Get Help

Get Help
If you are in immediate danger, please call 9-1-1.

Or for anonymous, confidential help, 24/7, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or  1-800-787-3224 (TTY).

If you are being abused by your partner, know there is nothing you have done or are doing to cause the abuse. It is solely the choice of the abuser to abuse. It may seem impossible to escape your abuser, change your circumstances, or find the help you need, but it is possible. However, you know your abuser best, so think carefully through your situation and circumstances and do what is the best for you.

While the information that follows may be helpful to you, please know it is not meant to be used as the only information you need to get and stay safe, nor is it inclusive of all the information you may need. It is critical that you connect with someone knowledgeable about domestic violence that can help you create a safety plan specifically for you, your family, and your specific needs.

Planning Ahead

If you are in the relationship:

Plan ahead where you can go if the abuser shows signs of escalating. Make a list of safe people to contact (DV program, friends, relatives, attorney, and important persons/services). Have numbers for local domestic violence programs. Pack and have ready a bag or suitcase of essentials, including medications.

Obtain and secure personal documents and information for you, and if you have children, for them as well: birth certificates, driver’s license, social security cards, immunization records, passports, licenses, bank accounts, debit and credit cards, checkbooks, W-2s, paystubs, insurance cards and policies, school records, clothing, and keys. Any documentation that you might have about the abuse, pictures, recordings, medical records, and police reports are also very important to have. Include cash if you can and any other valuable that you don’t want to leave behind. Keep in mind that large items like furniture might not be possible to hide.

Find a safe place to hide these—with a friend, relative, and/or another place the abuser cannot access.

If you are in the home during an incident:

  • Avoid rooms with no exits, like bathrooms and closets. Also, avoid rooms with weapons, like the kitchen.
  • Get to a room with a door or a window to escape.
  • If it is possible, lock the abuser outside. Call 911.
  • Get medical attention if you are hurt.
  • If you have contact with the police, get the name and badge number of the officer(s).
  • Contact a domestic violence program, the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-7233), or go to a safehouse.

If you have children:

  • Create a safety plan appropriate for their age. If children are old enough, have them get out of the house and alert a neighbor (that you have already contacted, is safe, knows about your situation, and is willing to help), and call 911.
  • Practice the safety plan with your children.
  • Instruct them not to get physically involved in the incident and instead “go” to their safe place (already established).
  • If going to a safe place or neighbor’s house is not possible, teach them to call 911.
  • Have older children take younger children to a safer room in the house, already established.

If you have pets:

      If you are planning to stay with the abuser:

  • Keep emergency provisions for your pet in case your abuser withholds money. Keep the phone number of the nearest 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic.
  • Establish ownership of your pet by creating a paper trail (i.e., obtain a license, have veterinarian records put in your name).

      If you are planning to leave the abuser:

  • Obtain safe emergency shelter for pet, somewhere that won't be disclosed to your abuser (e.g. veterinarian, friend, family, or a safe haven for pets program)
  • Pack a bag for your pet that includes:
  • food
  • medicine
  • documents of ownership (receipts from adoption or purchase of pet, license to establish ownership, receipts for animal purchases)
  • health documents (veterinary and vaccination records)
  • a leash
  • an ID and rabies tag if you have a dog or cat (these will also help establish ownership)
  • pet carrier
  • toys
  • bedding
  • If you must leave without your pet, remember to leave enough food, fresh bedding. litter, etc. for them.

      If you have left the abuser:

  • Keep pets indoors (if possible). Do not let the pet outside alone.
  • Pick a safe route and time to walk your pet. Do not exercise/walk your pet alone.
  • Change your veterinarian.

Sources: The People's Law of Maryland, Ahimsa House

If you are not in the relationship:

  • Change your phone number and other contact information.
  • Consider getting a restraining/protective order. Speak to an advocate and find out if that is a good option for you—every situation is different.
  • Screen your calls.
  • Save and document all contact, messages, injuries, or other incidents involving the abuser.
  • Change your locks.
  • Avoid being alone.
  • Plan how to get away if confronted by the abuser.
  • If you have to meet the abuser do it in a public place.
  • Vary your routine.
  • If you have a restraining or protective order, always have a copy with you. Leave a copy at work. If you have children, leave a copy at your children’s school and every place your children might spend time (childcare center, grandparents, friends, etc.).
  • Find out if there is a domestic violence response policy at your work place and ask questions if you don't understand how it works.
  • Consider joining a support group at a local domestic violence program.

When leaving an abusive relationship, it is important to take with you the documents that you will need to get the resources and help you will require. You will need your driver's license, passport, and birth certificate to verify your identity. Other important documents you will need include: social security cards (for yourself and any children), leases and deeds (that have your name attached), credit and debit cards, pay stubs, w-2s, insurance policies, bank statements, and check books. Also, take any documentation that you might have about the abuse including pictures, recordings, medical records, and police reports. Never take the risk of being alone with the abuser when retrieving your things; ask for a police escort or bring friends with you.

Create Your Personalized Safety Plan

Although you can't control an abuser's use of violence, you can plan how you will respond to future abusive or violent incidents, prepare for the possibility of an incident happening, and plan how get to safety. It is your decision if and when you tell others that you have being abused, or that you are still at risk. Friends, family, and coworkers can help with your safety plan if they are aware the situation and want to help.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. When I have to talk to the abuser in person, I can _____________________________.
  2. When I talk on the phone with the abuser, I can _______________________________.
  3. I will make up a "code word" for my family, coworkers, friends, and counselor so they know when to call for help for me. My code word is ________________________.
  4. When I feel a fight coming on, I will try to move to a place that is lowest risk for getting hurt such as __________________ (at work), ________________ (at home), or _______ (in public).
  5. I can tell my family, co-workers, boss, counselor, or a friend about my situation. I feel safe telling _______________.
  6. I can screen my calls, texts, emails, and visitors. I have the right to not receive harassing phone calls, texts, or emails. I can ask friends, family members, or coworkers to help me screen my contacts. I can ask these people for help: _________________________________.
  7. I can call any of the following people for assistance or support if necessary and ask them to call the police if they see the abuser harassing me.
    Friend: __________________________
    Relative: ____________________________
    Co-worker: ______________________________________
    Counselor: ___________________________________
    Shelter: _________
    Other: __________________________________________
  8. When leaving work I can.
  9. When walking, riding, or driving home, if problems occur, I can _____________________.
  10. I can attend a victim's/survivor's support group with the Domestic Violence program.
  11. Contact information I need to have:
    Police Department: ______________________________
    Domestic Violence Program: ______________________________________
    Sexual Assault Program: ______________________________________________
    Attorney: __________________________________________
    Counselor: ________________________________________
    Spiritual support/clergy: __________
    Probation Officer: __________
    Other: __________

Accessing Resources

When you are in crisis, it is very difficult to look for assistance, make decisions, and take care of yourself and others. An advocate, through your local domestic violence program, can help in many ways. She can identify resources in the community that otherwise may unseen (like churches and individuals that will serve as support). She can start contact with a service provider and facilitate the process. She can also give support and encouragement. In these times where budgets are limited, having an "out of the box" perspective is important. It is very likely that there are others looking for what you are trying to find as well. For example, if you need childcare and you can't find financial assistance, look for other parents that also need childcare and trade days watching each other’s children.

Some useful guidelines to finding support are:

  1. Do not be discouraged by a rejection. If you can, try again.
  2. If you are not comfortable with the person you are working with, ask for another advocate or counselor or try and find another domestic violence program.
  3. Get a list of possible resources from different places/programs/organizations. Most states have the free phone service 2-1-1 which will connect you to advocates who can help you find additional resources in your area.
  4. Have essential documents available when you go to an appointment: birth certificates, identifications with pictures, driver's license, passports, and utility bills (to show residency). Learn what documents you will need ahead of time.
  5. Make your calls from a place where you can engage in a conversation and take care of possible interruptions ahead of time (e.g., have little ones take a nap or call when children are playing at the neighbor's).
  6. Be patient, speak clearly, and do not give your story to the person who answers the phone or the first contact person. More than likely, you will have to tell your story all over again to the person qualified to help you. Instead, give clear, specific information about what you need (e.g., “I need a pro-bono family law attorney for a child custody case and I am a victim of domestic violence”). Then let the service provider ask you for the information they need to qualify you for the services. If possible, have an advocate initiate the contact with the referred service provider.

Getting Help from Law Enforcement

During an incident:

  • Speak clearly and give your location.
  • After the police arrive and they have secured the area and taken your information, get the names and badge numbers of the officers you talked to. If they have business cards, get those.
  • Ask questions about what is going to happen next.
  • If there was an arrest, ask if they will notify you when the defendant bonds out of jail. Get the jail phone number so you can find this out yourself too.
  • If the defendant is at large, ask if they are they going to notify you when he is arrested.
  • Ask if they can facilitate you going into a safehouse.
  • Ask if there is an advocate from the police department who will follow up with you and offer services and referrals.
  • Ask if you are you required to appear in court for the defendant's arraignment. Some jurisdictions with fast-track domestic violence protocols require that you be present.
  • Write down all information given to you by the officers. Ask for copies of any pictures they take or any reports of the incident.

Seeking Legal Assistance

Questions to ask before you hire an attorney:

  • Have you or any members of your firm ever represented my partner or anyone else associated with my partner?
  • Do you handle divorce or custody cases?
  • How many of these cases have you handled?
  • How many of them were contested?
  • How many of them went to trial?
  • Did any of these cases involve an expert witness?
  • How many were before the judge who will hear my case?
  • What kind of decisions does this judge usually make?
  • Have you ever appealed a case, and if so, what were the issue(s) appealed?
  • How many of these appealed cases did you win?
  • (Keep in mind that even an excellent attorney will lose a case.)

Questions about attorney fees and costs:

  • What are your fees? What work do these fees cover? Is this an hourly fee or a flat fee for the entire case?
  • Is there an additional charge for appearing in court?
  • Do you ever charge less for people who do not have much money?
  • Do you charge a retainer? How much? What does it cover? Do you refund all or part of the retainer if my case ends up being dropped or not taking much time? (Attorneys should be willing to refund any part of the retainer not spent.)
  • Are there other expenses that I may have to pay? What are they and how much are they likely to be?
  • Will you be the only person working on my case? What will other people do? How will I be charged for their work? Will I be charged for speaking to your secretary and or receptionist?
  • Are there ways that I can assist you to keep down my costs?
  • Will you send me a copy of letters, documents, and court papers that you file or receive regarding my case?
  • Do you charge extra if the case gets more complicated or we have to go back to court?
  • Will you require that I have paid everything that I owe you before you will go to court with me or finish my case? (Many attorneys do this. They may also refuse to return your original papers or copies of your file, and in some states, this may be legal. Therefore, you should insist on getting a copy of any paper filed with the court or given or received from another party or otherwise relevant to your case. Be sure to keep all of them in a safe place, in case you ever need them.
  • Are you willing to work out a payment plan with me?
  • Will you put our agreement about fees and work you will perform in writing?

Questions about cases involving domestic violence:

  • How much experience have you had with cases involving domestic violence? Which party did you represent (the victim, the abuser, or the children)?
  • Do you generally believe women who tell you that they have been battered?
  • Do you go to court with women wanting to obtain orders of protection against their abused?
  • How sympathetic to bettered women are the judges who will hear my case?
  • What are the laws of this state regarding which parent should be given custody when one parent has abused the other parent? Does the judge(s) who will probably hear my case follow these laws? What do they usually recommend?
  • What do you think about mediation in cases where there has been domestic violence?
  • Does the expert witness likely to be involved understand the need to protect battered women and children?
  • What kind of custody and visitation arrangements do they usually recommend in cases involving domestic violence?
  • Do the judges usually follow their recommendations?
  • Do you have a working relationship with the local battered women's program? If so, which one(s)?
  • Do you have a working relationship with any batterer intervention program? If so, which one(s)?
  • How helpful is the prosecutor’s office in handling domestic violence cases?

Questions about contested custody cases

  • Do you usually believe mothers who tell you that their children's father has physically or sexually abused them?
  • How do you handle cases where parental alienation syndrome is alleged? (This is a popular theory that blames mothers for turning their children's affection against the father, most often in cases where the father has abused the mother or the children. The American Psychiatric Association has not validated this claim.)
  • How do the custody evaluators that you work with feel about cases where the father has abused the children? Do they usually believe a mother's statements about the abuse? What kind of custody and visitation recommendations do they usually make?
  • How does the judge who will probably decide my case feel about cases where there is child abuse by the father? Do they believe the mother who has made reports about the child abuse and or sexual abuse?
  • Will someone be appointed for the children, and how will that person about father's child and or sexual abuse?
  • Will it matter if the child protective agency has substantiated the abuse? Will it matter if the father was convicted or pled guilty to the abuse in a criminal case? What do you do to protect children in cases when you know that their father is abusing them? Are you willing to stand up for my case, even if it angers the judge?
  • If none of the abuse allegations have been reported yet, what do you recommend about whether to report it now, and how to keep my children safe?