How to Protect Yourself in an Abusive Relationship (2023)

In an abusive relationship, it is crucial to prioritize your safety and well-being. If you are experiencing abuse, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and seek support. This article will provide you with valuable information on how to navigate this difficult situation and ensure your safety.

Leaving the Relationship

One option to consider is leaving the abusive relationship. Leaving can be a challenging decision, but it is essential to prioritize your safety and well-being. Many people can support you in leaving safely, including the police, social workers, shelter workers, and friends and family.

Creating a Safety Plan

If you decide to leave in the future, it is important to create a safety plan. A safety plan helps you prepare for leaving and ensures that you have the necessary resources and support. It may include gathering important documents, identifying safe places to go, and establishing a support network.

Contacting the Police

If you are in immediate danger or need assistance, calling the police can be a crucial step. When you call the police about abuse, their primary concern is ensuring everyone's safety. They will assess the situation and take appropriate action, which may include arresting the abuser if necessary.

Once you are safe, the police will ask you questions about what happened. It is essential to provide them with accurate information and any evidence you may have, such as injuries, bruises, or written communication that shows abuse. The police can also offer information about community resources for temporary housing and other support you might need.

Police Report vs. Filing Charges

When the police investigate a crime, they will file a report documenting the violence. A police report is not the same as filing charges. The report serves as an official record that can be used as evidence in court, even if the abuser denies the violence.

The decision to file criminal charges against the abuser rests with the police and the prosecutor. If criminal charges are filed, a court case will be initiated against the abuser. The police report will be used as evidence during the court proceedings.

What to Tell the Police

When speaking to the police, you have the choice of what information to share. It is important to provide details about any criminal acts committed by your partner, such as physical or sexual violence, threats, or any evidence you may have, such as emails, screenshots, or texts that show abuse.

Even if you do not have physical evidence, it is crucial to share your experiences and provide as much information as possible. The police report can be used to support you in family court or when seeking a protection order.

Going to Court

Whether you go to court after calling the police depends on various factors. If the police file criminal charges against the abuser, the state government will bring a court case against them. At this point, you cannot drop the charges because it is the state government, not you, that has filed them. In court, the state will present its case against the person who harmed you.

Protection Orders and Restraining Orders

Protection orders, also known as restraining orders, are legal measures designed to keep you safe from an individual who is harassing or hurting you. Violating a protection order can result in arrest and criminal charges. Depending on the laws in your state, protection orders may also grant you sole custody of children, require the abuser to move out of a shared home, and provide financial support.

There are different types of protection orders, including emergency restraining orders, temporary restraining orders, no-contact orders, and domestic violence restraining orders. Each type serves a specific purpose and offers different levels of protection.

How a Restraining Order Helps

A restraining order can legally require the abuser to stay away from you physically and have no contact with you. It may also address financial matters, such as child support and housing arrangements. Additionally, a restraining order can require the abuser to surrender any firearms, attend counseling, and stay away from your children and their school.

If the abuser violates the restraining order, it is crucial to contact the police immediately. They can take appropriate action and arrest the person for not following the order.

Obtaining a Restraining Order

To obtain a restraining order, you can apply at courthouses, women's shelters, lawyers' offices, or some police stations. In many cases, you do not need a lawyer to obtain a restraining order, and federal law states that you can get one for free. However, seeking legal advice can help you understand your rights and navigate the process effectively.

Filing for a Restraining Order

To file for a restraining order, you will need to go to a family court in the county where you live, where the abuse occurred, or where the abuser resides. You will be required to fill out forms and provide specific information about the abuse or harassment you have experienced.

Family Court vs. Criminal Court

It is important to understand the difference between family court and criminal court. In family court, you and your partner are viewed as equals, and the court will consider your word against your partner's. Providing police reports and documents showing criminal charges can strengthen your case in family court. It is advisable to work with an experienced attorney who can help you gather evidence and present your case effectively.

Finding Legal Assistance

If you need legal assistance, there are resources available to help you. You can find a lawyer through organizations like or by contacting the National Domestic Violence Hotline or the National Sexual Assault Hotline. These organizations can provide referrals to local services and answer any questions you may have.

Protecting Your Children

If you have children and are concerned about their safety, there are steps you can take to protect them. These include keeping their identity documents, obtaining a restraining order, applying for sole custody, and notifying relevant authorities if you suspect your partner may try to take the children out of the country.

Laws Against Domestic Violence

There are laws in place to protect individuals from domestic and sexual violence. These laws vary from state to state, but they can provide legal recourse and protection. It is important to report domestic violence to the police as soon as possible to ensure that the law can be enforced.

Protecting Yourself in the Relationship

If you are not ready to leave the relationship or decide not to leave at this time, there are still steps you can take to protect yourself. Creating a safety plan, identifying safe places to go, and reaching out to local domestic violence or sexual assault programs can provide you with support and resources.

Remember, your safety and well-being are paramount. Reach out to the appropriate authorities and organizations for assistance, and know that you are not alone.

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Author: Gov. Deandrea McKenzie

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