Communities and Justice

Staying safe after leaving a violent relationship

You still need to be on guard after leaving domestic and family violence. Your abuser might try to find you and your children. Here are some ways to stay safe after you leave.

1. Don't tell anyone where you are

Don't tell anyone the location of your safe place, whether it's a friend's place or a women's refuge. Don't tell your family or friends, or the abuser's family or friends. If you have children, let them know not to tell anyone where you are staying.

You are putting yourself, your children and other women and children's lives in danger by telling someone the location of a refuge.

When you check into a women's shelter or refuge, you may want to be extra cautious and use a made-up name.

2. Have an after-leaving safety plan

There is a chance that your abuser may be able to find you, despite how careful you are. It's a good idea to be prepared in case this happens by having a plan. Your plan could include:

  • calling the Police immediately, especially if you have an AVO against your abuser
  • calling your support network: friends, neighbours, family
  • ensuring your home is secure, so checking that all doors and windows have locks and outdoor and indoor lights work
  • talking to your children about what to do if the abuser appears.

If your abuser is at the door and begs and pleads for you to come back home, and saying that things will change – DO NOT GO. He is most likely saying anything to convince you to come home, but you're not going to be safe if you do go back.

Research shows that it is very difficult for many men to stop their violent behaviour. Attending a men’s behaviour change group is not a guarantee that he has changed or that you and the children will be safe.

If the abuser still has some of your things, you can always call Police to escort you to get them.

3. Apply for an AVO

If you haven't already done so, apply for an AVO. An Apprehended Violence Order is a court order banning a person from assaulting, harassing, threatening, stalking or intimidating you. If the person breaches (breaks) the AVO, they may be charged with a criminal offence.

If you already have an AVO out against your abuser and he breaks the order, call police and report him. If the AVO prevents your abuser from coming near your workplace, tell your employer. Report him if he comes to your work. Keep a copy of your order at work or in your bag.

4. Change your routine

If you are staying in the same area as your abuser, changing your routine can help to keep you safe. Changing your routine can include:

  • taking a new way to go to work
  • avoiding places where your abuser would find you, such as favourite shops and cafes
  • changing any appointments that they know about
  • shopping in different places
  • catching different trains or busses
  • leaving home or work at different hours.

If you see the abuser, get into a public or busy place as soon as possible. Have your phone ready to call Police on 000.

5. Staying safe at work

An abusive ex-partner can mean your place of work may not be a safe place, and doing your job may be hard if you're feeling fearful. Your abuser may make threatening calls or emails to your work, visit your workplace, or even harass your coworkers. This creates stress and puts you and everyone you work with at risk.

You may need to talk to your boss or supervisor about making some changes, such as working different hours, working at a different branch, store or office, and having security staff (if available) escort you to your car. Employers in NSW have a duty of care to provide employees, contractors and customers a safe workplace. They should be able to grant reasonable requests for survivors of domestic and family violence.

6. Get legal help

If you were married to your abuser, have children or property together, or are an immigrant, you will need the help of a lawyer. If you need to appear in Court regarding an AVO against your abuser, the Police will help you if you applied for it through them. If not, you will need legal counsel. Contact a lawyer through one of the free legal services available especially for people experiencing or have experienced domestic violence.

7. Practice online safety

If you need to have contact with your abuser – for example, to discuss custody of children, divorce or joint property – use email. This way you will have a record of what is being said and if any threats are made.

Change all of your passwords for all accounts, including banking, social media, and emails. You may even have to disable your social media accounts for awhile, or create a new one with a fake name and different email address. Change your mobile phone number and your phone too. Read more ways to practice online safety.

8. Take care of yourself

The stress and anxiety of planning to leave, then leaving the domestic violence situation you were in, is one of the most stressful and emotionally draining things you can do in your life. Surviving the abuse is not easy. Getting out takes a lot of strength.

Take care of yourself. Take as many moments as you can to rest and recharge. If you have children, you will need to be strong to take care of them and to prepare yourself for a brighter and healthier future. Ask for help from family, friends and neighbours if you can.

You'll also mostly likely be suffering from the impacts of domestic violence and abuse. Although most physical abuse will heal, the mental health impacts – including anxiety, intense fear, depression, phobias and insomnia – will take longer to heal.

It's best if you seek support and counselling. And this is OK. You've been through at lot. You may want to go to one-on-one therapy with a counsellor or group therapy where you share your stories with other survivors of domestic violence. Read more in 'Taking care of yourself'.

If you've moved to a new house

You may have moved to a different area to get away from your abuser so they can't find you. Besides taking the safety precautions listed above, you may want to:

  • change your child or children’s school
  • get an unlisted phone number and use caller ID
  • use a post office box rather than your home address
  • ask the Australian Electoral Commission for your name and address to be excluded from the published electoral role
  • cancel your bank accounts and credit cards, especially if you shared these
  • keep a mobile phone with you always, so you can call 000 if you feel unsafe
  • make sure your home is secure: locks on all windows and doors, indoor and outdoor lights works, installing sensor lights
  • park your car on the street instead of the driveway so you can't be blocked in.

The Northside Community Service has a Domestic and Family Violence Safety Planning Guide booklet that has helpful information for those who've left a violent relationship.

Help with housing

If you need help with long-term housing, you can apply for the Start Safely Subsidy, which helps with the cost of rent for people who are trying to leave or have left a domestic and family violence situation and need a secure place to live. Contact the FACS Housing office for more information about Start Safely and other social housing options.

Financial help

You may be eligible for financial help, including Crisis Payment. You can find out by calling Centrelink on 13 61 50 (if you have children) or 13 28 50 (if you don't have children).

Last updated:

07 Oct 2022