Important steps and support can help victims escape an abusive marriage

When preparing to leave an abusive marriage, it’s important to carefully plan the steps to escape and to have a trusted support system.

Getting a divorce can be one of the most difficult and heart-wrenching life events for anyone, even under the best of circumstances. However, for many people in Pennsylvania, ending a relationship is also physically dangerous. Domestic violence is a pervasive problem in the state as well as the rest of the country. Abuse regularly destroys families and lives, and in some cases ends them.

The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence reported 107 domestic violence-related deaths in the state in 2013. This number represented a 10 percent increase over the previous year. Perpetrators are most often men, although it's also possible for abusers to be women and for men to be victimized. Children are, of course, the most vulnerable victims of domestic abuse and are often scarred for a lifetime, unless steps are taken to protect them.

Shielding children from abuse

One of the most important steps to protect children is getting them out of an abusive household. According to Safe Horizon, children who grow up exposed to abuse often carry the experience into their adult lives. Boys are most likely to abuse their own spouses and children, while girls will usually become victims of spousal or partner abuse.

Recognizing and escaping from abuse

While physical violence is serious, emotional and verbal abuse is also damaging and can be insidious and difficult to recognize. HelpGuide says that people who emotionally abuse their spouses often start out small and gradually increase the use of fear, control and manipulation until their victims are completely dependent on them. As a control tactic, an abuser will often destroy personal property or threaten to harm or take the children away. The victim may feel as if he or she is "walking on eggshells" to avoid upsetting the abuser. In many instances, a verbal dispute can escalate into a physical attack.

More often than not, an abuser will restrict the victim from seeing family and friends, from using the phone or computer to communicate, and from having access to money or transportation. This can make it challenging to escape an abusive relationship, but it is possible with the right support. When planning to leave an abusive marriage, victims should take the following steps:

  • Develop an escape plan and share it with someone who can be trusted.
  • Gather emergency cash, documents, clothing and personal belongings and store them somewhere safe.
  • Memorize phone numbers of abuse shelters and police stations without letting the abuser know that any research is being done on these facilities.
  • Document and report physical attacks or injuries, and take notes on emotional and verbal abuse.

One additional step toward freedom is getting a protective order. This important document can protect victims legally if the abuser attempts to contact them. Local agencies and law enforcement can help with obtaining a protective order.

An attorney can help

During the crucial steps of preparing to leave an abusive partner, a family law attorney with experience in domestic abuse cases can be an invaluable ally.

Keywords: domestic violence, divorce, separation