One of the most overwhelming parts of trying to escape an abusive relationship is determining what steps you need to take and how to find the resources you need. Counseling and legal resources are not the only things you need to free yourself from the abuse and begin the process of healing. Emotional support from others who have been through themselves is absolutely essential, as it will help alleviate the loneliness and frustration you feel. The more extensive a support network you are able to build, the easier escaping will be.
Before you begin to explore any online resources
I suggest that if you are using a computer your abuser has access to, close this page and come back when are able to access it from a safe computer. This can be at a relative or friend’s house, a library, etc. You do not want to risk your abuser discovering your attempts or intentions to seek help. The most likely consequence of this is that you will be punished! You do not want to expose yourself to any additional risk. Remember, the end goal is to get yourself out of danger, not compound it.
If you are able, before you leave, compile all important papers and records and have someone you trust hold on to the file for you. This includes all personal identity documentation, taxes, bank statements, student loan paperwork, deeds, mortgage and personal loan paperwork, pay stubs, medical files, etc.
Also, if you are able, document your injuries with date and time-stamped photos and keep these someone out of your residence with your financial information. If your abuser contests the order of protection, it can only help you case when you go to court.
If your situation permits, when you leave, file a police report. Request an emergency stay away order (also called orders of protection and restraining orders) and take the paperwork to the family court immediately. DO NOT GO ALONE IF AT ALL POSSIBLE. When you get a copy of the emergency order, makes copies and more copies. You will need to keep one on your person, in glove compartments of every vehicle you normally travel in, with your immediate supervisor and/HR at work, your church or place of worship, etc. Just because the order is on paper does not mean it will be in the system immediately. Should you need to call 911 for a violation, you have to provide proof the order exists.
You should also seek medical attention and have your injuries documented.
Immediately get in contact with the advocates who will handle your court visits and help with any criminal cases. In the state of New York, the criminal domestic violence advocate should offer to file a Crime Victim Report Application on your behalf. Information requested on this will include any financial debts (medical or property loss) incurred as a result of the domestic violence case.
You will be given contact information for the domestic violence advocate who will attend court hearings with you if you so choose. I suggest you do not refuse this. They cannot speak before the judge on your behalf, but they will discuss your case and tell you what to request from the judge in a permanent order. Also, they will attend the hearings with you. They will also help you find counseling services if they do not handle this themselves.
Change your address the same day you leave the house. If you need to get a PO box temporarily, do so. You do not want to risk the abuser getting access to your information that may be currently sent through the mail.
If the abuser is listed as an allowed medical contact at your doctors’ offices, go to each office and fill out a new HIPPA form requesting they be immediately removed from this privilege due to a stay away order in effect on them. Also document on the form that they may not reveal any contact info you update with them.
If you have been forced to leave everything behind as I was, get in contact with the police and schedule a day and time with them to accompany you to the residence to get your belongings. Be aware of two important things: most departments will only do this Monday through Friday, usually 8-4. Also, bring plenty of help and lots of over-sized lawn and leaf bags, as they are not able to stay long enough for you to pack. Another important point to remember is that they prefer you go when the abuser is there so he/she cannot call and accuse you of theft. If they dispute ownership of anything you attempt to take, it must stay on premises, and you will have to go to court.