If you're the victim of domestic abuse, you may have thought for months or years about leaving the relationship. But leaving is scary, and it's hard to do. Victims often feel trapped and very much alone. They may fear for their own and their children's safety. Or they're financially dependent on the abuser and may have no means of support. Within military families, victims are also likely to be far from their support system of family and friends back home.
Victims who need to get out of an abusive relationship can get support from the military, but they also benefit from help and encouragement from friends, relatives, co-workers and trusted professionals. With planning and support, you can build a healthy and safe new life for yourself and your children.
The risk of danger often increases when a victim is leaving an abusive relationship. The abuser may become more angry or threatening. The most important step you can take during this time is to have a safety plan in place before you leave. A domestic abuse victim advocate at your installation or in your civilian community will help you develop your safety plan. Follow these steps to help you stay safe:
- Contact the Family Advocacy Program office on your installation — Request a victim advocate. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you can speak to an advocate without identifying yourself. A victim advocate will give you information about reporting options and services for victims, including help finding a shelter or other safe place to go.
- Plan ahead in case you need to leave on short notice — Keep car keys and public transportation fare in your purse so that you’re able to leave quickly. Gather important documents like birth certificates, health insurance cards, checkbook, important phone numbers and addresses and your driver's license, and keep them in one place, preferably somewhere away from where you live. If you don't have access to a credit card in your own name, try to save a secret fund of cash. Keep a change of clothing for yourself and your children, personal items and an extra set of car keys at a friend's house or at work.
- Talk to trusted friends and relatives about your situation — Establish a code word or signal so that family members, friends, neighbors, teachers, co-workers or others know when to call for help. Tell people where you are going and when you plan to be back.
- Go over safety plans with your children — Identify a safe place for them, such as a room with a lock or a neighbor's home where they can go. Teach your children how to call 911 if they need assistance. If possible, keep a cell phone for this purpose charged and in an easily accessible place. Some domestic abuse programs provide refurbished cell phones to domestic abuse victims for this purpose.
- Find a safe place to go — Try not to stay with family members or friends your abuser knows. The comfort of a friend or relative's residence may seem like a logical choice, but if your abuser knows where to find you, you could be putting yourself, your friend or your relatives in danger.
- Get a restraining order or military protective order — This is to discourage your spouse from returning home, entering your place of work or contacting your children. A restraining order or an MPO can usually be extended to child care centers or providers. Remember, neither a restraining order nor an MPO will prevent your spouse or partner from returning home or entering your workplace, but it does make it illegal for him or her to do so.
- Take safety precautions — Avoid staying alone. If possible, change the locks. Vary the routes you take between home and work. Try to park near the entrance of your work, making special arrangements to do so if necessary. At home, install motion sensor lights outside your house. Do not agree to meet your abuser under any circumstances.
- Make sure schools and child care providers know who has permission to pick up your children — Give them a copy of your restraining order or MPO.
- Include the workplace on your restraining or protective order — Let security or your supervisor know that you have taken out a restraining order and make sure that it is current and on hand at all times. Provide a picture of the abuser to receptionists or security.
- Save any threatening emails or phone messages — The more documentation you have, the stronger the case against your abuser will be if you choose to take legal action in the future.
Where to find help
- The FAP office — Find a FAP office by using the locator at MilitaryINSTALLATIONS or calling your installation operator or Military and Family Support Center.
- Your Military OneSource consultant — Call 800-342-9647 or visit Military OneSource for confidential counseling services, referrals to local resources and assistance in finding a victim advocate.
- People you know — Keep a list of safe people to contact. These could include friends, relatives, neighbors, fellow service members or co-workers.
- A domestic abuse hotline — Assistance is available 24 hours a day at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 800-799-SAFE (7233). The hotline can assist you in finding a shelter, housing, counseling, support groups, job training and legal assistance in your area. It also provides local resources abusers can use to seek assistance for themselves.
- An attorney or court advocate specializing in domestic abuse — An attorney can explore custody, visitation and divorce provisions to protect you and your children. Your Legal Assistance Office can assist you in obtaining legal information and provide general guidance. For issues such as child custody and divorce proceedings, they will refer you to legal services in the civilian community.
- Support groups — While you may feel alone, many others have also suffered and survived domestic abuse. By joining a domestic abuse support group, you'll gain strength and support from being around them.