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Staying safe in an abusive relationship

Being in an abusive relationship can be frightening and confusing. Your safety is the top priority and you have a right to be safe. Here’s a guide to staying safe and seeking support.

Young person packing their passport and other documents into a bag

What is partner abuse?

Partner abuse refers to violence, abuse and intimidation between people who are or have been in an intimate relationship.

The perpetrator (abuser) uses violence to control and dominate the other person. This causes psychological harm, fear, and/or physical harm.

Partner abuse can include:

  • financial abuse
  • psychological abuse
  • isolating the victim of abuse

Safety planning

If you are in an abusive relationship, it’s important to have a safety plan. Here are some things you will need to do:

Contact 1800 RESPECT or another domestic violence support service in your state/territory for safety planning support

Organise transport in advance, such as a lift from a friend or a taxi booked in a different name

Have a safe place to go to, such as a family member’s house

Ask a neighbour to call the police if they hear fighting

Pack a bag of essentials (medications, important docs, access to money) and leave it somewhere safe where it can’t be accidentally found, such as a friend’s house

Plan to change the passwords on your social media & email accounts, and change the phone itself, as soon as you have left and are safe

Setup a bank account and ‘burner’ phone the abuser doesn’t know about, in advance

Suspend My Health Record (as this can be used to track you)

If you are receiving financial support from Centrelink, setup a password on the account that only you know

Turn off GPS in your phone and anything that tracks location, e.g. Google accounts, Find My Phone

Keep evidence/a record of abuse in safe place, such as through a GP or SmartSafe+ app

Don’t keep it a secret

Abusers choose who they abuse, when and where they abuse. They are able to stop abusing when it benefits them.

When it comes to violence, they can also choose to harm in ways that aren’t easily visible and don’t always leave marks. 

Abuse thrives on secrecy. Asking for support and not knowing what comes next can be frightening. But abuse rarely resolves without intervention, as abusers want it to be kept secret so they can keep abusing.

If you are experiencing violence or abuse in your relationship, please tell someone you trust about what’s going on. 

You can also talk to Kids Helpline (anonymously if you choose) about your options.

De-escalating conflict

Your safety is the top priority and everyone has a right to be safe!

De-escalation is about preventing abuse from reaching ‘critical’ or ‘explosion’ point in the moment. This won’t stop abuse from happening, but may increase your chances of staying safe in the moment. Here are some things that may help:

  • Remove yourself from the situation if possible and safe to do so.
  • Enact your safety plan and access supports.
  • Distract, redirect or delay them. Having a quick excuse at the ready, such as, “Oh, I think I just heard a knock at the door,” may help.
  • Stay calm. Regulate and control your breathing. Mentally scan your body and deliberately relax certain muscle groups such as your hands and soften your face. Use self-talk, e.g. ‘stay calm’. Try not to personalise the abuser’s words or actions or react. 
  • Keep physical space between you.
  • Talk softly/calmly and slowly. If someone is escalating, they may become aggressive. Raising your voice or reacting with aggression could be viewed as a threat. Plus, people mirror each other. If you talk calmly, they may unconsciously copy you and start to calm down.
  • Keep your movements calm and non-threatening. Neutral facial expression. Open body language. No sudden movements. Move slowly and deliberately.
  • Verbally empathise with them. Validating their feelings (but not their actions) by saying things like “that must have been so frustrating”, or “that must be incredibly annoying” can make them feel heard, which may prevent them escalating.
  • Agree with them. Agreeing verbally (even if you actually disagree) may prevent defensiveness or conflict. Try to sound as earnest as possible, so they are less likely to interpret your response as sarcasm.
  • Give them the perception/sense of control. You know how in movies with hostage situations, they always tell you to ‘co-operate’ and ‘don’t be a hero’? That’s because when a perpetrator feels like they are in control, they tend to be calmer. Following their instructions (where possible and safe to do so) may help prevent them escalating.

Remember...

It’s important not to argue with an abuser, interrupt them or escalate/react with aggression, if possible.

These things may result in an escalation of abuse or violence.

You also know the people involved and the situation best. If you have found any strategies that work for you, it’s important to use them.

There are people you can talk to who can help

Here’s a list of some people you could try talking to. Remember, if at first you don’t get help, keep trying until you find somebody who will help you.

Kids Helpline - 1800 55 1800

1800 RESPECT - 1800 737 73

Counsellor

A relative or friend

Doctor or nurse

Psychologist

If you are in immediate danger, or at significant risk of harm, call emergency services on 000.

Get support

There are support options that allow anonymity and will support you.

Most professional intimate partner violence (IPV) and domestic violence (DV) supports won’t judge you, and want to work with you to help you safety plan.

“You're not responsible for someone else’s behaviours. The sole responsibility for violent behaviour rests on the abuser, not on the victims of abuse.” – Amanda, Kids Helpline Counsellor

If you are feeling unsafe in your relationship, we’re here to help

No matter how alone or worried you feel, Kids Helpline will always listen and support you.

It can be complicated to talk about it, but we listen and we care. Give us a call, start a WebChat or send us an email anytime, for any reason.

This content was last reviewed 10/06/2020

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