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Domestic Violence
  • Carmen Wargel, LMSW is the chair of the Macomb Community Domestic Violence Council, a multidisciplin...

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Mon, September 30, 2013
Domestic Violence: Your Plan for a Better Future
One of the first things people say about domestic violence is that if someone ever abused them, they would leave immediately.  While this is a comforting thought for most people, it is one that I try to disrupt.  This assumption is largely false.  Most people do not leave immediately when they are abused, or when their partner has an affair, although we all like to think that we would.  This erroneous belief contributes to a greater societal pressure on people who are abused by their partners. When we state that the rational and reasonable thing to do is leave immediately when you are abused and someone doesn’t, it follows that they are therefore unreasonable and irrational.  

The “just leave” approach is based on a fundamental false belief that leaving the abuser is all it takes to stop the abuse. However, the only thing that stops the abuse is the abuser deciding to stop or to target another person.  People leave abusers all the time only to find that the abuse pattern changes, or even escalates.  In fact, when people experiencing abuse – survivors of domestic violence – start to leave the person abusing them, the risk of homicide perpetrated by their abusive partner skyrockets.[1][2][3] There are many factors that contribute to the likelihood of a domestic violence homicide, and Jacqueline Campbell’s research on this area has given survivors and advocates great information and tools for understanding and responding to this risk.  For more information, please visit

In reality, there are a million reasons why people experiencing abuse don’t “just leave” the first – or second, or third - time someone abuses them.  Leaving is an emotional and logistical nightmare; an intricate web of decisions and roadblocks; a road paved with dead ends, potholes and uncertain terrain.   Survivors who leave are faced with decisions about housing, employment, credit, children, financial stability, schools, custody, religion, family, friends, and perhaps the criminal justice system.  The list can be overwhelming, but making a plan with a support person such as a domestic violence program can help.

One of the first components of a plan to leave an abusive partner is to assess the dangers. Domestic violence programs are well equipped to work with survivors on this assessment.  In response to the information gleaned from this assessment, a safety plan can be created.  Remember that only the batterer can ensure safety through his or her actions. However, safety plans are a useful tool to empower survivors and to take steps to address the presenting dangers. Safety plans can include changing cyber-passwords, setting up bank accounts, obtaining copies of important documents, and securing a safe place to stay. The American Bar Association has created a wonderful brochure on safety planning that is available here:

Another important piece of a safety plan is to build a support team for the survivor.  This team can include a lawyer, a criminal justice victim advocate, a counselor, a children’s counselor or teacher, faith leaders, family, friends, and others. Survivors often find it useful to connect with other people who have been abused through support groups as well.  Lastly, some survivors find it useful to read books about domestic violence to understand their experience in a larger context.  Many survivors and domestic violence staff have found the work of Lundy Bancroft ( to be immensely helpful.

Sometimes when survivors make these plans they feel confident about their choice to leave. Sometimes, they feel uncertain, and at other times, they feel certain that leaving their abuser carries more risk than staying.  It is imperative that survivors be able to make this decision for themselves.  As friends, family, social service staff, or other support people the most important thing we can do is honor a survivor’s self determination, even if we personally disagree with the choices a survivor makes.

In the process of leaving, survivors seek both to heal themselves and their children, and to make wise decisions about the new framework of their lives. 

Survivors must prepare for the emotional fall out of leaving, heal from the injuries they have incurred and often do battle in court over criminal charges, custody or other divorce proceedings.  It is a monumental task, and not always the right decision. However, should a survivor decide that the right path is to leave, there is help available. If you or anyone you know may be experiencing abuse in their relationship, please know that you are not alone.  We are here to help.

Turning Point’s Crisis Hotline open 24/7, 1-586-463-6990.

[1] Review Spousal homicide risk and estrangement. Wilson M, Daly M. Violence Vict. 1993 Spring; 8(1):3-16. [2] Dawson R, Gartner R. Differences in the characteristics of intimate femicides: the role of relationship state and relationship status. Homicide Stud. 1998;2:378–399. [3] Campbell, Jacqueline et al. Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results From a Multisite Case Control Study. Am J Public Health. 2003 July; 93(7): 1089–1097

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