In the previous post, Alcohol and Violence, we defined different types of violence and discussed domestic abuse. Additionally, we looked at the research on alcohol and violence. In this post, we address the specifics of how to protect yourself and your children if your loved one becomes violent or threatens harm to any of you.
It is critical to know that you do not cause someone to react with violence – it is a choice among many that they make in the moment. Nonetheless, there are things you can say or do that may cause your loved one’s violent behavior to escalate.
Regardless of how much you want to make a point or win an argument, if doing so puts you and/your children at risk, it is not worth. While you may be tired of looking the other way, turning the other cheek and taking the high road when it comes to the alcohol or drug use, while s/he is under the influence and angry enough to lose control it is not the best time for a confrontation (or discussion) with your loved one.
What to do if you feel afraid. . .
If your loved one is angry, yelling and making threats during a confrontation, remember this:
- Drop it – your safety and that of your children is more important than winning an argument.
- If s/he does not let it go, leave the room and take your children. Do so calmly so as not to provoke an already volatile situation. Go to a room near an outside door. Get your keys if possible without increasing your danger level.
- Should your loved one follow you to the other room and continue the aggressive behavior, go outside with your children. People are less likely to physically harm you if other people can see it. If you can, lock yourself and your kids in the car and leave or run to a neighbor’s home.
- Call 911 for help – especially if there has been violence in the past. This is not the time to worry about what the neighbors will think – safety is your first priority.
- Leave if you are concerned that there is any further risk of harm to you or your children. Go to the nearest police station. They will contact a women’s emergency shelter if you don’t have a safe place to go.
- The homes of friends and family members are usually the first place a spouse/partner will look for you; if you want/need time away, go to a motel/hotel a safe distance from home.
- If you can’t get out of the house or call for help, try to lock yourself and your children in a room together where you can climb out the window.
Those who have experienced episodes of violence in the past are advised by professionals to develop a safety plan. A safety plan includes the following:
- Pack a bag for you and your children; keep it somewhere that it cannot be found.
- Get an extra set of keys made to your car and home; keep those and enough money to stay in a motel/hotel for a few days in an easily accessible place.
- Decide on a place where you can go and make arrangements, ie. a person from work that your spouse/partner does not know – avoid places where s/he can find you.
- If you don’t have a person to stay with, decide on a local hotel or motel where your car will not be easily recognized. If you are very concerned about your safety, consider signing in under a different name and/or going out of town.
- If you can’t afford a hotel/motel, go to the police station or contact the local emergency shelter. You can always call the national domestic violence hotline and they will help you find local services (1-800-799-7233). Save this number in your cell phone under a different name.
- If you are concerned that your children may be taken from school or day care, alert the school or day care staff that nobody but you can sign them out.
- Get an order of protection if you feel the need. The local domestic violence agency can help with this.
- If you get a protection order or just feel unsafe going back into your home, take the police with you if you go back home to get personal items.
- Use your discretion in telling your children about the safety plan; talk about it as akin to a fire drill, but let them know that it is serious and they need to follow the plan if things get scary. They may tell him/her about the safety plan – weigh this possibility carefully.
A few other important things to know about domestic abuse:
- Marriage counseling is not recommended in cases where there is active violence or recent episodes of violence in the past. Each person will need individual therapy and the therapists will decide when and if couples therapy is appropriate.
- Anger management classes that are often ordered by the court are not usually effective for people with a history of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is not about anger – it is about power and control.
- In cases where alcohol or drug abuse is involved, the person usually needs to address those issues before working on other issues.
- Deciding to leave can be a long process that takes time and planning. If things are dangerous for you or your children, talk to a professional domestic violence advocate who can advise you on how to safely leave. There are shelters that offer assistance, including legal support.
- Do not leave evidence that you are seeking help for domestic abuse. A business card, email or site in the web browser that can be easily seen is often a trigger that places you at greater risk.
- People are most at risk when they try to leave – proceed carefully if there is a history of violence.
Remember, you do not cause your loved one to act violently, but there are things that you can do to keep you and your children safe(r). Using the tips above, the resources at the National Domestic Violence hotline and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV, and your local domestic violence resources (you can find links to your state domestic violence hotlines on the NCADV website) you can use strategies and create plans to keep you safe. If you are reading the self-help book on CRAFT written by the its creator, Dr. Robert Meyers (the book is titled “Get Your Loved One Sober”) I highly recommend the chapter on domestic violence. It helps you identify the warning signs of violence for your loved one and talks about practical tips on how to create safety plans. Stay safe.