As a victim of abuse, you have the power to become a survivor and we can help.
First and foremost, know that you are not alone. People from all backgrounds – ages, races, religions, gender / gender identity, sexual orientations – have suffered and survived abuse. That is why Attorney Foley-Rothrock has founded the Red Tent Initiative. We empower victims to become survivors and survivors to become leaders in the fight to end domestic violence, human trafficking, and other forms of abuse. If you have been abused, we can get you the help that you need and find the options available to obtain lawful immigration status if you don’t have it. These cases have been a focus of Attorney Alison Foley-Rothrock’s immigration practice since before graduating law school.
This is a plan to ensure your safety and that of your children, if there are children in the home. Even if you are not ready to leave your abuser, there are important things that you can do to make sure that your rights are protected and that you are as safe as possible.
Safeguard Your Documents
A common tactic of abusers is to confiscate or destroy personal documents, such as passports, ID’s, birth and marriage certificates. If this has already happened, we can assist you in obtaining new documents and safeguard them for you. If you still have them, consider giving them to a trusted friend or family member (being very careful who you choose as abuse often runs in families), asking your pastor or counselor to hold them, or entrusting them to your attorney. Pastors, counselors, and attorneys all have a special duty to protect you and your privacy and are not allowed to tell your spouse, partner, or anyone else anything about you without your special permission.
If none of these is an option, at least make sure that important documents are hidden and make copies that you keep somewhere else, just in case. Email them to yourself or someone else. Fax them. Put them in a safety deposit box at a bank you do not share with the abuser. You should also make copies of your abuser’s birth certificate and green card or naturalization (citizenship) certificate, as well as your marriage certificate, and any bills or other documents showing that you have lived at the same address if you can do so safely. These will be important later to show you are eligible for immigration status.
Tell Someone You Trust
Being abused often brings a sense of shame and fear. Talking to someone is an important step toward taking back the power that your abuser has stolen from you. The more we talk about the abuses we have suffered, the more we discover that having been a victim is no cause for shame and unfortunately an experience that we share with many others in our communities. Whether it’s a coworker, your child’s teacher, a nurse, a neighbor, even your hairdresser… just be sure that that it is someone who will not tell your abuser. Depending on your situation, you may create a way to let them know that you need help, such as a code word or letting the phone ring a certain number of times and then hanging up. If the first person that you tell isn’t helpful, talk to someone else. It’s hard to do at first, but becomes easier the more you do it. It will help you build the confidence that you need to take the next step. You’ll find that most of the people that you meet have experienced or witnessed similar abuse against friends or family. The most likely response will be sympathy and a desire to help you. If you cannot find someone that you trust in your local community, there are people in your area who are specially trained to be that person for you. Our not-for-profit agency, the Red Tent Initiative, works to help victims of domestic and sexual violence and human trafficking. We can help you.
Prepare an Exit Strategy
You are probably hoping that it will stop, that your partner or parent will live up to the promises not to do it again, to get help, to stop drinking or using drugs… Yet every time something brings out that anger and no matter how you try, nothing makes it better. Every time, the abuses are getting worse. What seemed like attentiveness in the beginning becomes controlling jealousy. Angry words turn into throwing and breaking things. Breaking things turns into pushing and hair pulling. A slap turns into punching and kicking. Each time that you forgive them, you hope that things will get better but this time is worse than the last and you fear the next time will be truly awful, maybe even deadly. You know that you need to leave to protect yourself. If children are in the home, do it to protect your children. A good parent not only shows love and tenderness towards their children, he or she also respects their partner and teaches their children to do the same. The only way to stop abuse in the home is to get one of you out of the home.
How? When? Where will you go? Preparing a strategy will give you the confidence you need to take the biggest and most important step. If a police report has been filed, the abuser will be removed from the home and restrained from coming back or harassing you. A restraining order from the family court will also protect you, not only from physical abuse, but from stalking and other forms of harassment. It’s important to have both when you can because the civil restraining order will remain in place even if the authorities do not prosecute the abuser or let them go with a minimal punishment.
Talk to that friend or neighbor and let them know what you want to do. Pack a bag with a few things that you need, enough for a night or two but not so much that your abuser will notice things are missing. Have your trusted friend or neighbor hold the bag or hide it. If a trusted friend is willing, have them meet you and accompany you to the police station, family court, and/or a safe place where you can stay (if you’ve decided to leave the home). If you don’t have friends or family who can take you in or the money to stay on your own, local shelters and counseling providers have people who can come to you and pick you up and give you a safe place to stay.
Once you leave, do not look back. No matter what the abuser tells you, how they threaten or what sweet things they say or do to convince you. Going back will only make it harder to leave the next time and tell the abuser that their actions have no consequences and the abuse will get worse. If you tried before and something didn’t work out, try again. Keep trying until you get it. Life with an abuser is no kind of life at all.