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How to leave an abusive relationship and never go back

During 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, we bring you #16Ways to creating a safety plan to help you leave your abusive partner.

23 November 2018
5 minute read

16 ways

According to People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), it takes women 10 to 15 years to leave an abusive relationship. We spoke to executive director Nhlanhla Mokwena to find out what women need to do to leave an abusive partner safely and not go back.

Your safety plan

These are the #16Ways that Nhlanhla recommends every abused woman should consider following as she plans to leave for good.

1. Have a safety plan
To leave an abusive relationship safely, think things through carefully. You need money and somewhere to stay, and to know how you are going to keep yourself – and your children – safe.

2. Never tell your abuser that you are leaving
Don’t threaten to leave in a heated argument, as this is when most women get killed. Even telling him when he is calm might lead to him planning an act of violence against you. Just plan and then quietly leave.

3. Plan to take your children with you
Not only will this protect them from potential harm in your absence, but it also makes it easier to make the case for obtaining legal custody later. Don’t plan to come back for them, as this can make things more complicated and even dangerous for you. It may be harder to plan, but taking your children with you is an important step for these reasons.

4. Save a stash of money secretly
Abusive partners often prevent their partners from accessing money. Start saving up change from anything you’ve spent, or returning items to shops and hiding the cash.

5. Get a second secret phone
Abusive partners may check your phone and even install a tracking app. Try to get hold of an affordable second phone and keep it secret so that you can make plans and call for help if you need to.

6. Identify a safe space that you can go to when you leave
This could be the secure home of a trusted friend or family member, or a women’s shelter. Contact POWA for assistance in finding a shelter near you.

7. Pack a bag of things you need and hide it somewhere away from your home
This is so that you can leave quickly when you are ready without anyone knowing that you are going. Include money, a change of clothes and important documents including: proof of address (even though you are leaving), ID documents, proof of income, financial records, medication and marriage and birth certificates.

8. If you have a car, hide the spare keys
This is so that you can still leave if your partner takes the original set away from you.

9. Learn your partner’s schedule
Work out when you have a long enough gap to leave uninterrupted.

10. Create a fake trail
Make calls using your usual phone to women’s shelters or hotels that are far away from where you will be going. If you have the funds, you can even pay for a hotel with a shared credit card, and receive a booking confirmation on a monitored email address.

11. Get the law on your side
The police and courts can help keep you safe from your abusive partner, but you need to know what steps to take:

Write up a diary and evidence of any physical abuse that can be used later as proof. Take photos if there are visible marks. If you visit a doctor, ask them to note that the injuries are as a result of domestic violence. If sexual abuse has taken place, keep the clothes and sheets as evidence in a paper bag or wrapped in newspaper (but get these to a police station sooner rather than later). The diary should include the type, time and date of the incident, because these are the questions that they might ask in court.

Report the assault to your local police station. Take any evidence including photographs or stained items of clothing or sheets along with you. The police may not refuse to open a docket for domestic violence.

Obtain a domestic violence protection order from your nearest family court. You will need to take your ID and any evidence of abuse along with you. You will first receive a temporary protection order, and then after a court appearance, you will receive a permanent protection order. The court may still grant your partner visiting rights to see his children if the abuse was only against you – although it can be argued that allowing them to see violence against their mother is an act of abuse. Every case will have a different outcome. Once obtained, if your partner ignores the restrictions, call 10111 and report him to the police immediately.

12. Make sure you have transport arranged for the day of leaving
Arrange a taxi or an Uber, a reliable friend or family member or your own vehicle.

13. Visit ForWomen
Visit, an information hub that offers access to a growing network of causes, all fighting to bring an end to woman abuse. Connect with any of them quickly and easily to get the help you need.

14. Inform your place of work that you have left your abusive partner
Ask them to prevent your partner from entering the building or gaining access to you.

15. Be careful about what you post on social media
Don’t give away any information about where you are or who you are with. It would be best to stay off social media altogether.

16. Join our live Twitter chat
Join our live Twitter chat on 10 December at 1pm. POWA will be answering questions related to domestic violence. You can also DM us your questions if you prefer to remain anonymous. Follow #16Ways to join in.

Note: 1Life and POWA aim to provide a safe and loving space during this live chat, where the purpose is to share insights and guidance for any women who may be suffering from abuse. This is not a platform to shame or hurt people but rather to empower.

Your safety plan is unique

Nhlanhla explains that while these #16Ways are all important considerations, there’s no one-size-fits all approach to safely and permanently leaving your abusive partner. “You know yourself, your partner and your situation, so use these ways as a guideline, and apply what will work in your life to keep you and your children safe,” she says.

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