All victims of domestic violence or abuse need to understand one critical truth: There is no excuse or justification for behavior that puts you or your children in harm’s way. Nothing you have done makes someone else’s violence or abuse your responsibility. We are all accountable for our own actions – whether it’s a spouse or loved one that is causing you harm, or you as you decide how to address the problem.
If you have already been the victim of abuse, have been threatened with violence, or believe future abuse may occur, you need to act NOW to protect yourself and your children.
Step 1: Immediately report any incident by calling 911. Write down the police report or incident number and store it someplace safe. You can record this number as a memo on your smart phone, on a saved voicemail, or on paper in a place only you can access.
Step 2: Document any injuries, no matter how small by visiting a doctor or emergency room. When asked about the source of your injuries, be honest. “I was hit/kicked/struck/pushed by my husband/boyfriend/partner,” is all you have to say. The facility may contact law enforcement if you have not already done so, so that you may file a report.
Step 3: Find a safe place to stay. Family members and friends are the most comfortable option, but do not let the lack of nearby family and friends become an excuse for returning to a dangerous environment. If necessary, you can withdraw cash to pay for a hotel (do not use credit cards, which can be tracked). Or, you can find a domestic violence shelter.
In the Jacksonville, FL area, Hubbard House is a 24-hour resource for emergency shelter. You can reach them at 904-354-3114 or hubbardhouse.org.
The Betty Griffin House serves the St. Johns County area with shelter and other services. They can be reached at 904-824-1555 or bettygriffinhouse.org.
Step 4: Find support, counseling, and care. Domestic violence is more than a physical problem… it is emotionally straining, too. The more you talk about it with people who love and care about you, the stronger you will be to prevent future abuse. Friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers, community support staff, psychologists, doctors – these are all excellent people to confide in as they will listen and support you through this difficult time. These people will also serve as a strong support network as they know about the abuse and will not allow your abuser to try and hide or cover up their actions.
Step 5: Have an exit strategy. Domestic abuse is rarely a one-time incident, despite what an abuser may promise. You need to have an ‘escape plan’ already set up in case abuse should happen again. Try to identify when a situation is starting to turn violent, so that you may leave before any harm comes to you or your children. Make sure your children are aware of this plan as well, and can take steps to ensure their own safety in case you are unable to take immediate action in a situation.
If you, yourself are the abuser in the relationship, seek help for your anger or other issues by contacting a qualified psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, or other resource such as The Salvation Army’s Batterer’s Intervention department at 904-353-0971.
Step 6: Obtain a Protective Order or Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) that will require your abuser to stay a specified distance away from you at all times. It is important to note that Federal law requires that anyone previously convicted of felony or misdemeanor domestic abuse is NOT allowed to own a gun or firearm. You can report such information to the proper authorities if your abuser is in violation of this law. As well, you can ask the judge overseeing your case to disallow your abuser from owning or buying guns as part of your protective order. You may then report any such violation to police if your abuser were to get a gun.
Please note, you will need to have a separate physical address in order to obtain a Protective Order. This may be the address of a friend or family member, but may not be a PO Box.
Florida Women’s Law Group can help you file for Protective Orders and help you take any other necessary legal steps to ensure your safety.