter and services. Save these in your new email account. They will in turn be able to help you find other services that could be helpful after you leave. This office should be your first stop when you leave. Don't go immediately to friends or relatives as that will be the first place your abuser looks for you and it will be much easier for them to honestly say you're not there if you haven't actually been there yet.
Make a list of important numbers you will need after you leave. Save this list in your new email account (as a draft email). Include the number to the local domestic violence shelter/office and the numbers of trusted relatives or friends. You can include as many numbers as you want. Save email addresses too if you need to.
Determine where you will go. This could be a friend, relative or shelter. Figure out where you will go, how you will get there, how long you will stay, etc. How much will this cost you? How will you get that money saved up and how long will it take? If you have to leave before you get the money, who can you turn to that will give you the money or help last minute. Always have a back up place in case you can't immediately get to the original destination. Check into travel plans via train or bus. Do not fly if at all possible. If you must fly, plan for multiple layovers in which you can leave the airport and discontinue the flight if necessary.
Things to do just before or right after you get out:Leave your cell phone behind. Your cell phone or any other system of control your abuser could exercise over you. Anything connected to a network or the internet could easily be turned into a control device. Shut off the internet access, turn off the wifi, shut off the GPS and perform a factory reset on any laptops, computers, phones or tablets you will be taking with you - even if the accounts are all in your name. If you share an account with the abuser, these items are not worth taking. They can and will compromise your safety the moment you turn them on.
Get a post office box. If you have a time frame in mind or once you have enough money saved to leave, get a post office box. Do not change your bills over to this box yet. It's safest to get this box in a part of town where your ex doesn't go usually or in another town entirely. Try to avoid small post offices in small towns as people are more inclined to talk and may give out info you don't want shared. Pay for the box either in cash or from your new bank account.
Go to social services. Get information for the free phone plans they offer and apply for any applicable services. If you were already receiving services, let them know you left and why and ask for a separate account. Give them your P.O. box for mailing purposes.
Get a new cell phone (if you don't need/qualify for social service options). The best option is a pre-paid cell phone. When you set up the account, don't put your real name on it. Use a fake name and address. They're not going to mail you anything and it's highly unlikely they will ever contact you so don't worry about this. Get the cheapest phone you can find, commonly known as a throw away phone. You want something easy to get rid of and replace just in case somehow your abuser finds out your number. This phone doesn't even have to have cell service set up if you don't want it. Any U.S. phone will dial 911 regardless of whether or not you have active phone service.
Steps to Take Immediately After Leaving:
- Drive straight to the domestic violence shelter/office. Tell them your story and request that someone go with you to the courts (see next step).
- Go file a temporary restraining order/child protective order with the local court. Request sole custody of children and child support and financial support for yourself. Include a formal notice of separation per the laws of your jurisdiction. This gives you 14 days in which the abuser cannot contact you. You do not need a lawyer for this step however, plan for your abuser to get one and seek legal council at the very least. Many abusers go free because the abused doesn't understand the law and expects protection she won't get without legal assistance or a rock-solid case.
- Document any and every single instance that they try to make contact by hand-writing it in a notebook or calling the police and getting a report.
- Get cash out of your bank account. Swiping a card is more easily traced. If you pay in cash, it will make it a lot harder for your movement and actions to be discovered. Pay for everything you have to purchase in cash, including train or bus tickets .
- Notify a limited number of friends and family. Only tell your most trusted people and DON'T tell them where you are. Just tell them that you are safe and if necessary, how they can reach you. Let them know you will be in touch when it is safe for you. Give them your new email address if you feel that is safe to do.
- Close your social network accounts. You don't know who you can trust and right now no one needs access to all those Facebook photos, etc. Deactivate it or delete it completely. You do not want to post anything on social media from now until your court case completes.
- Go somewhere safe. This could be the domestic violence shelter or a relatives. Try to be somewhere where you can be protected. Now is the time to befriend that gun-toting relative you weren't so close to before or to take that much needed trip to visit a far-away relative. Go somewhere that your abuser can't easily get to you. When choosing, don't underestimate a narcissists tendency to drop everything and hunt you down. Don't tell anyone where you are except for the person you are staying with.
- While traveling use public access terminals to check on your abuser's activities. Check their social networks to see if they've given any indication they are looking for you or know where you're going. If they do, abort your plan and travel elsewhere. Do not login to any of their accounts, your accounts or any joint accounts. These programs could report an IP address which can be used to track you down.
- Update your domestic violence counselor/advocate as soon as you reach your destination safely. Provide her contact details for how to reach you and devise a plan for checking in with her regularly.
- Share your GoFundMe account anywhere you feel it's safe to share. It's okay if your abuser finds out now, it's too late to stop you.
- Don't change your address on any of your joint accounts. Don't change it on any accounts they could be able to access. If you need information on the account, call the company directly and ask for it.
- Don't give in to temptation to go back or contact the abuser. They will lie and tell you whatever they can to make you think they'll change so you'll come home. Don't fall for it!
- Don't be free with the information you give about your current whereabouts. You never know who will feel sorry for him or who will fall for his lies and give up your location. Even those who are on your side could slip and say something innocent that leads the abuser to you.
- Don't login to any of your accounts until you go back to court and get a permanent restraining order.
In Part 2 of this post, Establishing Your New Life, I will cover how to re-establish yourself after leaving. Starting over isn't easy but it doesn't have to feel impossible either. I'll help you understand your resources and how to use them appropriately.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Have I missed a critical or helpful step?