Tips and advice to get out of abusive relationships

Dec 11, 2009 at 1:52 p.m. ET

US statistics on domestic violence are terrifying. A woman is battered every 15 seconds. One in four women will be physically assaulted by her partner. One in three teens will be abused by her boyfriend. While both men and women have been known to carry out acts of violence, 95 percent of hospitalized victims of domestic violence are women.

victim of domestic violence

Occurrences of male abuse against women are exponentially higher and more dangerous than the reverse. Domestic violence isn't a trend -- it's an epidemic. And, according to Kristen Howell, director of development for Genesis Women's Shelter in Dallas, Texas, it is pervasive, intergenerational and often deadly. She offers advice on how to recognize traits of an abusive relationship and, more importantly, how to get out of one in a safe manner.

My Life
  1. Speak up. Tell someone what is going on, and get help before things escalate. Write a letter if you can't say it out loud.
  2. Be prepared. Decide the next most healthy step for you, and take actions to make it happen.
  3. Get away. And then take steps to make sure your distance is maintained.
  4. Start over. It's scary, but once you do, you'll have your power regained.

"Many people mistakenly believe that domestic violence begins with a physical assault," she says. "Verbal and emotional abuse often act as part of a grooming process that is aimed at one partner having power and control over the other person." She also warns that an abusive partner can have hold over his counterpart through rage, hostility, isolation, obsession and intimidation. "He also will hurt things that are important to her -- pets, children, special belongings. It's all to gain control."

Howell offers the following advice on how to get out of an abusive relationship:

Tell someone

The first thing a woman should do when she realizes she is in a violent relationship is to tell people who can help. Professionals can devise safety plans, assist with documentation for police reports, divorce and custody battles, and more.

Do what works

Some women decide in one day that living with abuse is no longer an option, and they will leave and never look back. Other women prepare methodically -- gathering important documents, getting finances in order, developing a safety plan with a lawyer. Either way is fine, and the most important thing is leaving safely.

Keeping away

Leaving is one step in getting away. Keeping him away is the next hardest step. Abusive partners will go to great lengths to win the relationship back, so it is important to cut ties as much as possible.

Ask for help

Starting over is expensive, daunting, lonely and scary. But women can get through that part with support and resources. Expert counseling makes a big difference in navigating the confusion and keeping on track.

Diane G. Sagan, author of Shelter from the Storm and a survivor of a 10-year abusive relationship, found relief for herself and her children at a local shelter. "After being in denial for a long time, I began making a secret plan to save money. I thought I could hold things together for six months, but I didn't even come close."

Sagan has made a career out of her past experiences, using her life's events to create a fictionalized story of a woman who successfully removes herself from an abusive relationship. She also serves as an inspirational speaker and mentor for women who are going through similar tough times. She urges women not to take matters into their own hands but to use the legal system instead as leverage to start over.

"Do not go back, no matter what he promises you," she emphasizes.