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Leaving a Relationship

"Why don't they just leave?"

People who have never been abused often wonder why a person wouldn’t just leave an abusive relationship. They don’t understand that leaving can be more complicated than it seems.
Leaving is often the most dangerous time for a victim of abuse, because abuse is about power and control. When a victim leaves, they are taking control and threatening the abusive partner’s power, which could cause the abusive partner to retaliate in very destructive ways.

Aside from this danger, there are many reasons why people stay in abusive relationships. Here are just a few of the common ones:

  • Fear: A person may be afraid of what will happen if they decide to leave the relationship.
  • Believing Abuse is Normal: A person may not know what a healthy relationship looks like, perhaps from growing up in an environment where abuse was common, and they may not recognize that their relationship is unhealthy.
  • Fear of Being Outed: If someone is in an LGBTQ+ relationship and has not yet come out to everyone, their partner may threaten to reveal this secret.
  • Embarrassment or Shame: It’s often difficult for someone to admit that they’ve been abused. They may feel they’ve done something wrong by becoming involved with an abusive partner. They may also worry that their friends and family will judge them.
  • Low Self-Esteem: When an abusive partner constantly puts someone down and blames them for the abuse, it can be easy for the victim to believe those statements and think that the abuse is their fault.
  • Love: So often, the victim feels love for their abusive partner. They may have children with them and want to maintain their family. Abusive people can often be charming, especially at the beginning of a relationship, and the victim may hope that their partner will go back to being that person. They may only want the violence to stop, not for the relationship to end entirely.
  • Cultural/Religious Reasons: Traditional gender roles supported by someone’s culture or religion may influence them to stay rather than end the relationship for fear of bringing shame upon their family.
  • Language Barriers/Immigration Status: If a person is undocumented, they may fear that reporting the abuse will affect their immigration status. Also, if their first language isn’t English, it can be difficult to express the depth of their situation to others.
  • Lack of Money/Resources: Financial abuse is common, and a victim may be financially dependent on their abusive partner. Without money, access to resources or even a place to go, it can seem impossible for them to leave the relationship. This feeling of helplessness can be especially strong if the person lives with their abusive partner.
  • Disability: When someone is physically dependent on their abusive partner, they can feel that their well-being is connected to the relationship. This dependency could heavily influence their decision to stay in an abusive relationship.

Leaving a Relationship

If you are ready to leave an abusive relationship, the Campus Victim Advocate is here for support, to answer questions and to connect you with the appropriate resources.
Below are a few safety tips to be aware of for each step of the process:

Because violence could escalate when someone tries to leave, here are some things to keep in mind before you leave:

  • Keep any evidence of physical abuse, such as pictures of injuries.
  • Keep a journal of all violent incidences, noting dates, events and threats made, if possible. Keep your journal in a safe place.
  • Know where you can go to get help (Campus Victim Advocate, Counseling Center, Christine Ann Shelter). Tell someone what is happening to you.
  • If you are injured, go to a doctor or an emergency room and report what happened to you. Ask that they document your visit.
  • Plan with your children and identify a safe place for them, like a room with a lock or a friend’s house where they can go for help. Reassure them that their job is to stay safe, not to protect you.
  • Contact your local shelter (Christine Ann Shelter) and find out about laws and other resources available to you before you have to use them during a crisis. WomensLaw.org has state by state legal information.
  • Acquire job skills or take courses at a community college as you can.
  • Try to set money aside or ask friends or family members to hold money for you.
  • Consider filing for a restraining order, this is something the Campus Victim Advocate can help you with.

Make a plan for how and where you will escape quickly. You may request a police escort or stand-by when you leave. If you have to leave in a hurry, use the following list of items as a guide to what you need to bring with you. The Campus Victim Advocate can help you come up with a personalized safety plan for leaving.

Your safety plan should include ways to ensure your continued safety after leaving an abusive relationship. Here are some safety precautions to consider:

  • Change your locks and phone number.
  • Call the telephone company to request caller ID. Ask that your phone number be blocked so that if you call anyone, neither your partner nor anyone else will be able to get your new, unlisted phone number.
  • Change your work hours and the route you take to work.
  • If you have a restraining order, keep a certified copy of it with you at all times, and inform friends, neighbors and employers that you have a restraining order in effect.
  • Call law enforcement to enforce the order and give copies of the restraining order to employers, neighbors and schools along with a picture of the offender.
  • Change the route taken to transport children to school or consider changing your children’s schools.
  • Alert school authorities of the situation.
  • Consider renting a post office box or using the address of a friend for your mail (be aware that addresses are on restraining orders and police reports, and be careful to whom you give your new address and phone number).
  • Reschedule appointments that the offender is aware of.
  • Use different stores and frequent different social spots.
  • Alert neighbors and request that they call the police if they feel you may be in danger.
  • Replace wooden doors with steel or metal doors. Install security systems if possible.
  • Install a motion sensitive lighting system.
  • Tell people you work with about the situation and have your calls screened by one receptionist if possible.
  • Tell people who take care of your children or drive them/pick them up from school and activities. Explain your situation to them and provide them with a copy of the restraining order.

To learn more about safety planning, click here.

*Adapted from thehotline.org

Local Hotlines

24-Hr Sexual Assault Hotline
(920) 722-8150
24-Hr Domestic Abuse Hotline
(920) 235-5998

Contact Information
Name: Stephanie Kitzerow
Phone: (920) 424-2061
Email: kitzeros@uwosh.edu
Hours: M-F: 8:30am-4:30pm
Office: Student Success Center, Suite 240
(Inside the Counseling Center)
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