Saturday, November 14, 2009

Leave the B*st*rd: Summoning the Courage, Utilizing Resources to Leave an Abuser

When I was debating whether to leave Youssef, we were living in a country where I was not a citizen, where my ability to communicate was restricted by my less than fluent understanding of the language, and where I had little knowledge of or access to resources to help me. Money was tight, every hour of my day was controlled, and he held all of the cards.

What prompted me to plan an out? Several important things converged. He gave me a really terrible beating. A friend reached out to me. My mother sensed something on the phone. I began to have problems with my visa. I read something that shook me.

Domestic abuse escalates - emotional abuse to physical abuse to sexual abuse. Once the abuser has mastered the first three, what’s left? There is only one place the violence can escalate from there. I was terrified that he was going to kill me.

If you are in an abusive relationship, reach out for help. Take a look at the links in the bottom of the post for some helpful resources and consider some (non-professional, personal) advice below:

Make a plan.
Keep it secret. Do not tell him you’re leaving him. Do not tell your friends. Do not let him know in any way that you are planning to leave. Abusers often escalate when they are afraid of losing their victims. Keep yourself safe by keeping your plans secret.

Cover your tracks.
If you have visited websites geared specifically at domestic violence resources, delete internet cookies and the browsing history for the relevant pages each time that you are finished using the computer and never view these sites when he is at home with you.

Take almost nothing with you. The more you pack, the more noise you make, the more dust you disturb, the easier it would be for the abuser to sense your plan.

If you’re an expat or living out of the country, contact the local U.S. Embassy once you leave. Just like in cities across the US, different countries have different track records with removing abusers from the home and protecting the abused. The only difference here is that if you’re not a citizen you technically do not have rights. Do not trust that just calling the local police will resolve the legal issue or offer any sort of protection.

If possible, go somewhere that will make it difficult for you to return. For example, leaving Belgium while I was in the middle of resolving my residence permit meant that legally I could not reenter the country without applying for a visa. This happy accident was immensely helpful in keeping me from making the mistake of returning to him.

Reach out for support.
If you haven’t already done so, contact a women’s support group that specializes in finding housing solutions for victims of domestic violence in crisis. Memorize the emergency number of a local women’s shelter. Call the shelter. If that does not work, call the police or the rape or women’s crisis center at a hospital, if you’re outside of the country, get to the Embassy. You will not sleep on the street.

Reach out for more support.
Follow up on counseling to help you deal with and process the emotional trauma that you experienced. Here’s the cliché…healing takes time. It will be difficult. You may feel like the world has ended. You may suffer from depression or panic attacks. You may feel completely and utterly confused wondering why you still love someone so horrible. You may want to go back. You are going to need to invest real time and real effort in healing.

Start living again.
Ok, so it’s not that easy, but it sure does sound nice…

Important Resources
National Domestic Violence Hotline
United States Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women
International Hotlines
US Embassies


  1. Wow what a chilling read. So sorry you had to go through this, but it's great to hear you were able to come out of it stronger. Hopefully your advice can be a beacon of hope for the many other women going through similar situations.

  2. thank you for your kindness and for raising awareness on your own blog for this issue!

  3. Samantha, you have given your readers great insight and the knowledge that someone cares---someone who has been there. It is so very difficult to leave, but with proper encouragement and a bit of emotional support, it can be done. There is hope. But one must act before the next apology is done over a woman's body. Thank you for sharing what was a dreadful experience. Your courage can help change the course for many.