Safety tips for leaving

If your abuser is highly volatile, violent, or unstable then please watch out for your own safety.  Abusers may have an extreme reaction to being humiliated or feeling like they’re not in control when you leave.

Browsing privacy: If you haven’t left yet and your abuser has access to your computer, you can hide your browsing history by using the Incognito/Private browsing mode on your browser.

  • Chrome: Crtl + Shift + N for a new Incognito Window
  • Firefox and Edge:  Crtl + Shift + P for a new Private Window

To clear your browsing history:

  • Chrome: go into Settings → Search settings (at the top) → search for “clear browsing data” → select the time range that you would like to clear → check all of the boxes → click “Clear data”.
  • For other browsers, do a Google search for browser name + clear browsing data.

Keep important items handy: You can keep a bag of items to take with you if you need to quickly flee: money, medications, some clothing, government documents, cell phone + charger, water bottle, umbrella, etc.  Keep a checklist of items that aren’t in the bag if you don’t/can’t store them in there.

When you are ready to leave, here are some things to keep in mind:

You can leave in secret:  To avoid triggering your abuser, don’t tell them about your plans to leave.  If you really have to talk to them or contact them, wait until after you have left and you are somewhere safe.  You don’t have to needlessly endanger yourself.

Domestic violence shelters and helplines may have resources that can help you:  Shelters can have case workers who can help you assemble a safety plan for leaving.  They may also have other resources available to you such as transport to the shelter, a victim advocate to help you file a restraining order, etc.

Government documents (e.g. birth certificate, passport, etc.): Try to get the originals if you can.  If you can’t get them right away, you can come back at a later time for the originals.  If drama would ensue, call up the police department’s non-emergency number and ask if they can send a police officer to help you retrieve your documents and other possessions.  If you can’t do that, get the documents replaced (it will take some time and some fees).

Proof of address: It is generally a good idea to have a document that can be used as proof of address such as your passport, driver’s license, or a utility/phone bill/bank statement with your name and address on it.

Location services on your phone: These can give away your location in different ways.

  • Apple’s Find my iPhone app/feature can be used to locate your iPhone. You can change the password on your AppleID account, make sure that it isn’t linked to your family accounts, and disable Location Services on your iPhone.

  • If you have an Android phone, somebody may be able to log into your Google account and check the location of your phone. You can change your password and setup 2-factor authentication.

Many smartphones will store the location (GPS coordinates) of where the photo was taken in the metadata portion of the image file.  To disable this:

  • iPhone:  Go to Settings → Privacy → Location Services → Camera.  Then find the line entry for “Camera” and select “Never”.
  • Android:  Instructions vary from phone to phone.  Go into the camera app’s quick settings to see if you can turn the feature off.  Otherwise, perform a quick Google search to figure it out (e.g. name of phone + disable photo location).

While most image hosting sites will strip out the location metadata, not all do.

The second way that you can give away your location is by posting on social media.  Many social media apps and websites will store a history of locations that you have been.  When you post a photo, it may automatically tag your location in that photo.  The photo itself may give away your city, e.g. if you post about going to a particular restaurant.  The simplest solution is to avoid sharing details of your life on social media and to disable location services on your phone except for the apps that really need them (e.g. GPS for driving).

To prevent an abuser (such as a parent) from harassing you with a missing persons report, pick one or both:

  • After you are safely gone, send them a message to let them know that you are gone and safe.

  • Contact your local police department to let them know that you are safe and to ignore missing persons reports from your abuser.

(Optional) Get a new phone number and social media accounts so that it would be difficult for your abuser to contact you if you are planning on going No Contact with them.

Bank accounts: If you don’t control your bank account (e.g. joint accounts), withdraw the money in cash. Cash transactions can’t be reversed and your abuser will have a hard time figuring out where the money went.  They won’t know about your new bank account.  If you are not comfortable with handling a large amount of cash (e.g. several thousand dollars) at once, you could ask your bank about other ways of transferring large amounts of cash.  If you use a wire transfer, they may be able to see where it went.

Change passwords on everything so that your abuser can’t spy on you.  This includes:

  • Email
  • Social media – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.
  • Your Google Account
  • Apple ID
  • Phone account
  • Enable 2-factor authentication on your important accounts for extra security.

If your abuser is paying for your phone, they may be able to see all of your text messages, who you’ve called, etc. Take control of your own phone number or simply get a completely new one that your abuser does not know about.

Tracking software: If you suspect that your abuser has installed tracking software on your phone or computer, do a factory reset on your phone and scan your desktop/laptop for spyware (programs for spying on a user) using free programs such as Windows Defender. If your abuser is extremely computer savvy, you may need to reinstall the operating system on your computer and/or scan for rootkits (e.g. Malwarebytes’ free rootkit scanner).

Identity theft: If you think that your abuser (e.g. a parent) may steal your identity (so that they can take out loans in your name), place a freeze on your credit rating and/or look into a credit monitoring service. See Reddit.com/r/personalfinance/wiki/identity_theft

If your abuser may try to contact your school, workplace, bank, or doctor to get personal information from you, instruct them to only provide your personal information to specific persons.

Domain registrations: If you register an Internet domain, be aware that sites like Domain Tools keep a record of every change in registration information.  To get around that, purchase domain privacy with your domain.  Some registrars such as Namecheap now automatically bundle domain privacy with their domain registration for free.

Keeping your mailing address confidential:  Many states have an address confidentiality program which allows stalking victims to receive mail at a confidential address while keeping their actual address undisclosed.  Wikipedia has a list of such programs with contact information for each state.

If stalking or harassment continues after you leave, see this article on getting a restraining order against your abuser.