In last week's article we saw how victims of domestic abuse are usually not only in physical danger of the batterer, but usually have been economically and geographically isolated in an effort to control them, making it even harder to get help.
Just leaving can be dangerous too. According to a 1994 pamphlet put out by Battered Women Fighting Back Inc. in Boston, women who leave their batterers are at a 75 percent greater risk of being killed by their batterer than those who stay. Obtaining a restraining order is often part of leaving an abuser.
Many times well-meaning friends will tell the battered victim to "get out now!" Even in our Chat Room here at the Alcoholism site, victims of domestic abuse are sometimes advised to leave and leave quickly. But that may not be the best course of action, without a plan.
Restraining OrdersMerely calling the police and obtaining a restraining (protection) order does not always work either. A restraining order is just a piece of paper. According to an analysis done of 18,369 male defendants in Massachusetts, against whom restraining orders were issued, the risk of an order being violated within six months was 15.4 percent.
There is some evidence that getting the police involved and obtaining a restraining order can actually trigger more violence. If the abuser has a very violent history, has a long arrest record or has already served time in jail, or is addicted to drugs or alcohol so that normal inhibitors don't kick in, a restraining order may offer little in the way of a deterrent.
In some cases restraining orders are effective. In many cases they appear to stop abuse, empower the victims and increase police responsiveness.
A Safety PlanLeaving the residence to get away from the battering partner may be the best course of action in some cases. But leaving must be done with a careful plan in order to increase safety. Batterers often strike back when they believe that a battered woman is leaving the relationship.
The Oakland County Coordination Council Against Domestic Violence has created an excellent Personalized Safety Plan checklist to help victims of domestic violence plan a safe escape from the abusive situation, including safety after the actual separation.
The plan provides tips on how victims can protect themselves during a violent incident, when preparing to leave, in a new place of residence, and on the job and in public. It also gives a list of items to take when leaving.
Other Sources of HelpThe problem with the above safety plan is that many abuse victims do not have the resources to leave in the first place. Many do not have automobiles, jobs, or the funds to relocate, if they have been economically isolated by the abuser.
The truth is domestic violence is more common among the poor than it is among the wealthy and middle class. It is more prevalent in cities with higher levels of poverty and among ethnic groups with a greater percentage of low-income families. It is also more common among the unemployed.
Has your relationship crossed the line to become an abusive one? Take the Domestic Abuse Quiz.
For those who do not have the financial or family support resources to leave the situation help is available by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Many communities have shelters available for victims of domestic abuse, check the local yellow pages. A state-to-state list of Domestic Violence Coalition telephone numbers is available online.
But there are not enough shelters available for victims. The first battered women's shelter in the United States was opened in St. Paul, Minnesota only 20 years ago. Today there are 1,500 shelters for battered women in the United States. There are 3,800 animal shelters.