There are ways to leave a relationship once you have decided that you will no longer tolerate the loathsome behavior from your abuser. So when that happens, it’s time to plan your escape. I say “plan” your escape because although victims would like very much to simply leave, it’s not always a wise decision if you’re not fully prepared.
Maria* decided she was going to leave her abuser one night after the biggest physical fight they’d ever had. She packed a bag and told him it was over. Upon seeing and hearing this, her abuser fell into an even deeper fit of rage and nearly beat her to death. Maria now has permanent hearing loss and a slightly disfigured face because of that beating.
One of the most important things to remember when planning an exit strategy is to not allow your standard behavior and routine to change in any way. This will arouse suspicion and it will completely defeat the purpose of escaping the abuse as unscathed as possible. Also, this book will likely fall into the hands of abusers as well, looking for clues as to when their victim may choose to leave. If your routine doesn’t change, it makes it more difficult to decipher your escape plan.
Derek* chose to leave in the middle of the night while his abuser slept. When Derek shifted to get out of bed, his abuser awakened and asked what he was doing to which Derek replied, “I can’t sleep, so I’m just going to go for a drive.” Derek has never done this before, and it set off a red flag. The abuser immediately reached for the gun that he kept in the night stand drawer and threatened to kill Derek if he set foot outside of the bedroom. Scared to death, Derek complied and from that point forward, his abuser monitored his every move with relentless scrutiny.
Also, I strongly advise against going to friends and family member’s homes that are familiar to your abuser. While in the relationship, if your abuser has visited your loved ones with you, they will instinctively look for you there. Many abusers don’t care about hurting anyone who stands in the way of getting to you, so if at all possible, avoid putting them in that position.
Planning an escape requires foresight and an ability to operate under pressure. This is because if there comes a point when you have to set the plan in motion hurriedly and under duress, you can do so without compromising the safety of your family and friends.
Some escape plans require some time to cultivate, and others happen more quickly depending on the severity of the situation. Here I am going to list some ideas and strategies to plan your escape and you decide which one(s) work for you. The purpose is to provide you with some options so you don’t feel trapped and hopeless; they’re to give you some freedom to start over if you so choose. You may opt to implement many of the below options, or perhaps just one will suffice…you decide. Let’s get to it!
1. Purchase a prepaid cell phone, or apply for a free government cell phone. Program all pertinent contacts into the new phone including shelters and food banks. Then hide the cell phone (and its charger) in a safe deposit box at a bank, or a storage facility. When you’re ready to escape, leave your regular cell phone behind or at home with the abuser. Before doing so, reset the phone to the factory default to get rid of all contacts and call history. Also remove the SIM card and micro SD card. The reason for leaving the phone behind is so you cannot be tracked just in case a tracking device or location app has been placed on it (that happened to me once).
2. Purchase a bus, plane, or train ticket to anywhere right away [for your children as well if applicable]. Although you will not take the trip, you will have a credit towards a future trip. Be sure to use a method of payment that cannot be traced such as prepaid debit card or use cash at the counter. For example, purchase a train ticket from Chicago to Orlando (the dates don’t matter). Call the train carrier to let them know that you will not be able to take the trip to receive a credit with that carrier. When you are ready to escape, you will have means to do so even if you’re flat broke.
3. Designate a “safe place” with someone you trust. This is a place you agree to go to when you’re in trouble and need help. Again, do not go to a loved one’s home or place of business. Example: Theresa and Bob are friends. Theresa tells Bob that she plans to escape and may not be in a position to say when it will happen. When Theresa leaves and her abuser calls around to ask about her whereabouts, Bob then knows where she likely is. Bob goes to the “safe place” to pick her up and take her to a safer destination.
4. Use code words to signal distress. When texting, emailing, tweeting, or posting on Facebook, you can use this method to communicate distress to those whom you trust. For example, the word “hilarious” can mean I’m leaving and I will be in touch soon. Or using some type of punctuation excessively can be a code as well. Using “…” can mean my abuser is here. So if Sheila felt she was in danger and decided that she was going to leave, she may text her trusted friend, “Girl…I just heard a joke and it was hilarious!” The friend understands that that means, “My abuser is here and I’m leaving. I will be in touch soon.” Please do not use the code words I just provided. As I stated before, this book will land in the hands of abusers as well, so create your own list of code words and distress signals. This way, you can communicate your plans and/or current situation without making it obvious.
5. Go to the library to research escape plans. If you have a shared computer at home, or one that your abuser has access to, do not use it to look up shelter locations, food banks, hotels, or car rentals. Instead, use a public computer during a time when your abuser cannot be with you. Public libraries delete browsing history nightly to keep the machines operating at peak performance. If you choose to print the information, do not bring it home! Instead, take it directly to a bank’s safe deposit box or storage unit. Don’t leave it in the car either. Put it in a place that requires some form of security to access.
6. Store necessary medications in a safe place that you can access later. If you’re on any medications, have extra in your safe deposit box, locker, or storage unit so you can stay healthy when you escape. Rita* had to take meds for her high blood pressure daily and when she decided to escape, she had to leave in a hurry and left her meds behind. She wasn’t in a position to get more, and her blood pressure reached dangerous levels and she was admitted to a hospital. Her medical records indicated that her abuser was her emergency contact, so when the hospital reached out to him, you can imagine his rage when he discovered what she was up to.
7. Order duplicates of your birth certificate, driver’s license, passport, and social security card. Have those stored in a safe place as well. My ex abuser destroyed all of my identification and you cannot imagine how difficult it is to get it back without anything to prove you are who you say you are. I went to the department of motor vehicles and they said I needed a birth certificate and social security card. I went to the courthouse to get a birth certificate and I was told that I needed a photo ID. I went to the social security office, and they required the same thing. I even had a police report explaining that my identification had gotten destroyed, and it wasn’t enough. So, with my back against the wall, I created a phony work ID and I took it to the courthouse to obtain my birth certificate, and from there I was able to get the rest.
8. Do not use any form of currency that is associated with the abuser. Any checks, debit or credit card(s) that you share or that he/she has access to should not be used! This includes online accounts such as PayPal. It’s much too easy to go online or call the customer service representative to track where purchases are being made. Pay in cash, or put the money on a prepaid debit card, which can be purchased from a local retailer like Walgreens or even gas stations. These days, you might have to attach your personal information to it, but it's not a source that your abuser is familiar with.
9. Delete your social media accounts altogether. You need to be “off the radar” for a while. Your abuser will certainly try to track you down using your social media accounts and friends associated with those accounts. In addition, many sites will literally showcase the location of where you posted. Diane* decided to simply remove the location feature and delete all friends associated with her ex from her Facebook account. One of her associates (not knowing Diane’s situation), commented on a recent photo stating, “I recognize that place! I grew up down the street from there in ________.” The comment was made public and Diane’s location was disclosed.
10. Consider placing a security freeze on your credit reports. This will prevent anyone from viewing it without your written authorization. Abusers may want to pull your credit to see if any new accounts have been opened, or if you have obtained a new job. Consider this option especially if you and the abuser have lived together for a while and have access to a lot of your personal information.
11. Change the passwords on all of your email accounts. Make sure to change them to something completely unrelated to a commonality between you and your abuser.
12. Request a security PIN for all of your utility, cell phone, and new banking accounts. Because your abuser will likely know the last four digits of your social security number, change the security feature to require a custom PIN that you have designated.
13. Remove your abuser from all insurance accounts; this includes beneficiary benefits.
14. Download a safety apps on your phone. It’s designed to alert your support system when you are in trouble. Here's a list of apps you can use: https://www.domesticshelters.org/articles/technology/lifesaving-apps-for-survivors-of-domestic-violence. The apps can change, so keep searching for the latest apps.
15. Have an escape kit stored in a storage facility. There are many items you can include in your kit. Canned goods are a safe bet, bottles of water, extra clothes for you and the kids, toiletry items, cell phone charger and any meds. Be sure to pack two can openers and disposable cutlery as well.
Having a plan makes it easier to escape your abuser unscathed. You feel more confident in yourself, and you’re not as fearful. Hopefully the above mentioned tactics will assist you in creating a plan that works best for you. Remember to keep these things to yourself, or reveal them to only people whom you trust with your life and safety. Godspeed!