DV Bugouts: A Guide for Victims of Domestic Violence

By Amy Aumick

This article is a guide for victims of domestic violence, both women and men. According to NCADV (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence), “1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of [some form of] physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.” Also, “On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.”

Domestic violence is defined by the US DOJ as: “…a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.”

Based on that definition, domestic violence crimes are mired in an array of possibilities when it comes to the mistreatment of partners in relationships. Calling a domestic violence victim a “victim” is not exactly the correct term in this writer’s mind. A domestic violence victim is merely someone who has put their trust in an abuser.

We trust the people who say they love us. Love can be defined as care for someone’s wellbeing. You care whether or not the person you love is healthy, happy and whole. You care if this person lives or dies. Abusers have the capacity for love but they see it through a warped lens based on power and control.

On the other hand, the domestic violence victim’s love is through an unconditional lens which is why victims allow bad behavior to continue, and ignore red-flag behaviors. As hard as it is to hear, many victims enable their abusers by defending or excusing their possible or overt abusive behaviors.

There are many forms of domestic violence. The worst cases of domestic violence are those that impact children. The abuser does not have to be abusive toward the child in order to have an impact on that child’s psyche. Just the act of seeing or hearing the abuse gives the child an example of how two partners treat each other. If abuse is acceptable within the home while growing up, children start to think that these types of behaviors are normal and typically seek out and trust other abusers. Or they can become abusers themselves.

According to domesticviolence.org, examples of domestic violence include:

  • name-calling or putdowns
  • keeping a partner from contacting their family or friends
  • withholding money
  • stopping a partner from getting or keeping a job
  • actual or threatened physical harm
  • sexual assault
  • stalking
  • intimidation

If you have experienced any of the above you are a victim of domestic violence. This realization can bring shame, humiliation and depression. Sometimes it feels impossible for a victim to physically leave the abuser, which is not true. It may not be easy but it is possible to leave your abuser, even if you are alone or with children.

Domestic violence is not an economy-based crime, but according to Safe Horizons, domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness among families. Verbal abuse is just as harmful as physical abuse. Don’t let this happen to you!

Navigating the justice system can be confusing and intimidating, but it doesn’t have to feel impossible. Before taking any action, my recommendation to victims is to drop mistrust or fear of contacting law enforcement about abuse. Your local police department likely patrols your area and, if your abuse has been long-term, it’s possible that they are already aware of your situation. Call 911 at once if you feel in danger for your safety. Even if the response is slow, you can leave the line open and have the abuse documented.

Document, document, document. Keep call logs, letters, texts or anything else that can prove that you are in fear of your abuser.

Once you decide you are ready to leave your abuser, contact your local police department to file charges. You can go to your local Clerk of Court office to file an injunction or restraining order. If you have any physical injuries or damaged property, include that in your report. It is best to do this after you have already prepared a safe place to bug out for at least two or three days.

Bug out!

Once your abuser realizes that you have pressed charges, he or she will likely be angry. Be sure you have a safe place to stay and do not tell your abuser where you are. If you are married, you are not “kidnapping” your children by taking them with you. You are keeping them safe, the very definition of love.

Buying a TracFone can be helpful. With this temporary cellphone, you can keep in touch with law enforcement, loved ones, and find a domestic violence advocate. For a view of advocates in your state, contact NCADV.

It is advisable to not bug out alone. Go to a shelter, hotel or trusted friend’s home, and be sure that you are discrete in doing so.

Consider packing the following items in your bug out bag:

Food: Snacks and water for you and your children.

Contact Information: Phone numbers and addresses (including email) for all of your trusted contacts. Keep your abuser’s address, phone number, driver’s license number, social security number, car make and model and tag info on hand for law enforcement and the DOJ.

Cash: For gas and other expenses, so that your abuser cannot track you via credit or debit cards.

Paperwork and Documentation: It is important to have all of your original  identification, birth and marriage records, financial records, insurance and health records, as well as any legal documentation you have pertaining your case on your person at all times.

Electronics: As noted above, always have your cell phone and charger on you. You never know when your abuser may show up unexpectedly and you will need to dial 911. A camera and a flashlight are also advisable to have handy.

If you have children with you: Toys, games and necessities such as diapers, wipes and hand sanitizers are a must. Remember to bring their creature comforts, toys or blankets. Your children will need these things to help them during this difficult transition.

Don’t forget your toiletries! It is also strongly recommended that you carry at least pepper spray on your person at all times. This buys you a small amount of time to run or call 911 should your abuser try to harass or otherwise harm you. If weapons are involved, alert the authorities to this fact right away. This will not only prevent gun violence toward you but may also save a responder’s life.

After you bug out you will need to take steps to re-secure your home and get additional assistance. Your domestic violence advocate is a great place to start finding assistance. Depending on your state, there are many nonprofit groups and government agencies ready to jump at the chance to help a victim of domestic violence get through the most difficult times. You can find a list of government resources state-by-state here: www.justice.gov/ovw/local-resources

Be prepared, be safe and remember that the best defense a victim can have against an abuser is gut instinct. Never ignore your own red flags and intuition in any given situation with a potential partner. This may also save you from being a victim again.

Finally, be sure to seek counseling. While it may hardest to admit that you are a victim, you do not have to retain that title forever. Keep your head up, be humble and seek help for you and your children. A good place to start is a local crisis center. Be a survivor, not a statistic.

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