7 Steps to Leaving an Abusive Relationship Safely

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You've finally had enough. You've reached that point where you recognize you're being abused and you need to leave, SOON, before it's too late.

Or maybe you're not so sure. You're feeling defensive, like Janay Rice, who was videotaped being brutally beaten by her husband, NFL player Ray Rice. You're still wondering if it's bad enough to leave. But you want to make some plans just in case.

You definitely should make plans -- ASAP.

But be cautious and get help. "The decision to leave an abusive relationship is always one to make carefully," says Dr. Christine Murray, domestic violence researcher and associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. "It may take time, or you may have to leave immediately in the aftermath of abuse."

Here are 7 steps to take if you want to leave an abusive relationship.


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1. Get help from a domestic abuse expert. "Talk with a professional who can help you develop a safety plan," advises Murray, who is also a member of the American Counseling Association. "Make sure they're a ... domestic violence advocate or mental health professional trained to work with clients affected by domestic violence. Not all therapists have that training."

2. Make the right safety plan for you. "The plan for leaving an abusive relationship is very unique to each person's situation," Murray says. "This is because the dynamics of the abuse and the type of perpetrator can vary. You could have a perpetrator who doesn't care when you leave. Or you could have someone who turns to stalking when you leave." There is no one-size-fits-all approach, so be careful and calculated in how you decide to handle your own situation.

3. Talk about all possible safety risks. "The most dangerous time for many women is right after they leave," Murray says. "Leaving can escalate the violence, so it's important to think through all the possible safety risks. Where are you vulnerable? At work, home, a shelter, a friend's house? What can you do to address those vulnerabilities?"

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4. Get professional help in applying for a restraining order. "Have a professional walk you through the process of getting a protection order," warns Murray. "Rules can be different depending on what state or county you live in." Applications can get denied if they're not filled in correctly, and Murray has seen too many rejected for simple mistakes that could have been avoided. She also recommends making sure your order sets clear consequences for various circumstances that might come up, like when your abuser tries to contact you.

5. Do as much advance planning as possible. If you know you're in danger, even if you're not sure you want to leave, Murray suggests you "take proactive precautions ahead of time. This could include setting up a code word with your neighbor or asking them to always call the police if they hear screaming coming from your home." That way, when you're in a crisis situation, you have a plan in place to make decisions quickly and safely.

6. Put together an emergency bag so you'll have the necessary supplies if you need to make a quick escape. "This bag could have clothing, cash, copies of important documents, and prescriptions," Murray says. "Store the bag somewhere safe, such as at a friend's house or in the trunk of your car, if you think it's safe from your abuser."

7. Above all else, think about safety. "What's the safest way you can get out?" Murray says women should ask themselves. "What is the best thing I can do for my safety and for my kids' safety? View everything through that lens -- there's nothing more important than your and your kids' safety."

Deciding to leave is a big leap. You may not even be there yet ... you might just thinking about it. Even if you haven't decided to walk away, you can help yourself now by planning your escape just in case. You never know if things will escalate and you really will need that plan.

For help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224. You can also consult these resources for victims of domestic violence. Learn more and hear real women's stories at SeeTheTriumph.com.

Have you ever been in an abusive relationship and left -- or helped a loved one in that situation? What did you do?

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