Aohrodite Wounded - Support for Women sexually assaulted by male partners and educational resources for professionals
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"Yeah you're gonna stamp me down now boy
Yeah you're gonna crush me down now boy
You think you're gonna threaten me now boy?
Well, somehow I dont think so "
~ Imogen Heap ~
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LEAVING AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP AND YOUR SAFETY

"IPSV"="Intimate Partner Sexual Violence"

INTRODUCTION
On this page, we'll look at the topic of leaving an abusive relationship.
What many people who think that abusive relationships are easy to walk away from don't understand is that leaving, for some women, is extremely dangerous - the risk of rape or even homicide increases as a woman is leaving or after she has left. (1) Don't allow anybody to push you into doing anything before you feel ready. You know best what you need to do, and your assessment of danger is more accurate than anybody else's. If your life is in danger, you will need to discuss a safety plan with an advocate - we'll look at this further. Please be aware that what's on this page isn't an attempt to say "If you do A, B, OR C, you won't get hurt." Rather here is some information which may give you a chance of staying safe if you're leaving. If you are looking at leaving, I hope some of the information on this page will be useful to you at what can be a frightening and lonely time.
Some of what follows is based in professional knowledge, and some in my own experiences.
If you are in danger, you are encouraged to seek professional help.

*An excellent read for the process of separating from an abusive partner, both before and after*
It's My Life Now: Starting Over After an Abusive Relationship or Domestic Violence - Meg Kennedy Dugan and Roger R.Hock

FOR WOMEN ABUSED BY NON-COHABITING PARTNERS

Women who break up with partners they didn't live with also face threats, stalking, rape, and other acts of abuse or intimidation. This may be particularly true for teenage girls who have to go to school with their abusers. Some perpetrators who don't live with the partners they abuse actually step up control and intimidation tactics. Teen dating violence is prevalent and increasing. If you are a teenager, please know that if you can't talk to anybody around you about your fear, the hotlines can help you. The following writing is intended for non-cohabiting partners as well as women who have lived with violent men.

ASSESSING RISK TO YOUR LIFE
Important Links
If you have seen this page, you will know that there is a fatality risk to women experiencing rape additionally to physical violence. Here is a checklist of life-threatening abuser behaviours. It is absolutely essential that you know these criteria mean you will need to have a safety plan. If you would like to do a more comprehensive actual threat assessment test, you can use Gavin De Becker's online Mosaic Threat  Assessment questionnaire. This is a diagnostic test specifically tailored to domestic violence. It's free to use, and will give you advice depending on the outcome (please see the note underneath this paragraph). Even if you don't believe your life is at risk, it is still best to be as safe as possible - rape, combined with other factors may also be a life-threatening issue, particularly if there is also battery - this is recognized by researchers (2). If your abuser has used rape to control and possess you, it is not a giant step for some abusers to take that to the conclusion of murder. (3)

Please note: I think that the work of Gavin de Becker in establishing the Mosaic system is excellent and has the potential to save lives. But if you do decide to use it, please be aware that beneath the results and advice you'll get (and that's most important to you) you'll find text informing you that if a woman is hit once she's a victim, and after that she's a "volunteer." I am not sure why it's necessary to make that statement beneath a test that may have just suggested that you are in great danger - you hardly need to be blamed for being afraid of leaving, and statements like this contribute to blame. I do not believe that women who remain in relationships of abuse are volunteering for more violence - this is simplistic, cliched and insulting. I think it is necessary to warn users about this, because I am aware that it has caused real hurt to survivors who have come across it. The Mosaic test is highly useful though so please don't be put off.

WANT TO LEAVE BUT ARE FRIGHTENED?
Important Links
Many women find that when they decide to leave, there has been a "turning point" or a proverbial straw that broke the camel's back - here is a page with some interesting information about this process. If you're thinking of leaving but are frightened, your fear is entirely understandable - it is an act of defiance against somebody who has harmed you; it is painful and is a leap into the unknown. It is also true that for some women, leaving escalates a partner's violence., which you no doubt already know is a risk. Please, do call a hotline and discuss options for leaving safely. Are there any other supports you have? Perhaps you might list what they are, and how each of them can help you; i.e. is there a friend whom you know will lend you money? A family member who can put you and any children up? Do you need a police escort to help you leave? In preparation for leaving, it will be essential to make a safety plan that has the best chance of working for you. A domestic violence worker can help you do this. Please see this article:How to leave a violent relationship, and if you can, I strongly recommend that you read Lundy Bancroft's book, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men - it contains excellent advice on leaving safely and what you may encounter.

THINGS TO BEWARE OF
Important Links
If you're leaving, it may be that you've tried many times before to go, and you know precisely the sort of sabotages that your partner has up his sleeve. This time, you may want to include as part of your safety plan how you will respond to these sabotages. Let's look at some of the emotional traps men who don't want to let go use (4):
  • Guilt Trips: Do you find that even though it's you who have been hurt, you care more about his feelings than you do about yourself? It's possible that in having to respond to his needs, yours have had to come a big fat last every time. No fair, sister. You will need to try and put yourself first now. Please know that if he tells you his life is in the toilet without you and so on, you are not responsible, not for his life or his feelings. Consider that he knows which parts of you are fair game i.e. that you are inclined to sympathy for him, and he can turn those parts on and off at will. He does this to control you, not because you are heartless for leaving. Please also know that if he appeals to you to stay "for the children", that seeking to extricate yourself from an abusive relationship is not cruel to your children, it is an act of loving responsibility. You don't have to be 'nice". Judith Herman writes that women leaving a violent relationship must suppress their most compassionate parts (5) This was de\finitely true for me. The last time I left, I was determined I was never going back. Peter attempted to engage my sympathy and guilt at every possible angle, and I had to ruthlessly deaden myself against it. This is incredibly difficult if you're a naturally compassionate person, but sometimes it's the only way. Do have support to talk to about how difficult it is. I used to cry my eyes out after a successful resistance session. It felt horrible, but I see that it saved me from buying into the guilt-trips.
  • Ardent wooing: When you threaten to leave, does your house look like a florist salon for a few days, while he gives you unusual help with the kids? Does he say you are the only woman he could ever love? Perhaps you find yourself thinking that this time it really will be different. If your ex is obsessively trying to get you to come back, please remember that no matter what he says, he is operating within a certain agenda. A violent partner usually does not have your interest at heart. He may genuinely love you, but love has become confused with ownership, and this is dangerous to you. Watch your heart too. You've loved him genuinely, and there is appeal in being loved back and believing that he's really sorry. Perhaps you've lived for these times of passionate love as they've given you temporary surcease from the violence. It may be that there's a degree of traumatic bonding going on (for more about this, please read this article). You need to think as he thinks, and get support as you extricate yourself. Whether he is being lovely or threatening, the aim is the same: To get you back under control. As this article states, "You can not trust him.  You can not consider his feelings when you tell him it's over."
  • Promises of change: He may pull out all the stops to convince you that he'll do anything for just one more chance to prove that he can change. Religious conversions are not unusual at this time, and he may promise you he'll attend counselling. If he is really serious about this, he will attend on his own, and the counselling will be centered around him taking responsibility for the violence. He will do this because hurting you is wrong, and he won't hold one or two appointments up as proof that he's such a good boy you should go back. When he apologises to you, he may sincerely mean it with all his heart at the time. But unless he commits to working with his abusive mindset to change his abusive and controlling patterns, remorse alone - however genuine - will change nothing.. Of course, if you are ready to leave, you may have stopped believing the promises. Please read batterer Expert Lundy Bancroft's Checklist for Assessing Change in Men Who Abuse Women
  • Depression and missing him: It can be hard to adjust to life outside of violence. You may grieve for the good parts of the relationship. Judith Herman writes that while some women know they need to leave, they do struggle with feelings of emptiness and worthlessness without the abuser (6). If you look at this webpage, you'll see that women are prone to experiencing actually more depression after they've left an abusive relationship than when they were in it. It's confusing - why can't emotions be straightforward, right? Depression is treatable - please get as much support as you can, and remember that the further away you get from your abuser, the more you will take back custody of your mind. Your grief is natural but it won't always feel this way. You might like to have a look at this article: 5 Tips For Lifting Depression After Your Abusive Relationship
  • Getting family, friends or clergy to appeal to you: Abusers often successfully manipulate not just their partners, but family, friends and even counsellors. Anybody who doesn't take the abuse you've experienced seriously enough to support you, or who has greater loyalty toward him than you, isn't the best person to be offering you advice, even if you do like and respect them.
  • Sex with your ex: Many women are so lonely and broken after the end and regardless of how bad the abuse was. When the abuser comes with declarations of love and entreaties to go back, they might find it difficult to resist going bed with him. You may feel as if he basically still owns you anyhow, and feel intense shame, as if he's all you're good for. But he is likely to think that this is a foot in the door to get you back. It doesn't help if you are trying to break free. If you can, the break needs to be as clean as possible. Let me please make it clear that if you have slept with an abusive ex-partner, you can stilol make choices about your future. It does not mean in any way that you are to blame for ongoing threats and violence, just that it is giving him hope and delaying your freedom.
  • The Coercion Factor: Some abusers understand that their control over a woman has not ended with the relationship, and they can continue to terrorize and control her for even years after the end of a relationship. This is called the "coercion factor." Does your ex-partner still expect loans of money, or for you to have 'dates' with him? Women may acquiesce to such demands out of ongoing, trauma based fear. It might be hard for you to believe he can no longer call the shots in your life, and you are trying to survive - after all, defying him in the past has been dangerous. You are responding in ways that may have saved your life in the past. However, if you're afraid of frustrating him, consider that acquiescing to all his demands except what he really wants - your return - will frustrate him anyhow and be dangerous to you. Freedom must be true freedom. Limit contact as much as it is possible to do. Please read this page that has a section entitled "Staying Safe After Separation"
  • Withdrawing contact and help with children: Where some abusers make a great show of parenting in order to manipulate a partner into not leaving, some withdraw contact as well as financial and physical help with kids. They are using the children to punish the mother, and in some cases these men hope that the hardship will make the mother return. Unfortunately with most abusers it's all about them, so they don't actually care what this does to their children's psyches. The thing is that you do care - it may hurt terribly - and like many abused mothers, you may bend over backwards to facilitate contact and protect the children as much as possible from their father's lousy behaviour. You cannot be responsible for preserving an image of an abusive parent. I recommend that you speak to a domestic violence counsellor about issues such as this, and engage counselling nfor the children too. Remember that it is a nasty game aimed at controlling you.
  • Dangling new girlfriends in your face: Abusive men often parade their new girlfriends past the women they've hurt. It often has a feel of saying "Look, see how much better than you she is?" He may want to make you jealous or just to feel bad - it is another way of trying to get you to come back, or simply continuing the abuse. Even if you have ended the relationship, these ploys may still hurt in some ways. That's very common. It happened to me: I was hospitalised with depression, and my ex-partner brought his new girlfriend in making a song and dance of how terrific she was. In hindsight, I think it was really embarrassing for her, but it caused me terrible pain that when I was at my lowest - in the main because of things he'd done to me - he still wouldn't stop trying to hurt me. Of course he wouldn't - the first agenda of abusers is satisfying their egos. Now, all I regret about that is not saying to her, "Watch out he doesn't rape you!" I felt awful at the time, and really inferior to this new girlfriend. If you are in such a situation, the thing to realise is that this woman is being used to hurt you, and that he will do exactly the same things to her as he has done to you. She deserves sympathy. She is not better than you; she is another victim. Another thing that many abusers do with new girlfriends is make a show of being great daddies, and they may engage their new partners in persecution of you. Again, I must recommend a reading of Lundy Bancroft's Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. This will blow that ugly little game right out of the water for you. You are not alone, remember that.
CHILDREN?
Important Links
Abusers often know that children are a mother's most vulnerable place. If he threatens suing you for custody of the children, this can be extremely frightening. I nearly returned because of it. Sometimes it's an idle threat - but terrifying one that the abuser knows will frighten a mother. If you think it isn't, it's a good idea to seek legal advice. For women's legal advice bodies (some of which are free or nominal in cost) go here. Too many women have found that men use the pretext of visiting children to harass or abuse the mothers further. If this is what's happening to you, it is still unsafe. Is it possible for him to see the children on neutral territory? You may want to speak to a DV service about whether it's possible to use a visitation center (here is just one example of a visitation center).. Sometimes, there may be grounds for him having no access to the children if he is dangerous. You'll need to seek legal advice about this. Please see here for some legal resources. And please, see this page of resources and articles: Child Custody Justice

He may also lie to the children about you, and use them to check up on you. Try not to become angry in front of the children, but do talk it through with a DV counsellor and/or good friend. This will help you respond in ways that do yourself and your kids the best justice without playing into his hands. Another common tactic is making it difficult for you by withdrawing support or help with the children in any way. Please get all the support you can from friends and family - this is difficult and you deserve it.

Please don't feel as if your seeking safety has makes you a bad mother. People, including him, may try to lay that one at your door. But the end of the relationship is a consequence of his behaviour.

If your ex-partner puts you down to your children, or uses them in other pernicious games, I strongly recommend that you read the book When Dad Hurts Mom: Helping Your Children Heal the Wounds of Witnessing Abuse by Lundy Bancroft. Also, please read his article on co-parenting with abusers.
RESTRAINING ORDERS
Important Links

Links about restraining orders:

If you are being stalked, surveilled, threatened or intimidated in any way, please think about a restraining order. If you feel you are still in danger, please contact the police. Some women don't seek restraining orders because they're afraid such action may provoke the abuser, or will be useless. Of course they don't offer ironclad guarantees, but they are shown to be helpful in a high proportion of cases. Do read the following and see what you think (7):

Orders for Protection; New News: Only 20% of women who report partner violence get protection orders, known as restraining orders that prohibit their abusers from certain types of contact. While the effectiveness of these orders has been a subject of debate, a new large-scale study suggests that they can and do work. A retrospective study of 2691 victims of partner abuse found that those who received a permanent court-ordered protection order (usually lasting 12 months) had an 80% less risk of further abuse compared with women not receiving a protection order. Women who received temporary protection orders (usually in effect for 2 weeks) were no more likely to experience physical abuse than women without any protection order although their risk of psychological abuse (harassment, stalking and threats) was far greater. The study was authored by Dr. Mary A. Kernic of the University of Washington and the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center in Seattle and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in August 2002.

You may also want to lay charges, and you are entitled to this. Speak to a domestic violence advocate/counsellor about this - go here for contacts.

Here are some links about restraining orders: USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada. A domestic violence worker can certainly also tell you what you need to do, and may offer you support at court. Please go here for international domestic violence links and numbers. Remember that plenty of women, self included, get out, survive and go on to have happy and productive lives

*While orders do, as we've seen, work most of the time, I do not believe that restraining orders should be suggested as a cure-all. In some cases, they actually can make things worse 8 - or police may not always enforce them as rigorously as they should. What may be needed is for a domestic violence professional or police risk-management officer to do a threat assessment with you. This will help work out the best plan for your safety. Please do ask domestic violence services about this.

STALKING
Important Links
Stalking is a serious problem, and entails a deliberate pattern of threatening or annoying behaviour in the form of following you, threats, phone calls, letters, emails, sending "gifts" ("nice" gifts like flowers, or macabre items like dismembered animal parts), driving by your home, approaching you or your property, or surveillance - watching you, or tapping your phone. Although we most often hear about stalking in terms of celebrities who are victims, the most common context for stalking is after the end of a relationship, especially where there has been violence. American statistics estimate that 90% of women murdered by violent ex-partners were stalked prior to the killings 9.

Teen girls face stalking by ex-boyfriends as well, which can be problematic if both attend the same school. Violent ex-partners often believe they have a right to reclaim, pursue or punish their ex-partner.

Remember that stalking is a crime. The feelings of fear and unsafety created by stalking may also make it hard for you to move into healing. If you are taking police action (it is strongly recommended you do), evidence is important. Always record dates and times of incidents. Preserve emails and letters, or gifts. Keep telephone messages. If possible, ask your workmates or neighbours to tell you if they see somebody fitting the stalker's description near your home, school or place of work. Ask any witnesses if they are prepared to testify. For helpful stalking resources, go here
RAPE
Important Links
Sexual assault if you threaten to leave or after you have left may be a punishment or a form of sabotage. It is often about exerting control. Your partner may believe that if he can "have" you in that way, you'll come back - he may also be attempting to make you pregnant to force you to remain/go back. Some women are not raped until they leave, but if he's used rape as a form of control or punishment in the past, chances are he'll see it as fair game. Contrary to the view of rape of an ex-partner as an act of passion by a desperate man, it of often premeditated, and is a vicious way of trying to force you to change your mind or inflict punishment on you for exercising the right to make choices about your future 10.

Be very careful of being alone with him. Some perpetrators plead that they "just want to talk to you - perhaps to "say goodbye nicely" and rape may be heralded by late-night visits 11. Other perpetrators kidnap their partners of the street for the purpose of rape or surprise them when they're alone 12.

If you are raped in an attempt to leave, or after you have left (and I hope you will not be), you might want to speak to a rape crisis worker about your feelings and options re reporting. Remember that delayed reporting can lead to the disappearance of vital evidence.
Whether you lay charges or not, you also might want to go to a hospital for injury or pregnancy issues - you can have a rape crisis worker or good friend attend with you. Please see this page. Also, try to get compassionate support as soon as you can. You deserve it.

COUNSELLING
Important Links
You may want to try counselling, or your partner may entreat you to go to counselling to save your relationship. Please be aware that if your partner is taking no (real) responsibility for the violence, couples counselling is not a safe option for you. Some couples counsellors see violence as a mutual problem rather than something he does to control you - they may assume a level playing field. Also, they may collude with an abuser who is able to manipulate them. Any counselling should be undertaken at least initially alone, and predicated on empowering you; acknowledging that the perpetrator is responsible for the abuse. Please see this page for finding a counsellor.
GETTING SUPPORT
Important Links
Rape and Domestic Violence Hotlines
Pandora's Aquarium for support from other survivors of rape and domestic violence
I know I've said "get support" over and over again on this page. Here are just couple of ways in which you may do that: Domestic violence advocates are compassionate and trained in assisting women with many parts of the leaving process, both before and after. Counselling is usually free and is confidential. See this page. The messageboard I co-administrate for survivors of rape and sexual assault has a forum for abusive relationships. You are most welcome to register and post for support. It must be said though that if you are in danger, offline help will be better than online help.
A LITTLE ABOUT MY MISTAKES...BECAUSE I CARE ABOUT YOU

In hindsight, which is always of course perfect, I can assess mistakes I made without any self-blame or embarrassment, and hopefully for the benefit of others. I was young, with few resources and little in the way of guidance. I often refer to my attempts to leave as "Kamikaze flights" - I had no safety plans in place and therefore announced plans to leave, or left, without any idea of how to protect myself from further violence. I am lucky to be alive. When I read risk assessment lists like this one, it still chills me to the bone; I could have checked most of those answers. I want you to stay alive too - or at very least, not be hurt anymore. So here is a list of recommendations based on my experience:

  • Assess Life-threatening issues and get help - please. While I was very afraid of my partner, I guess that I thought initially that he wouldn't really kill me. Eventually I did realise my life was in actual danger, and as I said, I am fortunate to be here. I don't think too fine a point can be put on this.
  • Overconfidence and Being too Trusting :Dr. Judith Herman writes that many a woman whose abuser begs her to come back feels as if the balance of power has shifted in her favour (13). If true, it is likely to be temporary until the abuser regains control again. The first time I left my abuser, I was free for 3 weeks - the longest I'd ever been free for. I was starting to believe in a future of freedom and felt a little stronger. He was pleading for me to come back, and swearing he would change. I felt that I could "manage" him better. I certainly did feel that the balance of power had shifted, and so allowed him into my home one evening to talk to me. Very soon, I was in a position where I could not control the outcome at all. I was raped, and it was this rape that I remained most traumatized by for twenty years. I don't blame myself; it's just an honest assessment of something which was not helpful to me. Feeling confident in taking back your life is wonderful. But he may still be dangerous, no matter how sweet he's acting.
  • Don't think you have to be "nice": If you are feeling for your ex-partner's hurt, that makes you compassionate. But it can, and perhaps will be used against you to further endanger you
  • Know that you matter: My self-esteem was so battered after that relationship, that I sometimes felt it probably didn't matter very much if I was hurt further. It did matter
SOURCES
  1. Bergen, R. Wife Rape: Understanding the Response of Survivors and Service Providers, Sage Publications, California, 1996
  2. Browne, 1987; Campbell 1989, cited in Bergen, R, Wife Rape: Understanding the Response of Survivors and Service Providers, Sage Publications, California, 1996
  3. McOrmond-Plummer, L, (2008). Considering the Differences: Intimate Partner Sexual Violence in Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Discourse, WCSAP Connections, Spring/Summer Issue 4-7
  4. Easteal, P. And McOrmond-Plummer, L, Real Rape Real Pain: Help for Women Sexually Assaulted by Male Partners, Hybrid Publishers, Melbourne, 2006
  5. Herman, J. Trauma And Recovery: From Domestic Abuse To Political Terror, Basic Books, USA, 1990
  6. Herman, J. Trauma And Recovery: From Domestic Abuse To Political Terror, Basic Books, USA, 1990
  7. Newsletter of Silent Witness National Initiative Nov. 2002
  8. De Becker G, - The gift of fear: survival signals that protect us from violence , Dell, New York 1999
  9. Schaum, M, and Parrish, K. Stalked: Breaking the Silence on the Crime of Stalking in America, Pocket Books, New York 1995
  10. Easteal, P. And McOrmond-Plummer, L, Real Rape Real Pain: Help for Women Sexually Assaulted by Male Partners, Hybrid Publishers, Melbourne, 2006
  11. Finkelhor, D.and Yllo, K., License to Rape: Sexual Abuse of Wives, The Free Press, New York 1985;
  12. Bergen, R, Wife Rape: Understanding the Response of Survivors and Service Providers, Sage Publications, California, 1996
  13. Herman, J. Trauma And Recovery: From Domestic Abuse To Political Terror, Basic Books, USA, 1990

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