A lot of the strategies and approaches to separation and divorce that I recommend are made in the assumption that everyone feels safe and is safe – safe from physical risk and safe from psychological or emotional harm from their ex.
Sadly, this isn’t the case for too many women and often, leaving or ending a relationship, is the most dangerous time for a woman who is vulnerable to family violence.
So, what can you do to be safer?
1. Have a Plan - if you haven’t left your relationship yet but are wanting to or, if you have left but still feel at risk, having a safe plan is imperative. It needs to be something you can activate quickly if you need to leave urgently. This plan may include:
Knowing an escape route and where you will go to.Having a bag of personal items on standby for you and any children or having one stored with a trusted friend or family member or at your workplace. Included in this should be spare clothing, items for your children, cash, important documents, a set of spare keys, cellphone and/or charger, photos of your spouse (to provide to people who may need to identify him), a supply of essential medications and any items of a highly personal nature that you wouldn’t want to lose.Having an emergency accommodation plan sorted – whether it is a rental on standby, a friend or family member you can stay with or refuge accommodationTelling your plan to leave to a trusted neighbour that you know well so they are on standby should you need a safe place or someone to call for help.Planning a safe time to leave, for example when your spouse is away at work or visiting someone. Having the help of a friend or family memberKeep all your essentials such as wallet, phone, keys, identification, medicines in one place so you can quickly grab them.
2. Get Advice Early - getting early advice from a lawyer or support organisation about the steps they can help you with to protect yourself. This may include obtaining urgent orders from the Court.
There are a range of support organisations who can also assist you with advice about your plan for leaving the relationship and provide support to you in implementing any decisions you make.
3. Get Any Orders you Need & Be Prepared to Enforce Them - If you decide you need orders to ensure the safety of you and your children, then obtain these. You may be eligible for free legal services to assist you to do so.
In some jurisdictions, Police can issue a safety order on attending a family violence call-out. This may give you some time and space to get further advice and obtain longer term orders.
Now, the order may be enough to bring an end to the safety issues you face but my experience is that this often isn’t the case. Therefore, you need to take other steps to ensure your safety and be prepared to enforce any orders you obtain which will mean calling the Police.
4. Have a Safe Place to Live - once you separate, ensure your home is safe.
If you stay in the home you once shared with your ex, take steps to secure the home by having the locks changed, latches fixed, dead bolts installed, working security lights, alarms etc.
Even if you think your address is not known to your ex, ensuring the security of your home is important.
Teach your children security practices, such as checking who is at the door before opening it, rules about who is allowed in the house etc.
Ask your neighbours to be vigilant and let you know of anyone they see around your property and to not hesitate to call the Police.
Can you have a family member or friend live with you at least in the short term or visit the property regularly both when you are and are not there?
5. Have a Safe Place to Work & Go to School – you may feel embarrassed about your situation but you shouldn’t.
Telling your employer or manager about your situation is another action to take towards ensuring your safety. Provide your employer with a copy of any order you have and/or a photo of your spouse and ask that they ensure security or reception know not to let your ex have access to you at work. If possible, ask to have your calls screened or recorded.
From day to day, change your route to work and home, where you park your car and ask someone to walk you to or from your carpark.
If you are in New Zealand and have experienced family violence, you may qualify for up to 10 days paid leave (in addition to annual and sick leave) and to come to flexible working arrangements in the short term.
If you have children, provide a copy of any orders you have to their school and also explain the situation to the school. Again, providing a photo of your ex will be useful and mixing up the route taken to and from school is a good precaution.
6. Check Your Devices & Apps - change passwords on your devices and on any tracking/locating apps for your phone or devices. Change your passwords on any other apps or accounts you use eg online banking passwords, tax or government agency apps etc.
7. Check your Email & Social Media Accounts - ensure your passwords for your email and social media accounts are changed.
Check and amend the privacy settings on your social media accounts so that these are as private as possible. Do the same for any accounts your children also have.
Be careful about who you trust as “friends” on social media so that they are not likely to tell your ex about what you are posting etc.
8. Keep Records - If, after ending your relationship, you are being plagued with messages, emails, communications from your ex, then keep screenshots or copies of these. They may be needed to support any applications you make to the Court or any complaints you make to the Police. If you receive threats or are being followed, report this immediately to the Police.
Your safety is paramount. If you have any concerns at all about your safety, take advice from a local support organisation, the Police or a lawyer.