I appreciate reading all the wonderful Facebook posts from friends about how wonderful it is for them to put side the laptop or tablet to play charades or Scrabble with their families. Lots of warm and wonderful talk about rediscovering human connections.
As a former victim of domestic violence, however, I remember the grim times decades ago with my first husband. There was the night he missed the deadline for alcohol sales on Christmas Eve, and no bars were open. Or the time a snowstorm kept him from getting to a bar to drink so he stayed home and got drunk and meaner. Those were the nights I would carefully go through the house and make sure there were no knives or scissors in view. I figured I stood a fighting chance against fists, kicks and attempts to choke me, but if he ever picked up a weapon . . .
Being cooped up together with little or no relief can fray tempers among the best of us. Cranky kids tired of being cold can up the ante. And people whose coping mechanisms include leaving the house to cool off are less likely to do so when the temperature is in single digits outside.
My point is not to make the people who are finding the ice storm a chance to enjoy each other feel guilty. I am delighted to be in a great relationship where being landlocked is fun. But many of us know someone who may be at risk. This might be the time to take them out for a cup of coffee. Offer to take the kids for a while. Take them a pot of hot soup and a deck of cards.
This is also a time when pets may be more likely to have accidents in the home. Throw a box of piddle pads into the gift box.
And if you are someone at risk, take a moment to put the knives in the drawer and put away the scissors. Think of some positive activities to suggest before tonight’s blast of cold and wind arrive.
You know who you are, even if you aren’t telling.
Tips for domestic violence victims
The following is a compilation of safety strategies from domestic violence coalitions around the country put together by Florida International University. Remember that none of these is guaranteed to work, but they offered as strategies to consider.
- Identify your partner’s use and level of force so that you can assess danger to you and your children before it occurs. If an abusive situation seems likely, try to diffuse your partner’s anger. Swallow your pride, if necessary, and agree with your partner to avoid an episode of violence.
- Try to avoid an abusive situation by leaving. Go for a walk, and let your partner cool down.
- Identify safe areas of the house where there are no weapons and there are always ways of escape. If arguments occur, try to move to those areas.
- Don’t run to where the children are as your partner may hurt them as well.
- If violence is unavoidable, make yourself a small target; dive into a corner and curl up into a ball with you face protected and arms around each side of your head, fingers entwined.
- If possible, have a phone accessible at all times and know the numbers to call for help. Know where the nearest pay phone is located. Know you local battered women’s shelter number. Don’t be afraid to call the police.
- Let trusted friends and neighbors know of your situation and develop a plan and visual signal for when you need help.
- Teach your children how to get help. Instruct them not to get involved in the violence between you and your partner. Plan a code word to signal to them that they should get help.
- Tell your children that violence is never right even when someone they love is being violent. Tell them that neither you nor they are at fault or cause the violence, and that whenever your partner is being violent, it is important for them to keep themselves safe.
- Practice how to get out safely. Practice with your children.
- Plan for what you will do if, for instance, your children somehow tell your partner of your plan or if your partner otherwise finds out about your plan.
- Keep weapons like guns and knives locked up and as inaccessible as possible.
- Make a habit of backing the car into the driveway and keep it fueled. Keep the driver’s door unlocked and others locked for a quick escape.
- Develop the habit of not wearing scarves or long necklaces that could be used to strangle you.
- Have several plausible reasons for leaving the house at different times of the day or night.
- Keep any evidence of physical abuse, such as pictures, etc., in a safe place that is accessible for you.
- Develop the habit of keeping your purse and keys together and near an exit. When things heat up, try to stay close to that exit.
- Remember that your abuser may use your cellphone to track you. If eligible, consider applying for the low-income cellphone program (sometimes called the Obamaphone) without letting the abuser know.
Getting Ready to Leave
- Know where you can go to get help; tell someone you trust what is happening to you.
- If you are injured, go to a doctor or an emergency room and report what happened to you. Ask that they document your visit.
- Plan with your children and identify a safe place for them (for example, a room within your home that has a lock or a friend’s house where they can go for help). Reassure them that their job is to stay safe, not to protect you.
- Contact your local battered women’s shelter and find out about laws and other resources available to you before you have to use them during a crisis.
- Keep a journal of all violent incidences involving your abuser those aimed at yourself and those aimed at others.
- Acquire job skills as you can, such as learning to type or taking courses at a community college.
- You may request a police stand-by or escort while you leave.
- If you need to sneak away, be prepared:
- Make a plan for how and where you will escape, and include a plan for a quick escape;
- Put aside emergency money as you can;
- Hide an extra set of car keys; and
- Pack an extra set of clothes for yourself and your children and store them at a trusted friend or neighbor’s house. Try to avoid using next-door neighbors, close family members and mutual friends, if at all possible.
- Take with you a list of important phone numbers of friends, relatives, doctors, schools, etc., as well as other important items, including: driver’s license; regularly needed medication; checkbooks and information about bank accounts and other assets; list of credit cards held by self or jointly, or the credit cards themselves if you have access to them; and pay stubs.
- If time is available, also take: copy of marriage license, birth certificates, will and other legal documents; verification of social security numbers; citizenship documents (passport, green card, etc.); titles, deeds and other property information; welfare identification; medical records; children’s school records and immunization records;insurance information; and valued pictures, jewelry, or personal possessions.
- Create a false trail. Call motels, real estate agencies, schools in a town at least six hours away from where you actually are located. Ask questions that require a call back to your current house in order to leave numbers on record with your abuser.
After Leaving the Abusive Relationship
If getting a restraining order and your abuser is leaving:
- Change residence locks and phone number as soon as possible;
- Change your work hours and the route you take to work;
- Change regular route you use to take your children to school;
- Keep your copy of the restraining order in a safe place;
- Inform friends, neighbors and employers that you have a restraining order in effect; and
- Always call the police to enforce the order even for is the slightest violation.
If you leave:
- Consider renting a post office box for your mail or using the address of a friend;
- Be aware that addresses are on restraining orders and police reports and can be accessed by your abuser;
- Be careful to whom you give your new address and phone number; and
- Change your work hours if possible.
- Alert school authorities of the situation, and the fact that a restraining order is in place.
- Consider changing your children’s schools.
- After you leave, reschedule any appointments that your abuser was aware of before you left.
- Shop at different stores and frequent different social spots than you previously frequented so your abuser will be less likely to find you.
- Alert neighbors of your situation, and request that they call the police if they feel you may be in danger.
- Talk to trusted people about the violence.
- Replace doors with solid-core wood, steel or metal doors. Install security systems, if possible.
- Install a lighting system that lights up when a person is coming close to the house (motion sensitive lights).
- Tell your co-workers about the situation; ask their assistance in screening all calls you receive during office hours.
- Explicitly inform your children’s caretakers about children who is allowed to pick up the children and that your partner is not allowed to do so.
- . Call your telephone company about “Caller ID.” Ask that your phone be blocked, so that if you make the phone call, your partner nor anyone else will be able to get your new, unlisted phone number.