Domestic Abuse: Making a Safety Plan Before You Leave

Every nine seconds in this country, a woman is battered by a spouse or intimate partner. The American Medical Association (AMA) and FBI estimate that between three and four million women are battered each year in the United States. In Minnesota in 2013, 37 deaths were attributed to domestic abuse, most of which were women. Domestic abuse can happen to anyone: one woman was an attorney whose live-in boyfriend shot and killed her while she was in the process of moving out of their home.

The most dangerous time for a woman in an abusive relationship may be just after she leaves. It is estimated that women are 70 times more likely to be killed in the two weeks after leaving an abusive partner than at any other time during the relationship. 

While there are a number of statistics regarding domestic violence against women, we also want to acknowledge that men are abused by their wives, and both men and women are abused by their same-sex partner.  The danger is still real and we want you to read this to be safe. 

If you are experiencing abuse in a relationship, you are not alone. And if you are trying to leave, there are people who want to help you do so--safely. Making a safety plan can make a difficult transition less dangerous and stressful.

Before You Leave

Lay as much groundwork as you can for a safe and swift departure. Steps you can take include:

  • Establish a checking/savings account in your name only and put away as much money as you're able for when you need it. 
  • Figure out where you can go if you need to leave in a hurry. Try to have at least one backup to this plan. Make sure you will be welcome and physically safe at the locations you've chosen.
  • Pack a bag with extra clothing for yourself and your children and leave it with a trusted friend. If possible, avoid leaving it with a neighbor, close family members, or mutual friends of you and your partner.
  • Hide an extra set of car keys where you can access them as needed.
  • Pack essentials that you can leave with a friend or grab quickly. These items include:
    • Marriage and Driver's licenses
    • Birth certificates - yours and your children's
    • Money, checkbooks, credit cards, ATM cards, mortgage payment book, car title 
    • Social Security card, work permit, green card, passport 
    • Divorce, custody papers and restraining order
    • Insurance papers and medical records 
    • Lease, rental agreement and/or house deed 
    • School and health records for you and children
    • Keys - house, car, office, friend's 
    • Medications, glasses, hearing aids, etc. needed by you and your family 
    • Personal items - address book, pictures
    • Children's comfort items - favorite blanket, toy, etc.
    • Small items of value you can sell if necessary, such as jewelry
    • Telephone numbers for local domestic abuse services, such as the Tubman Center and Rivers of Hope and the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) and 1.800.787.3224 (TTY).
    • Documentation of the abuse (journal, pictures, medical records) and/or a restraining order.

Remember: your safety is the most important thing. Gather the items above if you're able, but if you're in immediate danger, the priority is getting yourself and your children to safety.

After You've Left

Unfortunately, having successfully exited an abusive situation doesn't mean you can let down your guard. To avoid further problems with your abuser, take as many of the following steps as you are able.

  • See legal counsel regarding which avenue to take legally, whether it is an Order for Protection, Harassment Restraining Order and/or Dissolution of Marriage. 
  • Consider renting a post office box for your mail, or see if you can use a friend's address.
  • Be aware that addresses are on police reports and may be able to be accessed by your abuser.
  • Be careful about giving out your new address and phone number.
  • Change your routine as much as possible; change work hours, where you shop, the route you take to your children's school and so forth, to minimize the risk of contact with your abuser.
  • Alert school authorities to your situation, and the fact that a restraining order is in place. Make certain they know who may and may not pick your children up from school.
  • Alert neighbors to your situation. Ask that they let you know if they see your abuser near your home, and to call the police if they feel you may be in danger.
  • Replace doors with solid-core wood, steel or metal doors. Install a security system, if resources permit.
  • Install motion sensor lights outside your house. 
  • Tell your co-workers about the situation; ask their help in screening all calls you receive during office hours.
  • If you have a land-line, get an unlisted phone number and have the number blocked so it doesn't show on others' caller IDs when you make outgoing calls. Block your number on your cell phone as well.
  • Have a "code word" that you share with trusted family and friends, including your children, if they are old enough to understand. If you use this code word in conversation, the person to whom you're speaking should understand that you are communicating that you are in danger and need them to call the police for you.

Many people hesitate to leave an abusive relationship because they have children with their abuser and are unsure of their legal rights. It can be frightening to take the risk of leaving, but remember that getting to safety is just as important for your children as it is for you. Please contact us at Mundahl Law with any questions you have regarding domestic violence and how it will affect custody, parenting time and property divisions. We look forward to working with you to build a safer future for you and your family. 

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