Leaving a domestically violent relationship is like swimming against a rip. The water just keeps dragging you back no matter how hard you swim. The only way out is to swim to the side, or let it carry you out and drown you. While you are in it, though, all you can think is that you must keep swimming you must keep fighting. Then, eventually, you will have a moment of clarity. A moment when you are clear enough to realise that you have to make a choice; are you going to swim to the side or allow it to carry you out to sea?
In this article I refer to women because that is who is the most obviously affected, the most recognised, and it is what I have experienced. This does not negate the fact that many men are also the victims of domestic violence. I don't have any evidence to support this theory, however I would be willing to bet my life on the abuse of men being just as prevalent and equally damaging, to individuals and to society, as the abuse of women. The difference being that the abuse towards men tends to be more subtle, not always, but often. They are also conditioned by society to keep quiet. They are, apparently, supposed to be the strong one in the relationship, the leader. This is a deeply rooted problem that contributes not only to the abuse of many women, but also to the silence of many abused men for fear of social ostracisation and bullying.
In Australia, the average number of times a woman will return to her abusive partner is 8 times. 8 times a woman will gather the strength or will be forced to leave her abuser; then for a variety of reasons she will take them back. For love, for fear for her or her family's safety, for fear of the abusers safety, for physical intimacy, for financial security or because he has promised he's changed... The list is endless, and ultimately, it doesn't matter why. The fact is she has gone back and will be caught back in that rip. Back into the cycle of abuse.
The important thing to remember is that she tried. She had the strength to leave once, she will find that strength again, each time being a little stronger and a little closer to staying free for good. In the meantime she needs non-judgmental, unwavering support.
They say the most dangerous time for an abused person, is during or immediately after leaving their abuser. This is when she is most at risk of serious harm. Abusers will often destroy property, clear out bank accounts and stalk or hunt for their victim. Therefore it is important to be prepared. It's all well and good to tell a victim they should leave, but they likely already know that. They know they are unhappy, they know they are unsafe and whether they believe it is their own fault or they recognise that the abuser is responsible for their own behaviour, they more than likely feel trapped and unable to break free. The idea of leaving is so overwhelming. How can they possibly get away? How can they be free when the abuser controls all of the money, all of her time and all of her emotions?
When I was getting ready to leave, I planned for 2 weeks. I hid money, slowly gathered valuables and sentimental belongings, important documents, etc. But it was so overwhelming trying to think of everything I would need, to decide what to take and what to leave behind. Like so many others who find themselves in this situation I was not only socially isolated but also physically. I didn't have a licence, or a car; I wasn't allowed to get one. When I left I had a pram and a suitcase to carry our things. The one thing I did have was time. Time to get organised and time to do the practical things like packing and making phone calls. Not everyone has this luxury. You can only do what you can in the circumstances you are handed. Your best is enough and, as long as you have somewhere to go, the rest can be replaced, or survived without. It hurts, oh God how it hurts, to lose things that are important to you, and I am constantly reminded of things I left behind, but we have our lives, we have our freedom, and that is the most valuable thing of all.
So I've written a list, because one less thing to think about is one less thing to stress about and if only one person finds it useful and it helps her to leave, then that is more than enough to make it worthwhile.
First things first - an emergency kit. This is to be used in the event that there is an "explosion" and you need to leave everything and run for your life, literally.
Hide a bag in a cupboard or under the seat of your car, anywhere the abuser wont look. Things to include might be:
-A spare set of clothes for each of you
-A phone charger with some credit to make urgent phone calls and a list of phone numbers (key them into the phone if you have the chance but also keep a written copy).
-A stash of money that you can add to over time, even if its just loose change, or even better, set up a secret bank account you can hide money in and keep the details in the bag.
-Copies of important documents such as: passports, birth certificates, a bank/ utility statement with your current address, bank/ credit cards, etc. Anything that you need to prove your identity.
- A favourite book/ toy/ device of your children's to help occupy them while you do what you need to do.
- Something small for you; something that brings you comfort and nurtures you.
For someone who has the time to plan, some things to consider are:
How much you take will be dictated by how you escape.
In Queensland, it used to be that you could go back to the house with a police escort to gather belongings. This is no longer the case (or wasn't at the time I left, at the beginning of 2013).You are now required to get permission from the home owner to re-enter the home. Ludicrous. But it is what it is.
Regardless of whether you are able to re-enter the home, the abuser will inevitably be very angry that you have left and may take revenge by damaging things he knows are important to you.
Anything you leave behind should be assumed as irretrievable and anything you do get back, a bonus.
Think about how you plan to leave.
Will you have access to a car? A taxi? Will you be walking and using public transport?
Where will you be going? Will you have room to store furniture?
Is there a safe person who can store some things for you until you are in a position to take them off their hands?
If you have a trusted friend or family member who can look after some things for you until you are in a position to take them back, ask them. No-one can help you if they don't know what's going on.
I gave my friend expensive items that I knew I would need and have difficulty replacing immediately. My vacuum cleaner, jewellery, my CD player and CD's, my children's favourite toys, books and DVD's, photos, the children's car seats and other sentimental items.
What you choose will depend on how much space they have, how long you have to pack and how likely the abuser is to notice things that are missing.
I arranged for my friend to collect them on the day I was leaving after he had gone to work, so I was able to make a list and then gather everything together after he had left.
Your "carry on", the things you take with you on the day, will again vary depending on your mode of transport. I left with a pram, an 8 week old baby in a carrier and a 4 year old on my heels helping me with the suitcase. We took:
- 3 days worth of clothes
- light blankets for the baby
- a towel each
- personal hygiene items; toothbrushes, toothpast, hairbrush, pads,tampons, nappies, wipes, etc
- 3 toys for the kids; small things - a few matchbox vehicles and his fold up car mat, a dinosaur, and 2 puzzles.
- 3 books
- 1 DVD
- 1 small sentimental item each
- Some healthy, sustaining food.
- Baby carrier
- Keys, wallet and phone - don't forget the charger!!
- Harness/ leash - While well and truly old enough to listen, the 4 year old liked to wander and ensuring he was close to me was one less thing to stress about.
Who you call will depend on location, Australia has a nationwide 24 hr service called 1800 Respect (1800 737 732). They offer counselling and can refer you to your states services for practical assistance.
In Queensland there is a service called DVConnect Womens Line (1800 811 811).
DVConnect is the only state wide telephone service offering women affected by domestic or family violence free crisis counselling and support 24 hours a day 7 days a week, they can also arrange for you to be transported to safety in an emergency.
DVConnect also have a mensline (1800 600 636) - Open 9am-12am 7 days a week.
Mensline offers specialist assistance for men who would like to address their own use of violence and men who have been victims of violence in their own relationships.
DVConnect Sexual Assault line (1800 010 120)
This is a free and confidential, telephone service. Experienced counsellors offer a sensitive listening ear and provide supportive counselling and non-judgemental advice for all Queenslanders.
How they help you will depend on your circumstances. In my case DVConnect sent a taxi to collect us and take us to a hotel for the night, until they arranged a place for us in a refuge. Once they had found us a place, they had another taxi take us to the train station in the city, arranged for a ticket to the station at the other end and for the refuge staff to collect us at the right time. I had not one cent to my name at the time and they arranged everything at no cost to me. Miracle workers. Truly. I would never have left if it weren't for this service.
Legal aid is another important service. They can give you legal advice for your circumstances over the phone. The can help with Family Court, Civil and Criminal matters.
The phone number is different for each state/ territory;
WA - 1300 650 579 - Monday to Friday between 8.30am and 4.30pm
SA - 1300 366 424 - Monday to Friday between 9am and 4:30pm
VIC - 1300 792 387 - Monday to Friday between 8.45am and 5.15pm
TAS - 1300 366 611 - Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm
NSW - 1300 888 529 - Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm
ACT - 1300 654 314 - Monday to Friday between 8.30am to 5pm
QLD - 1300 65 11 88 - Monday to Friday between 8.30am and 5pm
NT - 1800 019 343 - Monday to Friday between 8am and 4:30pm
Centrelink have special payments for women, men and families in crisis. It is important to remember to contact them as soon as your circumstances change so that you are paid the correct amount and receive everything you are entitled to.
Find someone you trust to keep those lines of communication open. Talk to your family, your friends, your church, someone in your community. Let them know what's going on. Keeping those lines of communication open is vital to having emotional and physical when you need it. If you feel you have no-one to turn to, leave me a message here. I'm no counsellor, but I have experience and ears at the ready.
Its OK to not be ready. Your time, your light-bulb moment will come. Until then you can work at getting yourself prepared and educating yourself. Empowering yourself and keeping yourself safe.
One foot in front of the other. One week, day, hour, minute at a time. You may not be able to control much in your life right now, but you do have the power to one day be free. There is lots of help available, the difficulty is know who and what to ask.