This article looks at what you should do to stay safe after leaving an abusive relationship. If you are currently still in that relationship and are looking for guidance on how to leave it safely, please read leaving your abusive partner.
The period after leaving can be a dangerous time during which you may be at risk. There are steps you can take to keep you and your family as safe as possible and to minimise the risk of contact with your former partner.
Tell key people about what is happening
Everyone needs to understand the importance of keeping your contact details confidential, including your address, phone number and any online profiles. In addition inform your:
- School: Tell staff at school who the ‘safe’ people are that your children can go home with. Agree a password if necessary.
- Your employer: You are going through an extremely challenging time so don’t be afraid to make your employer aware. Inform them if there is a risk that your ex-partner could turn up at your workplace so they can plan how to deal with this.
- Family and friends: Ensure they understand the importance of not giving out your contact details or any other information that could be used to find you.
- Banks: Using a shared bank account can reveal places you have visited. Set up your own account. Consider changing your branch, or your bank entirely, if you do not feel comfortable using the same services as your ex-partner.
Mobile phone security
Mobile technology can make it very easy for someone to trace you. Below are some basic steps to help prevent being traced:
- Check your phone for any spyware apps and tracking tools that have been installed (the same applies to computers and tablets). If you do not know how to do it yourself, then ask someone to help you ‘wipe clean’ your devices.
- Switch off any location services.
- Disconnect from any cloud services shared with your partner.
- If possible, get a new SIM card and phone (use a cheap pay-as-you-go as an interim measure).
- Call preferences: set to ‘private’ so that no one can save your number.
The internet and social media
Privacy and safety go hand in hand. Change your passwords and PIN numbers on any websites that you use if you think your ex-partner may have access to them and could find out your contact details. The same applies to your email and social media accounts.
Be very careful on social networking sites:
- Facebook: Ensure your privacy settings are at their tightest. Disable your location settings. Unfriend your ex-partner and anyone associated with them who cannot be trusted with information about you.
- Instagram: Unfollow your partner and any associated contacts you cannot trust. Set your account to ‘private’ so that you must approve any follow requests and only people you approve can see your posts. Turn off location settings.
- Twitter: In your account settings, select ‘Protect your Tweets’. This will ensure only people who follow you can see your posts and that any new follower requests must be approved by you. You can also change settings so that you can’t be tagged in other people’s photos and can’t receive private messages from anyone you don’t follow. Turn off location settings.
If you are experiencing abuse online, many services allow you to report that abuse.
Staying safe when you’re out and about
You have the right to live a normal life uninhibited by fear. There are things you can do to ensure you stay safe whilst outside of your home or workplace:
- Stay clear of secluded areas, eg large car parks, where you might not have easy access to help. Avoid places you and your partner frequently visited together.
- Change your patterns of movement so they can’t be anticipated. Vary your route to work and school. Do your weekly shop on a different day, at a different time. If you have any regular appointments that your partner is aware of, change them to a different day. Try not to be predictable.
- Consider telling a trusted person where you are going, check back in with them when you return and make sure they know what to do if they don’t hear from you.
- Have your mobile phone with you at all times, plus money and keys. Keep your petrol tank full.
Talking to your children
Discuss a safety plan with your children. You obviously don’t want to scare them, but they need to know what to do if any of you are in an unsafe situation. Make sure they know when they should dial 999 and that they have contact details for trusted friends and family. Also talk to them about the importance of keeping contact details confidential, including on social media.
If you’ve returned to your previous home
Consider the following safety measures:
- Change the door locks.
- Install window locks.
- Install security lighting at the front and back of the house.
- Install cameras and an alarm system (dummy cameras and alarm boxes on the outside of the house can be a deterrent alone).
- Make sure smoke alarms are working.
- Change your home phone number and use a caller ID service (or field calls using an answer machine).
- Make your neighbours aware of your situation so they can tell you if they see your ex-partner near the property and they know when to contact the police.
Your emotional safety – be gentle on yourself
Even if you are in a safe place and have dealt with the practical aspects of leaving your relationship, you still need to recognise and manage painful feelings of grief and betrayal, low self-confidence and low self-esteem. Recovery can be a slow process – don’t put pressure on yourself to move through it too quickly. Self-care is incredibly important and that means being gentle on yourself, taking time just for you and doing things you and your children enjoy. Here are some practical steps you can take to start rebuilding your life and thrive again:
- Look at what changes you’d like to make to your life to improve it. Would you like to change your career, learn a new skill, join a group? These might be too big for you to contemplate now – if they are then set smaller goals, or don’t even think about them, there’s no rush.
- Get in touch with a local support group or women’s group.
- Book a course of sessions with a 1-1 counsellor who can help you recognise and manage your emotions and put in place strategies for the future.
- Consider taking a self-esteem or confidence building workshop.
- If your relationship isolated you from friends then consider re-establishing these friendships. Or make new friends by getting involved in new activities and groups.
- Eat well, sleep well and take regular exercise. Practice relaxation techniques.
Re-building your feeling of emotional safety will give you the strength to move into a new phase of your life, and to re-build your trust in others and the world. Your growing self-confidence and self-esteem will also provide the strength to say ‘no’ if you are finding it hard not to be drawn back into a relationship with your ex-partner. You will be able to understand and assert the emotional boundaries – the lines a partner cannot cross – that will stop you being drawn into another abusive relationship, be that with your ex-partner or a new partner. These boundaries come from having a sense of your own self-worth. You deserve that belief in yourself – you have survived.
What if the abuse continues?
Putting in place the above strategies are crucial to keeping you and your family safe. However, there is always a chance that an ex-partner may persist in their abuse. Keep records and photos of ALL incidents of abuse or inappropriate contact. Every piece of evidence is important. If you have an injunction, restraining order or court order in place, inform the local police station so that they are aware of the potential risk to your safety and can act on any breaches.
REMEMBER, in an emergency, always call 999.
Surviving an abusive relationship and coming out the other side is a tough and emotionally challenging process. You don’t need to go through it alone. You can contact Herts Domestic Abuse Helpline for advice and support. Our FREE confidential helpline is set up to support anyone who is impacted directly or indirectly by Domestic Abuse. Call 08 088 088 088 to speak to a local expert who can offer bespoke advice and signposting to support groups and the most appropriate agency support.