Are you, or is someone you care about, trapped in an abusive relationship? Recently we looked at the cycle of abuse: the four stages of behaviour that are usually repeated as a never-ending pattern in abusive relationships. These four stages are:
- Tension-building phase, when the victim becomes aware that an abusive incident is imminent.
- The incident of abuse phase, when the abuse actually happens.
- The reconciliation phase, where the abuser displays regret, remorse or contrition, and may shower the victim with gifts and over-the-top kindness.
- The calm phase, where the abuser attempts to resist falling into old abusive patterns, and the victim may believe their abuser really has ‘changed’.
Unfortunately, this cycle of abuse is exactly that: a cycle, and one that is unlikely to ever end. Moreover, abusers are often skilled at making their victims believe that they are to blame for the violence. For this reason, some people don’t even realise they’re in abusive relationships, and the violence is perpetuated month after month, year after year.
5 stages of leaving an abusive relationship
Inevitably, the victim will come to realise that they’re trapped in a violent relationship, and this realisation is likely to follow five stages:
Stages 1 and 2: starting to not care for your partner anymore: this is when the victim begins to realise that the relationship is more than just unhealthy, and is actually jeopardising their safety. They start to disconnect from their partners, realising they deserve love, respect and care, and wanting to take back their power.
Stage 3: noticing the effects of the abusive relationship: victims may begin to start seeing how the abuse is affecting them and/or their children. They may start creating contingency plans for leaving, such as finding a place to stay or saving up money.
Stage 4: coming and going: at this point, the victim may leave and then return to the relationship, and this may happen several times because, despite the abuse, the victim still loves their partner and struggles to let go of the emotional connection.
Stage 5: ending the relationship: the victim is likely to have successfully ended the relationship once they’ve been apart from their abuser for at least six months. Often, however, the victim needs help maintaining this boundary, either through court orders or the support of friends and family.
Steps for leaving an abusive relationship
An abusive relationship can become a trap, and one that is often very difficult to escape from safely, due to fear, endangerment, financial impediments, lack of support, lack of resources and other barriers to leaving. However, it IS possible to get out, and support is available. Here are the first critical steps to take:
- Get help: find a secure means of contacting a trusted person or organisation for help. Borrow a friend’s phone or use a public phone at a library or school.
- Find a temporary place to stay, either with friends or family, or at a battered women’s shelter.
- Confide in a trusted friend or family member.
- Start saving up an emergency stash of money – being financially dependent is often a major barrier to leaving an abusive relationship.
- Pack and hide a ‘getaway bag’ for you and your kids, and hide a spare car key if possible/necessary.
- If possible, collect evidence of the abuse, as you may need this for legal purposes in future.
- If you have pets, make a plan for them if you can. Some shelters will allow you to keep them with you. Otherwise, a friend, family or no-kill shelter may keep them for you temporarily.
- Plan what time you’ll leave. Try to find a safe window period for escaping, ideally after confirming with a friend, family member or shelter that you’ll have somewhere to go immediately after leaving.
- Make sure you have transport to your place of safety immediately upon leaving.
- Remember: you don’t need to give an explanation for why you’re leaving, and it will probably be safest to keep your new location hidden from your abuser.
Help for victims of abuse in South Africa
For victims of abuse, help and support is available across South Africa. Get in touch with POWA (People Opposed to Woman Abuse) on 011 642 4345 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or the Stop Gender Violence Helpline, run by LifeLife South Africa, on 0800 150 150.