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Safety While Traveling Part 2: Traveling with Children

safe-travel-2Previously we offered some general tips for staying safe while traveling with an abusive partner. If you have children and are traveling, you might consider taking some additional precautions.

If your children are traveling with you, make sure to have additional copies of their documents, as well as your own. It might work best to have a trusted family member or friend hold on to copies at home, as well as asking someone at the front desk of the hotel you’re staying at to hold copies for safekeeping. Without disclosing too much, you could let them know that these documents are only for you to request (e.g. “My partner has lost our documents before and was embarrassed about it. Please don’t let them know that I’m asking you to keep these just in case.”).

It could be helpful to know as much as possible about your custody rights if you decide to go with the children into hiding while traveling out of state or abroad. For interstate custody, you may be able to research this information on WomensLaw or by contacting the Legal Resource Center on Violence Against Women at 1-800-556-4053. For international custody issues, The Hague Domestic Violence Project may give you more information about your rights.

Depending on your children’s ages, you can safety plan with them about how to get assistance if needed while traveling. For example, if you are traveling outside the country, you might teach them phrases for asking for help. Additionally, you could look at markers and other places of interest near where you’ll be staying during travel and come up with a code word or phrase for the children to go there for safety if there is an emergency.

If you are traveling with your partner but your children will not be with you, these tips may help you stay connected with them while you are away:

  • If possible, arrange for them to stay with someone that you trust and who is not influenced by your partner so you can create an alternate arrangement with them if there is an emergency.

  • If that isn’t an option, asking a trusted friend or relative to do regular check-ins on them could also allow for opportunities to enhance their safety.

  • Depending on their ages, you may be able to safety plan with them about where they can go if circumstances change (e.g. If you come home from the trip early for safety or your partner comes home early and threatens to take the kids, you can have a code word or phrase that lets them know to go to a safe place where you’ve arranged to meet them).

  • Let the children’s school or other caretakers know about your travel plans, so that they can alert you or the appropriate person if any concerns arise during your travel.

As always, you know your situation best; don’t follow any advice that makes you feel unsafe. We can help you create a plan for your unique situation. Call any time of day at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or chat online from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CT.

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Children as an Abusive Mechanism

kids-as-mechanismAs complicated as domestic violence is on its own, it becomes even more complex when children are involved. Not only can they be affected by the abuse (whether they experience it or witness it), they are sometimes used as a mechanism for the abuse by the perpetrator.

What do we mean by “abusive mechanism”?

Abusive partners exert power and control over their significant others through many different tactics — and unfortunately, using children can become a tactic.

Many times, abusive partners will threaten their significant others by telling them that if they leave the relationship, they’ll take custody of the children. This threat is a form of emotional abuse that the abusive partner uses to keep the victim in the relationship.

Even if an abusive partner hasn’t threatened to take the child away, if they feel like they’re losing control in the relationship they might see the child as an opportunity to regain control. This can often happen in relationships even where the partners aren’t married. If there’s no legal tie between the couple, then the child might be the only link that the abusive partner can use to maintain their control.

What can you do?

There’s no way to prevent an abusive partner from filing a petition for sole custody of the children in court, as they have legal rights and are entitled to access the court system. That being said, in some cases custody provisions may be added to a protection order, which may allow for a window of time to plan for next steps with custody. If a custody petition is filed by the abusive partner, the other parent may wish to reach out for support to help them.

Victims of abuse who have children with their partners may want to reach out to their local domestic violence programs. These service providers may offer much needed support, or possibly make connections to legal aid. Some domestic violence programs may have legal advisors who can provide guidance on the steps for accessing the court system regarding custody issues.g . If you decide to look for an attorney, the local domestic violence program may have recommendations for attorneys who are trained in the dynamics of domestic violence. It also may be useful to use this list of questions from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence as a guide to determine whether an attorney will be able to best represent you in your custody case. Womenslaw.org is another useful resource to find suggestions for working with an attorney, information about custody proceedings in your area, contact information about local courts, and other assistance. Legal Momentum also offers a free legal resource kit to download on domestic violence and custody issues.

If you are dealing with custody issues, it’s important to make sure your children know that you are there to keep them safe. Let them know that what is happening is not their fault and they didn’t cause it. Try to maintain regular activities and schedules as much as possible, and create a safety plan with them that is age appropriate. And most of all, tell them often that you love them and that you support them no matter what.

If your abusive partner has threatened or is attempting to file for sole custody of your children, give us a call at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Our advocates will listen to and support you, help you brainstorm safety plans, and may connect you with local services where you can find the legal help you need.

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50 Obstacles to Leaving: 11-20

Can you imagine the frustration of a victim being asked, “Why don’t you just leave?”

While leaving seems like a quick and easy fix to escape abuse, we know that leaving an abusive partner is a complicated, difficult challenge and often the most dangerous time in a relationship. Victims have many reasons for staying. This week we’re giving you 50, adapted from Sarah M. Buel’s “Fifty Obstacles to Leaving, a.k.a., Why Abuse Victims Stay.”

11. Family Pressure: Family members exert pressure if they believe there’s no excuse for leaving a marriage or if they’re in denial about the abuse.

12. Fear of Retaliation: The batterer has shown willingness to carry out threats and the victim fears harm to themselves or the children if they leave.

13. Fear of Losing Child Custody: The batterer has used the threat of obtaining custody to exact agreements to their liking.

14. Financial Abuse: Financial abuse can take many different forms depending on the couple’s socio-economic status — ex. If victims have been forced to sign false tax returns or take part in other unlawful financial transactions.

15. Financial Despair: The victim realizes that they cannot provide for themselves or their children without the batterer’s assistance.

16. Gratitude: The victim feels gratitude toward the batterer because the batterer has helped support and raise their children from a previous relationship, or take care of them if they have health, medical or other problems.

17. Guilt: Batterers have convinced victims that the violence is happening because it’s their fault.

18. Homelessness: Homeless abuse victims face increased danger, as they must find ways of meeting basic survival needs of shelter, food, and clothing while attempting to elude their batterers.

19. Hope for the Violence to Cease: This hope is typically fueled by the batterer’s promises of change, pleas from the children, or family’s advice to save the relationship.

20. Isolation: The victim has been cut off from family, friends and colleagues and lacks a support system or people to stay with.

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Safety Planning With Children

Being in an abusive situation can feel incredibly scary and isolating, and if children are involved – even indirectly witnessing the abusive – it can become a lot more complicated and dangerous. A parent’s instinct is to make sure their child is safe – but how can you do this best if your abusive partner is unpredictable, or manipulative?

All of our advocates at The Hotline are equipped to help you safety plan for you and your children during any stage in your relationship. Based on what you’re going through, we can help assess the best plans of action and brainstorm different options with you – even when you’re feeling out of options.

Planning for Violence in the Home
If you are in an abusive relationship, a safety plan should include ways that your children can stay safe when violence is happening in your home. It’s key to remember that if the violence is escalating, you should avoid running to the children because your partner may hurt them as well

  • Teach your children when and how to call 911
  • Instruct them to leave the home if possible when things begin to escalate, and where they can go
  • Come up with a code word that you can say when they need to leave the home in case of an emergency  — make sure that they know not to tell others what the secret word means
  • In the house: Identify a room they can go to when they’re afraid and something they can think about when they’re scared
  • Instruct them to stay out of the kitchen, bathroom and other areas where there are items that could be used as weapons
  • Teach them that although they want to protect their parent, that they should never intervene
  • Help them to make a list of people that they are comfortable talking and expressing themselves to
  • Enroll them in a counseling program (local service providers often have children’s programs)

Planning for Unsupervised Visits
If you have separated from an abusive partner and are concerned for your children’s safety when they visit your ex, developing a safety plan for while they are at their home can be beneficial.

  • Brainstorm with your children (if they are old enough) to come up with ways that they can stay safe using the same model as you would for your own home. Have them identify where they can get to a phone, how they can leave the house, and who they can go to.
  • If it’s safe to do, send a cell phone with the children to be used in emergency situations — this can be used to call 911, a neighbor or you if they need aid

Planning for Safe Custody Exchanges

  • Avoid exchanging custody at your home or your partner’s home
  • Meet in a safe, public place such as a restaurant, a bank/other area with lots of cameras, or even near a police station
  • Bring a friend or relative with you to the exchanges, or have them make the exchange
  • Perhaps plan to have your partner pick the children up from school at the end of the day after you drop them off in the morning – this eliminates the chances of seeing each other
  • Emotional safety plan as well – figure out something to do before the exchange to calm any nerves you’re feelings, and something after to focus on yourself or the kids, such as going to a park or doing a fun activity

Planning for After You Leave

  • Alert anyone you can about the situation: school authorities like the counselor, receptionist, teachers and principal, sports instructors, and other caretakers
  • Talk to these people about what’s going on, EX. If you have a protective order or restraining order, who is allowed to pick them up, etc.

How to Have These Conversations

Let your child know that what’s happening is not their fault and that they didn’t cause it. Let them know how much you love them and that you support them no matter what. Tell them that you want to protect them and that you want everyone to be safe, so you have come up with a plan to use in case of emergencies. It’s important to remember that when you’re safety planning with a child, they might tell this information to the abusive partner, which could make the situation more dangerous (ex. “Mom said to do this if you get angry.”) When talking about these plans with your child, use phrases such as “We’re practicing what to do in an emergency,” instead of “We’re planning what you can do when dad/mom becomes violent”

If you have any questions about safety planning or want an advocate’s help in developing a personalized safety plan for your child, give us a call at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).