In hindsight, survivors of domestic violence might express that the hardest part of deciding to leave a violent intimate relationship was not the act of making the decision itself – it was figuring out what the next steps would be if they were successful in leaving. While in some cases, survivors may simply pick up their things and leave; more often than not, survivors need help removing themselves from violent relationships. This assistance can come in the form of law enforcement, family, friends, and at times, a Family Law attorney and a Domestic Violence Order of Protection.
When I sit across the table from a survivor, I know that I am more than their attorney; I am serving as an advocate for protection. I can see the pain, fear, and dread about moving forward written plainly on their faces. Whether they have already obtained a Domestic Violence Order of Protection, the one question they almost always ask is, “Now what?” In cases where a Domestic Violence Order of Protection has been issued, the next question is, “I have this fancy piece of paper, but will it actually keep me safe?”
As a Family Law attorney with personal experience with domestic violence, as well as experience in the courtroom as an advocate, in response to both questions, I candidly share that there isn’t a 100% solution for preventing violence. I can also assure them that they are not alone. The judicial system, law enforcement, and domestic violence advocates like me understand today, better than ever before, the intricacies of domestic violence.
If you are reading this and have found yourself, or someone you know, struggling with the decision to leave a violent situation, then there are some precautions you can take to help create a safer environment.
Domestic Violence Order of Protection
If a Domestic Violence Order of Protection is not already in place, consider filing for one immediately after the occurrence of a violent incident.
- If you have an Ex Parte Domestic Violence Order of Protection, generally it will remain in place for approximately ten (10) days but that information should be clearly denoted. At the next hearing, you will be able to request a Domestic Violence Order of Protection for up to one (1) year.
- If you already have a one-year Domestic Violence Order of Protection, then you have the opportunity to renew it for up to two (2) years. Remember: know when it expires and understand that you must file for a renewal prior to its expiration.
Easy Phone Accessibility
Once a survivor has successfully removed themselves from a violent relationship, it is important to ensure there is reliable easy access to a phone in case of emergency. If you only have a landline, this may include having a phone in every room.
Or, it is more likely this may include keeping your mobile phone nearby, whether you are in the kitchen cooking, or on the bedside table when sleeping.People may not realize that mobile phones that are not associated with a provider can still dial “911” in cases of emergencies. I remind my clients to make sure their mobile phone battery is always charged and has a strong working signal. In a situation where a mobile phone has little to no service, calls cannot be returned or if you get disconnected – call back.
If a situation arises where a phone call is not possible, a quick text may have a better chance of slipping through than a call due to a crowded cellular network or low signal. Text someone you know, and trust, or use the text-to-911 service. Text-to-911 is only available in certain locations; check your area to see if this service is provided.
In an emergency situation, and when calling “911,” it is crucial to inform the operator of your location and a call-back number immediately. Thereafter, if you can, go into the details of your situation – your name, and the specific assistance you need. Should the call be cut short for occurrences out of your control, the emergency responders know where to locate you.
Safe Places and Shelters
Know where to find local domestic violence shelters or other safe locations to go to in the event of a domestic violence incident. Also, save the direct phone number for Domestic Violence programs and assistance in your area or county to your phone. Consider saving it under a different contact name if you are concerned you will be caught. Below you will find a list of some local domestic violence shelters and hotlines.
- Mecklenburg County – Safe Alliance.
- 24-Hour Domestic Violence Crisis Line: 704-332-2513
- 24-Hour Rape Crisis Line: 704-375-9900
- Union County – Turning Point.
- 24-Hour Hotline: 704-283-7233
- Gaston County – The Shelter of Gaston County.
- 24-Hour Hotline: 704-852-6000
- Cabarrus County – Cabarrus Victims Assistance Network.
- 24-Hour Hotline: 704-788-2826
- Iredell County – Domestic Violence Task Force of Iredell.
- 24-Hour Hotline: 704-872-3403
Secure your home
- Consider installing a security system in your home and memorizing the emergency feature. Most companies will send a technician during installation that can walk you through the steps of effectively and confidently operating system.
- Put a sticker on a front window or a yard sign. Even if you do not have, or cannot afford a security system, put a sticker on your window or door that alerts individuals of a “Security System” or “Beware of Dog.”
- Consider adopting a canine. Not only are pets good companions, even the bark of a friendly dog tends to make an abuser think twice before intruding, particularly if the dog has not met the abuser before.
- Become aware and knowledgeable about your surroundings. Learn the best ways in and out of your neighborhood or apartment complex. Make an effort to meet your neighbors. You may even ask a friendly neighbor to regularly check on you and/or your home.
- If firearms are acceptable to you, consider taking a firearms course, becoming properly certified, and storing one in a safe, secure location that has easy access in the case of a home invasion.
Have an Exit Plan
Though you have now successfully removed yourself from a violent relationship, many domestic violence advocates will encourage victims to create an exit plan. Not only will it help in case of an emergency, but it often gives survivors more confidence in the control they have over their new lives.
- Keep a “Just In Case” Bag in a handy location filled with at least one night’s worth of clothing (for you and any children involved), shoes, travel-sized toiletries, a prepaid cell phone or phone card, at least $20.00 cash, gift cards to grocery stores and/or clothing stores, at least three (3) days’ worth of medications, copy of important documents (birth certificate, passport, medication/prescriptions, insurance information), a copy of a protective order (if applicable), a disposable camera (to document any injuries immediately), an extra set of your car keys, and a print out of all important phone numbers (business, personal, and your attorney). You may want to consider keeping multiple bags at different locations, such as a friend’s residence, work, the trunk of your car, etc.
- Know where you will go in the event of an emergency, to include knowing where your closest police department or fire department is located. Ideally, choose a location that is open 24-hours, but keep in mind this is not always the case.
- Know who you are going to call. Remember you are not alone, you are never alone.
As you move forward and rebuild a new life, remember: You are a survivor. You are not alone. There are several resources available to survivors of domestic violence including law enforcement, attorneys, doctors, therapists, and domestic violence advocates. You may be physically safe now but sometimes there is nothing more helpful than believing you are safe, discovering your inner strength, and learning new ways to develop a healthy lifestyle moving forward.