Safety Issues in an Abusive Relationship

Violence is against the law. No-one has to put up with it. If there is physical, emotional or verbal violence in your relationship, you need support. Let family and friends know what is happening and contact the Women’s Refuge for information, support and practical help.

Many controlling people use intimidation tactics, but stop short of violence. This can change when they realise you’ve made the decision to separate. Some people will go to any lengths to prevent their partners from leaving. Tread cautiously. If your partner is threatening violence, always take these threats seriously. Even someone who has never been violent before can erupt into violence at the realisation you are determined to leave. If there are threats, consider yourself and your children at risk and act accordingly.

Ensuring Safety Before a Break-up

  • Don’t wait until there is a violent attack. Leave as soon as possible.
  • Find out the phone number for the local Women’s Refuge from directory enquiries. Contact them for help and advice.That’s what they’re there for. Keep the number handy at all times.
  • Have a friend stay with you. This may deter your partner from violence long enough for you to plan your escape.
  • Have an excuse prepared so you can get out of the house if your partner becomes threatening. Drop everything and go if you need to.
  • If possible, arrange for neighbours to help in a crisis.
  • Make sure your children know what to do in an emergency: who they should phone and where to go for help. Give them the phone numbers they need for the police, relatives and neighbours.
  • Keep any important documents (such as passports and identification) and a change of clothes for yourself and the children at a friend’s place, in case you have to leave suddenly.
  • Keep a spare set of house and car keys somewhere safe.

What if my Partner Becomes Violent?

Have an escape plan worked out in advance.

These questions need to be considered:
  • What will you do if your partner becomes violent?
  • Who will you call for help?
  • If you make a run for it, where will you go?
  • How will you get there?
Ideally you would spend some time creating a written safety plan by answering these questions. If you feel too overwhelmed to make these decisions alone, ask a friend, counsellor or a refuge worker to help you to work through these issues.

Should I Contact the Police?

The most important consideration is your safety. Each woman needs to decide whether or not her safety will be increased by involving the police. When you contact the police you are giving your partner the clear message he has over-stepped the mark, and you will not tolerate his violence. It is often a restraint when he realises he’s dealing with the law, rather than you.

Involvement with the law, means there can be negative consequences for his abusive behaviour. This can be a strong deterrent. On the other hand, there are some men who do not let police involvement stop them. They may even become more aggressive as a result. However, generally you are probably far better off to seek police involvement, than to have no protection at all.

The police have a duty to protect you and your children. Unfortunately domestic violence has traditionally been given a low priority and the police have sometimes been slow to respond to calls, and unsympathetic toward the woman. This is changing. Domestic violence now has a higher priority, but old attitudes sometimes persist. If you do need to call the police the following strategies will be helpful.

Dealing With the Police

  • Keep as calm as possible. Tell the police the facts in detail. Show them any injuries you have received and let them know if there are any witnesses, including children.
  • Always make sure the police make a report of the incident, even if they do not arrest your partner.
  • If you want to, you can ask the police to transport you to the Women’s Refuge or some other place where you will be safe.
  • Always get the identification number and the name of the police personal involved. Keep a record of the date and time of your call, in case you need to follow it up at a later date.

Other Strategies to Use if Your Partner Becomes Violent

  • If you can, consider leaving the house immediately. If you are on foot seek refuge with a neighbour or go to a public place where there are other people around.
  • Get to a phone and contact the Police or Women’s Refuge. They can pick you up and take you to a safe and confidential place where you can stay.
  • If you have left the home to escape violence, but feel you have to return, do not go back until your partner has calmed down. If possible get a friend or relative to establish his state of mind before returning and return with them.
  • If you have obtained a protection order, notify the police every time your partner attempts to make contact with you. If you are consistent with this, your partner will soon realise you mean business.
  • If your partner does assault and injure you, always seek medical treatment. make sure the doctor knows that these injuries were caused by your partner. Give complete and accurate details about the attack and ask them to record this fully. This report may be needed for evidence in future court hearings.
  • Alternatively, show any injuries to a friend so she can be a witness if necessary.Get her take photos of your injuries as evidence.

Strategies to Increase Safety After the Break-up

If your partner has been violent in the past, you are likely to find the first weeks out of the relationship fraught with anxiety. Your survival may have depended on knowing where your partner was, and what mood he was in. Without that knowledge you can feel even more vulnerable and afraid. This anxiety eventually drives some women back. These strategies will help:
  • Get as much support for yourself as possible during this time.
  • Take any threats seriously and report them to the police.
  • If you are concerned about your safety, consider staying in a Women’s Refuge house, at least initially. The address is confidential, and they can arrange to place you in a different area if necessary.
  • Seek legal advice and arrange to have a court order taken out against your partner. That will ban him from having any contact with you. If your partner breaks this order, he can be arrested.
  • If you are frightened of your partner, but haven’t obtained a court order, at the very least refuse to be alone with him. For necessary contact go through a third person, preferably a lawyer.
  • If you need to return home at a later date to collect your belongings, ask the police to accompany you.
  • If you stay in the house shared after separation, change all locks.
  • If possible arrange for the neighbours to keep a watch over you. Have them phone the police if they see anything of concern.
  • Consider getting an unlisted telephone number.
Women are inclined to under-estimate the danger of partner violence. Above all else, make your safety - and that of your children - a priority. Don't take chances.

© Copyright Kay Douglas. Kay Douglas is a registered psychotherapist, counsellor and life coach. She is also the author of four self-help books: Invisible Wounds, Challenged by Childhood, Living Life Out Loud and Power Games (co-authored with Dr Kim McGregor). She is in private practice in Auckland, New Zealand. For more information please visit

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