Charmed & Dangerous
Deciding to leave
It is a common misunderstanding that it is easy for a woman to leave a violent, controlling and abusive relationship. Many women do leave and many try to leave; however leaving an abusive relationship can be a very difficult, lonely and often a very dangerous time. For some women leaving can mean they risk losing their family and community support networks, financial security, homes, hopes and dreams.
Leaving a violent relationship permanently can take on average six attempts; each time women find they become stronger, clearer and more confident. The number of barriers faced by women leaving violence may seem overwhelming but it is important to remember that many women leave violent relationships and find safe and fulfilling lives for themselves and their children.
Women leave a violent relationship to become safe however; it is important to remember that this safety may not occur immediately. Separation can be the time of greatest danger. It is important to have a clear safety plan for you and your children before you leave.
Safety When Preparing to Leave
- Contact the Domestic Violence Hotline and arrange safe accommodation for you and your children
- Contact RSPCA to arrange safe accommodation for your pets
- Seek support from a domestic violence worker to discuss your options and ways to keep yourself safe such as getting an ADVO
- Arrange your transportation in advance
- Practice travelling to your intended safe spot
- Prepare and safely store a leaving package with money, documents, clothes, spare keys
- Seek legal advice
- Program emergency services / contacts and support services into your phone
- Ask your doctor to document any injuries
- Only tell trusted people of your intended new location
What to take when you leave
The safety of you and your children is paramount. Take the items below only if it is safe to do so. It is important to remember you may be able to return with Police support at a later time to collect your possessions.
- Driver’s licence, bank details, credit cards,
- Birth/marriage/divorce certificate/s for you and your children
- Centrelink, immigration documents
- Car & house keys
- Passports for you and your children
- Car registration papers
- Medical records, medication & Medicare details
- Taxation and employment documents
- Court papers including protection and family law papers
- Rental, mortgage, legal papers, copy of ADVO
- Personal address book
- Your children’s favourite toys and other items of comfort
- Personal items which have value or you fear may be destroyed such as jewellery and photographs
Staying Safe After Separation
Leaving an abusive relationship does not always result in immediate safety. Here are some tips you and your children can use to maintain safety after separation.
- Seek legal advice; be informed of your rights
- Program emergency services / contacts into your phone
- Inform your children’s school / day care of collection arrangements for your children
- Keep your ADVO with you at all times. Store a copy with someone you trust. If your circumstances change, apply to the local court for a variation to change the conditions
- Request police support if you need to return to the house to retrieve your possessions
- Consider changing your bank, postal and phone contacts
- Consider using a silent number and using caller ID
- Consider asking the Australian Electoral Commission to exclude your name and contact details on the electoral role
- Avoid using your usual shopping centre – change your routines
- Increase home security (changing locks, security chains, sensor lights)
- Seek support from neighbours to call the police if they hear a disturbance
- If your partner breaches an ADVO inform the police immediately
- Seek support from a domestic violence support worker / counsellor
- Contact Centrelink to ensure any joint correspondence to you and your partner is changed immediately.
Abusers often misuse technology to control or monitor their victim’s actions. However, technology also has an important role in keeping you safe and connected to information, resources and support. Switching off from technology is not the answer. Sometimes it is difficult to know if someone is monitoring you through your technology, and it may be a good idea to get help from a support worker or trusted friend to make your technology safer.
If you have experienced domestic and family violence and are worried about your phone being monitored, you can access a free safe phone through WESNET. Call 1800 WESNET (1800 937 638).
To make your technology safer, there are some precautions you can take:
Protect or change your passwords/PINS
Choose passwords for your email and other online accounts (such as online banking, social media, App/Cloud accounts, PayPal and Opal) that would be difficult for your abuser to guess, particularly by avoiding personal details such as birthdays, nicknames or family details. It’s especially important to change your log in details for App accounts like iCloud and Google that enable built-in Apps like “Find My Phone” to track you remotely using GPS. You should change your passwords on a safe device. Saved passwords can be accessed and viewed on most browsers. Do not to click “save my password” to ensure your passwords are not viewable or use private browsing so your search history and passwords are not logged. You can learn how to delete saved passwords by Googling your browser name (e.g., Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer) and “delete saved passwords”.
Use private browsing
Every website you visit on your device (phone, computer or tablet) is usually recorded on that device and can be seen through the web browser’s settings. When you use private browsing, your browsing history is not recorded, and your passwords and auto-filled information are not saved. For example, Incognito (Chrome), InPrivate (Internet Explorer) and Private browsing (Firefox and Safari). Make sure you close the private browsing window when you are done to end the session. If you are using a phone or tablet, you will need to close each private tab.
Use a safe computer
If you need to use the internet, but are still living with your abuser try to use a computer at work, a public library, community centre, a trustworthy friend’s house, an Internet café, or a women’s refuge. This is particularly important if you are looking at sensitive websites. It is safer to use a computer that is less accessible to your abuser.
Clear your internet history
If you are worried about someone finding out what websites you’ve visited, you can delete them from your browsing history. You may want to think about only deleting some websites as your abuser may become suspicious if you delete your entire browsing history. To see or change your browsing history on a computer, open a web browser and press Ctrl+H (Windows) or Command+H (Mac). How you delete your browsing history on a phone depends on whether you use an iPhone or Android. See www.esafety.gov.au/women for videos on how delete your browsing history on a phone.
Create an alternative email account
Do not create or use an alternative account on any computer that your abuser may have access to. Create an anonymous user name and account you can use on a safer computer, but do not provide detailed information about yourself. Don’t use any identifying features in this email address (e.g., your name, year of birth). Consider deleting in-built mail Apps on your device if another person has access to that device. You can also check if “mail forwarding” has been activated on your old account. See www.esafety.gov.au/women for videos on how to check “mail forwarding” settings.
Social media settings
Check and update your privacy settings on any social media accounts. You may want to minimise the amount of information you share about yourself online.
Consider two-step authentication
Many accounts allow you to sign up for two-step authentication. This is an extra security setting that contacts you by email, text or call each time someone tries to sign into one of your accounts.
It is a crime to record, share or threaten to share intimate images of you without your consent. However, image-based abuse is common, affecting 1 in 3 people. If safe to do so, you should report to police. If an intimate image is shared online, the eSafety Commissioner can help you remove the images, and sometimes can take action against the person who posted the them.
For assistance, you can make a report online on www.esafety.gov.au/report/image-based-abuse.
Spyware is malware that can be installed on devices such as computers, tablets and smart phones to secretly monitor a person’s private information. Spyware may access keystroke logging (all typed information), photos/videos, social media accounts, Apps, contacts, notes, browsing history, call logs, text messages, email, location, activate your camera, microphone or record calls. It may be used to delete things off your device, block certain websites or numbers and may be remotely deleted. For a person to install spyware on your device, they generally need physical access to it. A PIN or password protecting your device is the best defence. It is also important to keep your software updated on your device. Changing a SIM card on a device won’t remove spyware. Spyware needs access to the internet to operate. Turning off location settings, cellular data, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when you don’t need them can increase your immediate safety. You may also want to consider doing a factory reset, however – you will need to be careful of what Apps you redownload.
For videos on how to do this, visit eSafety Women www.esafety.gov.au/women
For more information on how to make your phone, table or computer visit eSafety Women www.esafety.gov.au/women
Resisting the Urge to Return
After leaving a controlling, abusive and violent relationship there may be moments of regret and thoughts of reuniting. These feelings are a natural part of the grief process when dealing with the loss of a relationship. It is important to acknowledge these feelings.
There are many strategies which may be used by the abuser to encourage you to return. They may include:
- Purchase of gifts with promises of continued generosity and a better future.
- Promises of change – saying they are sorry and that the abuse will never happen again
- Emotional blackmail –attempts to make you feel guilty, or unable to survive without them Threats to self-harm, harm you, your children, or property
- Harassing and intimidating visits, phone calls and text messages
The strategies used will vary for each relationship and there are ways in which you can deal with them including
- Acknowledging that the abuser’s behaviours are an extension of his need to control and abuse you
- Seek support through professional counselling
- Attend a domestic violence support group
- Build strong social networks
- Get legal advice and/or take out an ADVO.
This is an important time to stay connected to local support services
5 stages of Grief and Loss
Adapted from Charmed and Dangerous, Legal Aid.
LOSS Shock Denial
DETACHED Resignation, Isolation, Apathy
ANGRY Denial, Anxiety, Why?
DEPRESSED Loneliness, Panic, Guilt
GROWTH Acceptance, Optimism, Release
How You May Feel After Leaving an Abusive Relationship
Leaving an abusive relationship is a positive choice for you and your children. The process however, can still be difficult. It can also be difficult to make the transition alone. It is helpful to have the support of people who are experienced with helping women in abusive relationships. Your personal safety and your legal rights become more difficult to ensure when an abusive partner is involved.
Separation – How Will It Feel?
Separation is not easy. It may take some time to work through the steps and become re- established. It is common to identify yourself with your relationship. Your role as a wife/ partner and/or mother may be the way you see yourself. When you leave the relationship you may experience a real sense of loss of your identity. The process of moving from your role of wife/partner to a single person is painful and not always as fast as you might want it to be.
The transition involves getting to know yourself in a new way. Now you can become your own person. Being on your own is a wonderful feeling as well as a scary one. It may be the first time you have had the freedom to experience this responsibility. It sometimes takes many trials to discover who you are and what you want in life. This is normal. It is OK to learn from your mistakes and learn from what you do well. You will probably feel all your emotions more strongly than ever. You may feel betrayal, grief, anger, joy and freedom, weakness and strength, often at the same time. You may feel that you are going crazy because of all the emotions you have, which are sometimes overwhelming, contradictory, and unexpected.
You are not crazy. Remember that your emotions are just a part of you, a changing part. This is a normal process. It is helpful to let yourself feel your emotions fully and not judge yourself for having them. You will pass through each one in time.
Grief is a large part of the process of letting go of a relationship. When you feel grief, feel free to let yourself cry. It may feel like you will never stop. Remember, you are facing a death – the death of your relationship and you will stop crying when the mourning is over. You may not understand why you are sad, especially if you were badly abused. There were probably some good things that you will miss. This is the reality. Remember– you did have to pay a price for the good things – a very high price.
You may experience a great euphoria when you leave the relationship. This may last for weeks or months. This is usually felt if you have made a clear decision. This euphoria can help give you energy to get yourself on your feet again. Don’t be surprised, if a month or a year later, you feel grief or anger or depression. This is normal and part of the process of change or separation. You will have to work through the grief stages at some time. The timing may vary with each individual and the process is usually finished after you have let yourself feel fully at each stage.
You may feel more anger after separation than you have ever felt before. You may suddenly experience all the anger that was stockpiled and denied during your relationship, along with the built-up frustration of not getting your needs met, and the powerlessness of the position you were in. It is safe to feel angry now. Try to accept that your anger is normal. Anger can give you power an motivation. Use it to your advantage. The goal of letting yourself feel anger is to express it constructively so that you become free of it. Do not turn it on those around you and don’t use it for revenge. Acting in revenge may destroy your self-respect in the long run; although it is okay to fantasise about it.
While you are going through the separation, it is normal for you to experience both physical and emotional stress reactions. Physical symptoms you may experience include: sleep disturbances; diarrhoea or constipation; nausea; changes in heart rate; menstrual changes; weight gain or loss. Psychological symptoms may include: sadness, hopelessness or feelings of futility; edginess and being easily irritated; crying often; poor concentration; great difficulty making decisions; and, poor memory. Good physical exercise (i.e. walking, jogging, cycling, etc.) can help you cope.
Anxiety & Loss of Control
You are probably accustomed to judging your safety by predicting your partner’s mood and picking up the signals from him/ her, so you could anticipate and react. When you leave, the absence of your partner may feel frightening. You may feel you have lost control. Your feelings of safety are gone when you lose those signals. The feelings of loss of control are normal in transition. You are moving the centre of control from your partner to yourself. It can be as frightening as it is freeing and it just takes time.
Because your perspective on your relationship has changed, you may see your past, yourself, and your partner differently.This can make you feel disoriented and you may doubt your memories and the decisions you have made. You may selectively remember only the good or only the bad times. This is normal. Your situation has changed and you now have additional information so your view of the past will change too.
Your friends may change over time, as well as your interests and concerns. Friends may feel threatened by your new position. They may take sides with your partner. It may hurt you a great deal if your former in-laws reject you. Family blood is often thicker than you want to believe. It may take you a while to trust, or to have energy for anyone else.This is normal and self-protective. You may want to isolate yourself, but friendships are very important. Friends are especially important at this time, especially those who don’t judge us. You don’t have to wait for an invitation. Reach out, even though it may seem less painful to isolate yourself, in the long run it is not.
Temptation to Reconcile
Many women who leave go back a number of times before leaving permanently. What some call the “honeymoon” period, is in actually a tactic of manipulation used by the abuser to continue to maintain power and control. When you have been away for a while and your partner is pleading with you to return, promising you that he/she has changed and will not hurt you again, the temptation to reconcile may seem overwhelming. You have heard promises before. If you think your relationship is worth saving, take the time that is necessary to be sure there is now a strong foundation of mutual respect for you to build your lives on. Generally, as time passes, indicators of whether or not your partner is following through on his/ her promise to change may become clear.
New relationships may trigger memories of your old relationship. It takes hard work, a great deal of commitment, and communication to be in a relationship. Be sure you feel strong enough to live independently before you make the choice of living inter-dependently again. It is important to remember that life is up and down. You will have good days, when you are feeling strong and capable, and bad days, when you are feeling depressed and vulnerable. Know that feeling bad will not last forever and there are things you can do to help yourself through the down times. Many women find that the first anniversary of their leaving is particularly painful. It may be important for you to be aware of that and plan for it. You may arrange to spend that time with close friends. You may also wish to get in touch with a worker to get reinforcement and support.
WAYS YOU CAN HELP YOURSELF
- Let yourself feel your emotions fully. Do not judge yourself for having them. You will pass through each one.
- Take time out for you. Do what feels nurturing for yourself, i.e. take a hot bath, go for a walk, curl up in bed and read a book. You have a right to pamper yourself.
- Eat small, nutritious meals regularly, rest when you can, even if you cannot sleep, and exercise to release tension. Treat yourself to a massage.
- To regain a feeling of control in your new environment: develop a daily routine; set and accomplish small goals each day; control where you go and who you are with so that you are safe.
- Find out about and use community resources for support: support groups; single parent support services; free community counselling services; recreation centres and educational resources. If you don’t know what these services are, check the numbers at the back of this book.
- Holidays and special occasions such as anniversaries can be especially hard times. It is important to establish new customs for yourself and your children. You can spend these times with close friends who are experiencing the same feelings and difficulties. Do something different. For example, organise a dinner or barbeque with friends or neighbours, or spend the holiday out of town.
When You Need More Help
When you leave an abusive relationship, it is normal to feel any or all of the emotions outlined here and it is normal to feel that your life is in a state of upheaval. However, it would be wise to seek more help for yourself if you feel any of the following: suicidal; depressed to the point of not looking after yourself or your children; euphoria to the point of threatening your own safety by drinking too much; spending excessive amounts of money or being promiscuous; rage that expresses itself by hurting people or destroying property. A counsellor can help you work through the emotions that are overwhelming you.
The above content is adapted from the Charmed and Dangerous: A Womens Guide to Reclaiming a Healthy Relationship, has been developed for women by women. This booklet was the initiative of the Tweed Shire Women Services Inc.