Leaving a Relationship & Family Violence
Leaving a relationship and starting out on one’s own is difficult enough. When that decision must be made in the midst of the trauma of family violence, it is even more difficult. It is important to understand that leaving a relationship where there is family violence can be dangerous. There is an elevated risk of violence at the time of separation. As you are seeking to regain some control over your life, learn about ways to stay safe and get help.
Making a Plan
If you have decided to leave a relationship when there is family violence there are some strategies that may help keep you safe during this time. When you are making a plan to leave it is important to remember that the perpetrator may be monitoring your activities.
Keep in mind that e-mail and text messaging are not confidential ways to talk to someone about the violence in your family or your plans for leaving. Most cell phones and some landlines will show your call history. Telephone bills can also be used to gain information about your activities.
Online activity can also be easily monitored and it is not possible to remove all the traces of where you have been online. If it is not your regular habit, it may be dangerous to suddenly start deleting your entire history from your computer. If you think your computer activity may be monitored it may be advisable to continue to use it for normal activities, such as the weather or news, and use a safer computer for things like looking for a new job or apartment, or finding information about family violence.
As you prepare to leave you may want to:
- Store a packed travel bag with someone you can trust. Include personal items needed to get you through the crisis if you have to leave immediately. Be sure to include originals or copies of important documents and any required medication. You may want to include something special for your children.
- Keep a spare car, house and office key, debit and credit cards, and some cash where you can easily get to it at all times.
- If possible, get your own bank account and credit cards. Try to set enough money aside to get you through until you are able to organize your financial affairs. Arrange to have bank and financial statements mailed to a post office box or trusted family member or friend.
- Find information about local shelters and support services listed on the Abuse Help Lines pages near the front of your SaskTel telephone directory and locate and record emergency contacts or visit pathssk.org.
If there are Children
If there are children involved, one thing you will need to decide is whether you will take the children with you when you leave. The law says that where a parenting order does not exist, it is an offence for one parent to take the children from the other parent with the intent to deprive them of seeing the children. An exception is where the children would be in danger of “imminent harm” if they were left at home.
If you are forced to leave your home for your own protection and take the children with you, contact a lawyer as soon as possible so that the matter of parenting arrangements may be settled without delay. If you decide to leave the children in the home temporarily, but ultimately want them to live with you, it is important to seek legal advice immediately.
When Family Pets are Involved
Among the many challenges facing individuals trying to leave an abusive relationship is concern about family pets. According to the Saskatchewan SPCA, there is a growing awareness of the link between animal cruelty and interpersonal or family violence.
“Not only can animals be abused, they can be used as a tool for the abuser to control and punish the victim. Pets are seen as part of the family, making it hard for many victims of abuse to leave the home knowing their pet is left behind.”
- Saskatchewan SPCA
Partnerships between animal welfare organizations and human service agencies exist in Saskatchewan. Together, they hope to improve the safety of individuals leaving an abusive relationship, as well as the safety of their animals.
While emergency shelters and transition houses consider options for becoming pet-friendly, some animal shelters and rescue agencies may be able to provide temporary pet care or arrange for foster care. More information is available from your local SPCA or Humane Society. You can also visit violencelink.ca to learn more about the relationship between animal abuse and interpersonal violence and related resources.
On Your Own
Leaving a relationship where there is family violence does not necessarily end the violent behaviour. In some cases violence may even escalate during this period and may continue even after you have separated. It is important to take steps to protect yourself and any children. You may want to:
- Contact your local police service about crime prevention programs and ideas to secure your home. Change the existing locks and determine other points of entry, such as windows, that need to be secured. Let other people know that your abuser no longer lives with you.
- Get an unlisted phone number. Find out about privacy and security features offered by SaskTel, listed at the front of your SaskTel telephone directory, or other service provider.
- Provide others with a verbal description or picture of your abuser and have a plan to deal with unexpected visits.
- Take different routes to and from regular destinations. Always lock your vehicle doors. Stay alert. Park in well-lit areas. Ask a co-worker, friend or neighbour to escort you.
- Make sure that your children have a safety plan for when you are not with them. Review your plan regularly with your children and make changes as needed. Keep a list of important emergency contacts close at hand.
- Give clear instructions to care-providers, teachers, etc. about who is authorized to pick up or visit your children.
Immediate Financial Assistance
If you are able to save even a small amount of money privately before you leave it might be enough to buy some time to seek financial assistance or become financially independent. If no money or income is available, emergency financial support may be available at any government office of Social Services, listed in the Government of Saskatchewan blue pages of the telephone book. When applying for financial assistance, it is important to have the following documents…
- Saskatchewan Health Card
- Social Insurance Card
- personal ID
- birth certificates for yourself and your children
- doctor certificates or prescriptions for special medication if required
Finding a Place to Go
If you decide to leave the family home you may decide to stay with other family or friends, or check into a motel or hotel. An emergency shelter, safe house, or transition house may also be an option. The RCMP or the police, if requested, will escort you out of the family home to any safe place you choose. The Abuse Help Lines, listed near the front of SaskTel phonebooks, provide information about abuse, counselling and support services, as well as contact information for safe shelters and help lines. This information is also available online at pathssk.org.