On Her Own

On Leaving an Abuser

One of the most dangerous moments in a woman’s life is if and when she is leaving an abusive partner. The topic came up recently in one of the groups I’m in and it reminded me that with the holidays, this is a time of year when that happens. Spending time with loved ones can make it obvious that it’s time to go, and visiting family can make for a natural getaway that need only be extended to make the break. And there’s something to new year, new you. A rebirth of sorts, into the person you once were or, even more, the person you will be. There’s a lot I can say about the practicalities of figuring out your finances, outfitting your new place, and learning how to manage life without that person in your life. There’s even more I can say about how vital it will be for you to seek the comfort and support of your friends from the before times, not to mention the importance of therapy. But first, you have to get there, so let’s talk about some of the things you need to do for your immediate safety.

You may fear physical violence from your ex or you may not. While physically abusive relationships most often go with an increase in violence when the abused partner leaves, other abusive – or even non-abusive – relationships can become violent in those moments. If you’re not parting friends, it’s wise to prepare yourself for the possibility even if you’re pretty sure your ex won’t try to hurt or kill you. It’s far better to be wrong and laugh at yourself a little for feeling paranoid than to be wrong, and find yourself facing death without anything to defend yourself with. Even just knowing that you could face this kind of issue is a step towards surviving an attack because one of the hardest parts, especially when dealing with an assailant that you know, is getting over the freeze moment of being shocked that it’s really happening.

Many people will tell you to get a gun, especially if death threats have already been issued. Debate will inevitably ensue over the type, caliber, brand, and model of gun you should buy. With handguns, revolvers are simple to operate, but so are semi-automatics. Outside of very edge cases, you are strong enough and smart enough to operate either with the proper instruction (and that doesn’t need to take long). There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but know that there is no simple answer that is always right for everyone. Your individual circumstances matter. As for caliber, 9mm is generally where you want to end up, as the best balance of effectiveness, availability, shootability, and affordability. But you know what? In pistol calibers, pretty much anything will be about the same for your purposes under these circumstances: .22lr is okay; so is .380ACP; so is .40S&W; so is 45ACP. Larger calibers in smaller handguns are harder to shoot comfortably; smaller calibers in larger handguns tend to be less challenging to shoot well. If you need a brand-new-to-you gun right now in this market though? There’s something to be said for “get what you can, worry about the details later.”

In the meantime, consider other tools of self-defense. As regular readers know, I’m a big fan of pepper spray because it’s legal and readily available almost everywhere, inexpensive, and relatively easy to carry and use. All of that counts for a lot when you need something right now. It isn’t a guaranteed immediate stop to an attacker, but neither is a gun. It will, however, almost certainly make them less effective when they try to hurt you, even if you don’t get a perfect hit across the eyes. Pepper spray is also a good option if you’re afraid that you might not be able to safely store a gun or that it might get taken away from you. Whether those fears are founded or not, they may be real to you and now may not be the best time to bust those myths and put you through a training crash course. In those cases, the worst to fear from pepper spray is that it might make you uncomfortable for a bit, but it won’t injure you permanently. Remember, too, that if you are the one spraying, any blowback you get in the process (which will be minor, with a good quality product) will almost certainly debilitate you less than your attacker. If you must buy same-day, I’d recommend finding a Sabre Red product in a stream configuration, not gel, something like this: https://amzn.to/3nUxsro (affiliate link). You can also get my recommended spray, POM, via Prime (https://amzn.to/3hk50Nl – affiliate link) or direct (http://bit.ly/OHO-POM – also affiliate link) if you have a bit more time. If you’re staying in a hotel, you may be able to get it delivered to there.

Somewhat more important, I think, is to focus on the larger picture of your personal safety. As much as possible, you need to not be where your ex can find and corner you alone. That includes agreeing to meet up for one last closure discussion. Don’t do it. You left for a reason. If you must deal with getting or giving back belongings or exchanging child custody, stick with public places, let someone know what you’re up to, and bring someone else along or have them act as a go-between. It’s not a foolproof way to stay safe, but it will help. Along those same lines, you might find it wise to stay somewhere your ex can’t find you, and change your schedule around as much as you can so that you’re not easily found as you follow a daily routine that your ex might know, at least for a little while. Don’t forget that the point is not to be easily accessible during this time, so you’ll need to make sure any friends who know where you are will keep quiet, and that you keep details off social media. With social media especially, it can be hard to know who can be trusted to not pass information along intentionally or unintentionally, so the fewer people who know where you are, the better. Similarly, when you change your address with any shared accounts, make sure to revoke authorization for your ex to get information, and consider using a PO box instead of your new street address when forwarding mail.

Perhaps it may seem obvious, but you also need to keep your doors locked at all times and consider other home security measures. If your ex-partner ever had keys to where you’re living now, or even if you think they might have had the opportunity to get copies of keys, change your locks or get them rekeyed. It’s inconvenient for you, but beats having them be able to walk right in. If there’s a receptionist at your workplace or a doorman, let them know that your ex is no longer allowed in. Get parking passes revoked if you need to. You can just let folks know that you’ve broken up and leave it at that, but don’t let potential embarrassment stop you – your safety is at stake. We’ve talked before about cameras and alarm systems too. If you don’t have them already, now is a good time. I’m the first one to warn you that the police might not arrive in time, but they might. Either way, you want the cavalry riding to your rescue as soon as possible and you want to be collecting as much evidence as you can about any threats or violence against you. It’s not just evidence for a restraining order if you don’t already have one, it’s also potentially evidence for jail time and other sanctions that can also help keep you safer.

Now here’s one of the hardest parts: you may never know how necessary or successful your safety measures are. The very fact that they are in place could be what discourages your ex from going after you. Of course it’s possible that you may need every bit of your planning and preparation to fight them off, but it’s just as possible, perhaps even more possible that you won’t. That doesn’t mean you’re paranoid, though. It means that you’re strong and smart and taking real steps towards your new, better life.

Hi, I'm Annette.

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