HOW TO PLAN YOUR EXIT STRATEGY FROM AN ABUSE RELATIONSHIP
First things first
Economic abuse often occurs alongside other forms of abuse. It is commonly part of a pattern of behaviour called coercive control or controlling behaviour. If you are in immediate danger, call the police on 10111 or the report the matter on the GBV Command Centre on their website: https://gbv.org.za/ or contact them in one of the following ways:
The Centre operates an Emergency Line number – 0800 428 428. This is supported by a USSD, “please call me” facility: *120*7867#. A Skype Line ‘Helpme GBV’ for members of the deaf community also exists. (Add ‘Helpme GBV’ to your Skype contacts). An SMS Based Line 31531 for persons with disabilities (SMS ‘help’ to 31531) also exists. The Centre is able to refer calls directly to SAPS (10111) and field Social Workers who respond to victims of GBV.
Make an effort to understand your current financial status clearly. Find out what assets, accounts, and debts are in your name if you can. The abuser may have hidden this information from you.
You may want to start by asking yourself:
Do you possess assets like a house, a car, or savings?
Are you personally (or jointly) liable for any debts, such as credit card, mortgage, or loan obligations?
Is the lease, if you are renting, in your name?
Are the accounts your responsibility and do you have to pay them monthly?
Do you have a cheque or savings account?
Gather as much documents that you can. Do this only if you can do it safely. You could require copies of these records to receive SASSA benefits, open a bank account, or begin a new employment, among other things. Important paperwork to look out for includes:
passport and ID documents (and your children’s)
birth certificate (and your children’s)
documents related to your home ownership or rental agreement
utility bills in your name, including municipal accounts, electricity, water and TV licence
details of any credit cards in both your names
pay slips, SARS documents
details of any benefits you are receiving (pension etc)
account details or savings accounts for your children’s accounts
If the abuser also resides in your house, you might choose to keep these documents there rather than with a trusted friend or family member. Scan copies, a photo, or a screenshot of the documents may also be helpful if you can’t bring the originals with you safely.
Sort out your accounts that you pay monthly
Take the following actions to organize your accounts, if you can:
Get in touch with the utility companies: Try to inform the utility company of your departure. Water, municipal accounts, cellphone, internet, and TV are examples of utilities. By letting them know when you depart, you can contest any further charges.
Get in touch with your landlord or bank: Inform your landlord if you share a rental unit with the abuser and have already left or intend to do so. It could be able to talk to them about your position and describe the abuse you’ve endured. Ask your landlord if they can be flexible if your lease specifies that you and the abuser are jointly responsible for paying the rent.
Secure your bank accounts
Try to, if it’s safe to do so:
Establish a new bank account
This is a crucial step to take if you do not already have a bank account in your own name so that you can get benefits or income and pay bills. Open an account with a different bank if you previously shared an account with the abuser and/or you are aware of their banking information. By doing this, the chance that the abuser may link accounts and gain access to your new address will be reduced.
Put joint accounts on hold
You can ask the bank to freeze the joint account you have with the person abusing you if you have one. This can be a crucial step in preventing the abuser from taking all the money out or running up an account overdraft. Before the account is frozen, you might want to make a withdrawal since you won’t be able to after it is. All identified account holders must agree to the account being unfrozen.
Think carefully about whether freezing your account could cause additional damage. Keep in mind that if you use a joint account after you’ve left, the abuser may be able to find you (e.g., through cash machine locations or on bank statements).
Change your online banking PIN number and password if you believe the abuser has access to them or could figure them out. Use PINs and passwords that they wouldn’t think of since they will know things like the year you were born, your mother’s maiden name, and the name of your pet. It is also advisable to change the passwords of your cellphone (very important) as well as all your email accounts.
Get financial help
Consider setting up an escape fund that would enable you to flee if the abuser restricts your access to money. Ask yourself if you can do this safely and avoid the abuser’s knowledge.
Request a loan from friends or family
Sell unwanted goods for cash that won’t be missed
If you get a monthly allowance, try putting aside a little sum of money each time as an emergency fund, such as change from grocery purchases
Decide beforehand what do you want to take with you
Consider the goods that, in addition to whatever money you may have, you might want to take with you if you decide to leave. You might maintain an emergency bag in a place that is away from the abuser, if it is safe to do so. Before leaving, you may hand it off to a dependable friend or relative.
Remember to take these things with you if you decide to leave:
Identification, such as birth certificates and passports (for yourself and your children)
Documents related to your financial situation and your housing (such as mortgage details or rental agreements).
Phone numbers of people you can contact, including family, friends and support services
A list of services you will need to update with your new contact details so the abuser can’t access your accounts
Any medication for you and your children
Clothing and toiletries for you and your children
Cards and keys
Documentation relating to the abuse, including any police reports or crime reference numbers and court orders (such as injunctions and restraining orders). Messages, emails, diaries and photos may also be useful
Small items of sentimental value
Find somewhere safe to stay
Family and friends
Do you have any friends or relatives you could temporarily stay with? Consider whether it would be safe for you to stay with them and whether you would need to contribute financially.
Keep to your secure house
You might be able to obtain a Protection Order that stipulates that the abuser might not enter certain rooms of the home (such as your bedroom) or the property if you do not want to leave or feel unable to do so. You could also ask the court to issue an order compelling the abuser to leave the house
HOW WILL MY CHILDREN BE AFFECTED BY THE VIOLENCE?
If you have kids, you’ve undoubtedly done everything you can to protect them from domestic violence. Maybe you’re hoping they’re unaware of what’s going on. However, the majority of homes with children where abuse is occurring will have children who are aware of it and frequently hear or see it happening.
There are many different ways that kids can experience domestic violence. For instance, kids might hear the abuse or witness one parent’s physical injuries after an act of violence while they are in another room, or they might be made to participate in verbally attacking the victim if they are present in the same room as the incident and try to stop it. Children are entirely dependent on the adults in their lives, and if they don’t feel safe at home, this can have a variety of detrimental medical and emotional impacts.
All children witnessing domestic violence or being exposed to any act of domestic violence are being emotionally abused, and this is now recognised as a form of domestic abuse in the Domestic Violence Amendment Act 14/2021 (although the Act is not yet in force).
Domestic abuse can have the following effects on kids:
• They might experience anxiety or depression.
• They may have difficulties sleeping.
• They can experience flashbacks or nightmares.
• They might express physical complaints like stomachaches.
• They can begin to wet the bed.
• They might exhibit tantrum behaviour.
• They could act much more immaturely than they actually are.
• They can experience issues at school or begin skipping class.
• They might get hostile.
• They could internalize their suffering and isolate themselves from other people.
• They could feel less valuable than they should.
• Older kids might start using alcohol or drugs.
• They might start overdosing or cutting themselves to start self-harming.
• They might start to have eating disorders.