Communities and Justice

How to leave a violent relationship safely

It is everybody's right to feel safe and be treated with respect and love in a relationship. No one should live in fear. It will often take time before taking the final steps to leave your abusive or violent partner or situation. It will be often be hard and require lots of courage.

In any abusive relationship, the responsibility for the abuse is always with the abuser. No one else can control or change that behaviour.

It's important to be aware that the time leading up to and just after leaving can be the most dangerous for a person leaving abuse. Telling the abuser that the relationship is over can result in an increase in violence.

Leaving a violent relationship will take planning and support. The following are suggestions of things to be considered when planning to leave.

Leaving plan

1. Build a support network

Talk to a trusted friend or family member. Don't try to cope alone.

You may be pulling away from friends because of shame or embarrassment. Or maybe the abuser is controlling and won't let you talk to or see anyone without their permission. You may feel that you have no one to turn to for help.

Try to reach out to someone you trust. You may be surprised and relieved to find they will listen and help you.

2. Speak to a support services worker

Talk about your situation with a trained support services worker or professional counsellor. They can help you create a plan for your and your children's safety, explain how to get a protection order (also called an AVO), how to get emergency accommodation at a women's shelter, access longer-term social housing, and get numbers to call for free legal advice. To talk to a support services worker, call:

3. Have a safety plan

A safety plan is a plan of how to keep you and your children safe while living with domestic and family violence, and the actions you can take if there is serious risk of harm and you need to leave in a hurry. Let your support network know about your safety plan and practice it with your children in case you have to escape quickly.

It's a good idea to have an 'emergency bag' ready. This will contain such things as clothes, cash, legal documents, and other items. You may want to keep it at a friend's or family member's place. Read about what to pack in your emergency bag and how to create a safety plan and an escape plan. If you can, do a practice run to your safe place.

Sometimes abusers may threaten to hurt the family dog, cat or other pets if you leave. Read I have pets to see what you can do to keep them safe.

4. Save some money

Having some cash or a hidden bank account or credit card can help. You may want to keep the cash or cards in your emergency bag.

You can open up a bank account online or apply for a credit card, but make sure you practice online safety and get your statements sent to a work address, post office box or trusted friend's home It's a good idea to use a friend's computer or a computer that the abuser doesn't have access to.

Some major banks and financial institutions also now offer an assistance package for victims of domestic an family violence. Call your bank to see if they offer one.

You may also be eligible for a  crisis payment and other support from the Australian government. Urgent money help: where to get help if you're in a crisis also has helpful information

5. Practice web and tech safety

An abusive partner or ex-partner may be tracking your mobile phone calls and the websites you visit. Read about how to delete your mobile call and web browsing history in 'Staying safe online'. It's also best that you leave behind your mobile once you leave your domestic violence situation, as there are apps that can trace your location through your mobile. If possible, buy a prepaid phone just before or after you escape. Please read and put into place our other online safety tips and after-leaving safety tips.

6. Get legal advice

Get some free legal advice. If you share children and property with the abuser, then it's best to know what your legal rights are. For example, they may tell "you won't get a cent if you leave" or "you won't get custody of the children" or "you'll never see the kids again". This is often not true and is best answered with legal help and advice.

7. Keep a record of the abuse and violence

Gathering evidence of the abuse is important, especially if you've been keeping to yourself and haven't told anyone of the violence and abusive behaviours. Having a record of the abuse will also help any legal action in the future, especially if you share children or property.

Take pictures of injuries, destroyed items, broken furniture, a trashed room during a violent rage, bloody clothing or towels, pics of any physical injuries to you or the children, and any records of visits to the hospital or doctor. Records of medical treatment in Emergency will help prove your case if you are applying for an AVO (protection order), seeking custody of the children or getting a divorce.

8. Find a safe place

If you and your children need to leave in a hurry, then you can call to see if beds are available at your nearest women's shelter and refuge. It is a safe and secure place, usually a group of units or rooms, where you and your children can stay anywhere from 2 days to a few months. Read more in 'I want to leave but need a place to stay'.

Another option is to stay with a friend or relative. Try to stay with someone your abusive partner or ex-partner doesn't know or isn't an obvious person you'd go to, and whose address is also unknown to them.

Numbers to call for available women's shelters and refuges:

9. Contact the police

Contact the police and ask to speak to the Domestic Violence Liaison Officer. They can help you with getting a protection order and be on standby when you leave your violent or abusive situation to ensure you're safe, and also if you need to collect your belongings later.

10. Leave during a safe time

It's best to leave when your abuser is out of the house, ideally, for a few hours. Unless, of course, you need to leave immediately. Give yourself and your kids time to get your emergency bag and some personal belongings or toys and go to your safe place as soon as possible.

You do not have to leave a note or explain why you are leaving. It is OK for you and your children to just leave the abusive and violent situation.

If you don't have a car, make sure you have arranged transport such as a friend who can pick you up, a taxi, a scheduled train or bus. Remember you can call Police to pick you up and take you to a safe place if you feel you're in immediate or potential danger.

Last updated:

14 Oct 2022