The role of a protective order and escape plan in domestic violence

Victims of abuse may be able to leave their abusive spouses with the help of law enforcement and domestic violence organizations.

Those who are hoping to escape an abusive relationship are not alone. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, over 10 million women and men every year in the United States are abused by their partners. Each minute of every day, about 20 people per minute are physically harmed by their significant others. Domestic violence is such a pervasive problem that it makes up 15 percent of all violent crimes in Washington and elsewhere in the country.

Is domestic violence strictly physical?

Spousal abuse does not have to involve physical harm to count as abuse. In many ways, emotional and verbal abuse can cause lasting, devastating harm to victims. Abusers who previously never struck their victims may also become physically violent at some point. There are a few common characteristics that most abusers share, which include the following:

• An attempt to manipulate, control and completely dominate the other person

• Threats, belittling and systematic destruction of self-esteem to make the victim dependent on the abuser

• Isolating victims from friends and family and restricting them from having access to money, transportation, communication and employment

• Abuse that gradually increases in severity and frequency

Children are especially vulnerable victims of domestic abuse, points out Safe Horizon. They may suffer from emotional and physical problems at home and at school. Long-term exposure to abuse may affect children for life. This is why it is important to protect children by seeking a parenting arrangement that shields them from abuse.

A protective order and escape plan may help

One way victims may protect themselves and their children is by seeking a protective order. This court-issued document, states The National Domestic Violence Hotline, provides legal protection to abuse victims by prohibiting an abuser from contacting or approaching them. It will not guarantee safety, but may be a deterrent to abusers who wish to avoid arrest.

It may also help for victims to come up with an escape plan before attempting to leave an abusive spouse. This may include setting aside emergency cash in a safe place, if possible, as well as extra clothing, belongings and important documents. Evidence of physical abuse should be documented and reported to the authorities. It may help to let a trusted family member or friend know about the abuse and the plans to escape, so they may help where possible. Learning the locations and phone numbers of abuse shelters and law enforcement agencies is also important.

It may be difficult to get out of an abusive relationship. However, an escape may be possible with the help of an experienced Washington family law attorney and organizations dedicated to protecting abuse victims.