By Candice Smith
Domestic violence, also referred to as intimate partner abuse or violence effects some 1.3 million women, and over 800,000 men in the United States alone. On a global scale an estimated 640 million women have experienced some form of domestic and intimate partner sexual violence in their life. It's a cycle of abuse that is traumatizing, humiliating, and terrifying.
A woman never enters a relationship with the intent of being a victim of domestic violence. Abusers often times have a way of slowly sucking women into their cycle of abuse, and before long women who thought that they would never be "that woman", find themselves trying to find a way out.
Surprisingly many women stay in toxic relationships longer than they should, simply because they aren't being physically abused, but abuse extends further than slaps in the face, and black eyes. Domestic violence looks like being verbally abused, being called derogatory words like b*tch, stupid, worthless, verbal threats of violence, or excessive yelling. It can also look like your husband or intimate partner limiting your access to finances (one reason why I recommend that all women have a secret account that their spouse does not know about.), controlling all the money in the house without your input or consent, giving you a small "allowance" without your input, sabotaging your ability to get education or advance your career, living in your home without working or helping out around the home, threatening to cut your access to money during arguments, and making sure you stay financially dependent on them. Other forms of abuse include being isolated or cut off from your family and friends, being forced to have sex or participate in sexual acts you find degrading or humiliating, and even having sex, and physical affection withheld from you.
Perhaps you may find yourself living abroad and in a domestically violent relationship. Depending on your cultural, and financial situation, leaving may be a matter of simply packing up your bags and leaving the relationship, for other women it may not be so easy.
Maybe you have children with your abusive spouse, maybe you are married into a family or into a culture where people turn a blind eye to domestic violence. Who do you turn to? Who can you trust? Where do you go? There are a lot of things to consider when preparing to leave an abusive relationship, especially as an expat.
Firstly don't beat yourself up if you have found yourself in an abusive relationship. If you have reached the place where you have found the courage to leave or are even considering leaving be proud that you have come to this point in your journey.
Do you have someone in your circle that you can trust? I highly suggest not telling anyone in your husband/significant other's family that you are leaving or considering leaving. In many cultures abuse is just something that women are expected to silently suffer through for the sake of family image or for the children. Also their loyalty will likely lie with your husband or significant other and they may thwart your plans of leaving by telling him (or her), which could lead to further abuse. Tell a trusted friend that can help you to plan your escape.
Look for public agencies that can help you plan your escape, and/or house you (and your children) temporarily while you transition into your new location away from you abusive spouse. If your internet/phone usage is being monitored by your spouse then ask a trusted friend or family member to do the research and make arrangements for leaving. Organizations like Global Network of Women's Shelters is an amazing resource that works to strengthen and unite women's shelters on a global scale.
Seek legal counsel. Seeking legal counsel is necessary if you are legally married and especially if you have children and live in a country where the father will have legal custody of the children upon divorce. You may also need legal counsel to obtain a restraining order or protective order against your spouse.
Get mental health counseling. No matter what stage of leaving you might be in be sure to get mental health services or coaching. There is nothing shameful in reaching out to a mental health professional that can help you to get clear on where you need to be mentally in order to leave your abusive relationship far in the past and embrace self love. There is absolutely nothing normal about being abused, and you deserve to feel safe, and to experience true happiness.