As a victim of domestic violence, you may feel an overwhelming sense of despair and hopelessness. Isolated, paralyzed by fear, and lacking information or resources, victims of domestic violence often are unable or unwilling to take certain steps to remove themselves from the cycle of violence that has terrorized them during their relationship.  But there are certain steps you can take if you are a victim of domestic abuse. This article by our Brooklyn divorce attorney will explain just a few of them.

Are You a Victim of Domestic Violence?Domestic Violence and What To Do from New York Domestic Violence Attorney Alatsas Law

Domestic abuse can take on many forms.  These signs and forms of abuse include emotional, mental, physical, sexual, or economic abuse.

  • Because abusers can often go long stretches between incidents, a victim of abuse can ignore the warning signs, or become deluded into believing whether they are truly a victim of abuse.  Just because it has been months, or years, doesn't mean you are not a victim of abuse.  Regardless of the frequency of the abuse, if your spouse or partner makes you feel scared or in danger, you are in an abusive relationship.
  • Abusive behavior doesn't always start out that way and can develop over time.  It can take months or years before an abuser begins the abusive behavior, and sometimes, especially in the form of emotional or economic abuse, the controlling or manipulative behavior can happen gradually and over time, so much so that the victim cannot identify when it started and when the relationship began to take a bad turn.
  • Being abused can take many forms, and sometimes it doesn't even involve physical violence.  Psychologic abusers can make their victims feel dependent and worthless.  If you are feeling abused, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 and talk to a domestic abuse counselor to learn how to identify the signs.

Talk to Someone About Your Domestic Abuse, Anyone

Your first instinct may be to stay in an abusive relationship - and this may be for many reasons. Financial insecurity, emotional reluctance, or other factors may be influencing your inability to just get up and leave.  Even if you are not sure or have chosen not to leave, tell a friend, a family member, or even a professional about what is going on.  It's important that someone else knows what is going on in the case of an emergency.  In some cases, having a safe word or some other code in place that you can use to notify this person that you are in danger and you need them to call for help, could be a could way of helping you get the assistance you need.  

Document Domestic Abuse, Because You Might Need It

Courts work on proof. So do the police. They can't and won't simply take your word for it, and, unfortunately, this is the biggest obstacle to someone seeking help. One way to avoid that is to document the abuse, so that, if it isn't as obvious as a black eye or broken arm, you can establish a pattern of abusive behavior. This may be necessary when you try to get that restraining order or order of protection, or an order of exclusive occupancy to keep the abuser out of the home.

Ways to Document Spousal Abuse

  • Keep a folder with the evidence of abuse (pictures, notes, journals) and give it to a friend to hold. When something new happens, add it to the folder.
  • Write down the incidents of abuse in a journal, whether the abuse is physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual abuse. Note the specifics, because in Court you may need to be able to recall what happened. The trauma of an incident can often blur memory over time, so writing it down almost immediately after it happens can be very helpful.
  • Take pictures of evidence of physical abuse.  Everyone has a camera these days, so take a picture.  Save it, and send it to your friend to save for you.  
  • Keep threatening texts, emails, or written notes and store them away.  Take screenshots and print them out.  Add them to your journal or your folder.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings So That You Can Get Away From Your Abuser

If you are in an abusive relationship, be aware of your surroundings when you're with your partner.  Take note of ways to get out of there when it gets dangerous.  Try to stay away from situations or areas of increased danger.  When the violence starts, know how to get out of the room, or the house - know the escape routes.  Avoid bathrooms and kitchens whereas the windows are often small, and dangerous household objects may be used as weapons.

Have a plan to get to safety during abuse and practice it

If you haven't committed to leaving, but think you may need to get out, have a plan in place.  You should have a short-term and a long-term plan in place.  The plan can include a place to go, available financial resources, or other things you may need.  Also, consider in your plan how your children or pets will be taken care of as well.  Include their needs in figuring out your plan.  For help with a safety plan, visit the Domestic Violence Hotline or call 1-800-799-7233.

It's also important to practice the plan.  Teach your children to call 911 in case of emergency, or to run to a neighbor's home, but in every way, know all your options to remove yourself from an explosive abusive episode.  Get to safety!

Collect your important financial and personal documents and keep them in a safe place

Think about all the things you would need to prove who you are when you were born or where you have been.  If you are going to need help, you will need it to get it.  That means important documents like social security cards, birth certificates, marriage certificates, or other legal documents.  Gather these documents and store them somewhere you can get to them immediately, and safe.  (Your trusted friend or family member would be a good place to start.) If you have children, include their documents as well.

Have a suitcase ready to go when the physical abuse starts up again

You might have to get out of a situation immediately.  If that is the case, have a bag ready to go.  A suitcase with a couple of days changes of clothes, medications you might need, contact information for domestic violence shelters and local resources, cash, credit cards, a set of keys.  Have it somewhere outside the home so as not to arouse suspicion - the trusted friend or family member, or, if you have no one, the trunk of your car.  The key is having it somewhere that your spouse can't find it.

Have an emergency cellphone

Purchase a prepaid cellphone in advance and keep it somewhere you can get to quickly.  Have a charger for it also, so that you can charge it as needed.  Keep it out of sight of your abuser.

Open your own bank account, you will need some money

It's important to have access to money if you can.  Open up your own bank account, and make sure the statements don't go to your home.  This might be difficult if you don't work outside the home, but if you can, open an account somewhere other than where your spouse's or marital accounts are located, and let the bank representative know that it is important that the statements do not go to the home.  Most accounts nowadays can be set up for paperless statements.  Make sure they do not go to a joint email account, or an email account that your abuser can access.  If you can, have your own email that your abuser doesn't know about.

When you are in an abusive relationship, it's important to realize that their things you can do to get yourself out of there.  Don't be afraid to ask for help.  Relying on a trusted friend or a family member is a great resource. Seeking the assistance of an experienced divorce or family law attorney is another.

Ted Alatsas
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Trusted Brooklyn, New York Family Law Attorney helping NY residents with Elder Law and Asset Protection