Finding transitional housing after leaving an abusive relationship is complicated under normal circumstances. Natural disasters and unexpected events across the world affect victims of intimate partner violence differently than the rest of the population. Take the coronavirus (COVID-19) for example. In a time when the CDC has recommended that families stay in their homes and limit exposure to other people, where does that leave domestic violence survivors? When seeking shelter at places like churches or friends’ homes isn’t as easy as before, what do they do if a situation turns violent? Thankfully, there are still programs that are accommodating these unexpected times:
- COVID-19: Coalition guidance programs
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)
Domestic abuse or intimate partner violence (IPV) knows no age, race, sexual orientation or gender barriers. Both physical, psychological and financial, these violent actions are intended to hurt, arouse fear or control their partners. Domestic abuse is much more prevalent than many of us want to accept. Approximately 10 million people in the US are affected by domestic violence every year.
Domestic abuse is never okay, every person has the right to live somewhere they feel safe and loved. This article addresses how survivors of intimate partner violence can secure transitional housing and finance a move to safety.
Assessing the situation
It’s easy to ask why victims don’t just leave. The short answer is: it’s never that simple. The reasons victims of domestic violence stay are complicated and perhaps hard for anyone on the outside to understand. Whether out of fear of retaliation or financial limitation, leaving an abusive relationship isn’t easy, especially when there are children involved.
Abuse is not acceptable, and there is no gray area. Anyone can be a victim of intimate partner violence, it’s not just women. Not every situation looks the same or is to the highest severity, though this doesn’t invalidate a victim’s experience. Some of the most common types of abuse are: physical, financial, psychological or emotional.
Is your relationship healthy?
|Respect: Your partner respects you and understands your emotions and opinions.||Emotional abuse: Your partner uses guilt or name calling to make you feel down.|
|Economic partnership: Decisions about money are made together.||Intimidation: They use their actions, looks or gestures to make you feel afraid.|
|Honesty: Communication is open and truthful.||Coercion and threats: they threaten you or your children to get you to comply.|
|Accountability: Each partner accepts when they are wrong and takes responsibility for their actions.||Economic abuse: Limiting access to money or a job in an effort to control their partner.|
|Fairness and negotiation: Conflict is talked about and handled in a mutually satisfying manner.||Children: Using children to leverage keeping the relationship together.|
|Health parenting: The responsibility of parenting is shared and partners are positive role models for children.||Blaming and minimizing: Ignoring concerns and making light of abuse.|
Develop a plan
If you find yourself in an unhealthy relationship, you have every right to leave. Even though it doesn’t always seem like a viable option, since the situation is difficult and oftentimes dangerous. This is why developing a plan is essential to successfully leave the relationship. A safety plan is a personalized strategy that helps survivors remain safe while they are in the relationship, when they plan to leave, and after they do. Reaching out to doctors, nurses, teachers or anyone you can trust to talk about your desire to leave is a great place to start. They can help you develop a safety plan and make connections.
While domestic violence survivors cannot use a safety plan to predict or directly prevent violence, you can use it to plan ahead, prepare and rehearse the steps you need to take to get to safety. Understandably, in a crisis you may find it hard to make logical decisions, that’s why having a safety plan will help you escape a situation.
Including children and pets
Your plan should include everything in your life: kids, pets or pregnancy. Having children or pets don’t have to be the reason you stay in a situation that is unsafe. If possible, you should try and leave your pets with friends or family members. When that’s not possible, there are services available that help with the safekeeping of the pets of victims of domestic violence. Search by state or ZIP code to find an option that works best for you.
Special considerations for children are essential. The National Domestic Violence Hotline advises that you help your children find ways to stay safe when violence arises. They suggest:
- Develop a code word that you can use that signals them to leave the home.
- Help them choose a place in the home they can go to when they need to hide.
- Predetermine where they should go when they need to leave the home to hide.
- Teach them how and when they should dial 911.
- Make sure they know to never intervene in dangerous situations.
Have a bag ready
Domestic violence is marked by unpredictability. After you’ve worked through ways to keep your children and pets safe, the next step is prepping a bag to take when you make your escape. Only bring the most vital things. It may seem hard to choose between what you should bring or leave behind, so we provided some of the most important things to get you started.
|Things to include:|
|A change of clothes for you and any children|
|Glasses and extra contacts|
|Prescriptions and any necessary medical devices|
|Cell phone and charger|
|Journal with dated entries of events|
|Keys to cars, home, and safety deposit box|
In addition to clothes and medications, it’s imperative that you include all important documents you may need. Like identifications, social security cards and any money you have access to.
|Important documents to include:|
|License and identification cards|
|Credit and debit cards|
|Social security card|
|List of family and friend contact information|
|Doctor contact information|
Financing your move
Physical violence isn’t the only part of domestic abuse– , financial manipulation is a tool manipulators use to keep survivors to stay. Access to finances is a major roadblock for victims. According to a recent study, 73% of people disclosed that they chose to remain in an abusive relationship because they feared they couldn’t financially support themselves or their children.
Perpetrators are known to limit survivor’s access to money or ways to get it, leaving them dependent on the relationship and unable to leave. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) stated that between 94% and 99% of domestic violence survivors experience some degree of financial abuse. Thankfully, there are resource groups, government agencies and support systems in place to give survivors their independence back through financial assistance. Find them at the end of this article.
An essential part of an emergency plan is creating a financial security net. If your abuser controls the finances, start by investigating your financial standing. Where does the main source of income come from? Do you have any debt? Getting a handle on these types of things lays the foundation for financial stability after leaving the relationship.
After you’ve gotten an idea of what your finances look like, you can begin to start putting aside any money you can. Another option is to create a separate bank account that only you have access to. If that isn’t an option for you, some others in your situation choose to find a job or try to improve their current job standing. Finding access to finances is dependent on the situation, and the circumstances of the relationship will influence what you are able to do. No one can tell you what the best thing to do is, only make suggestions or point to resources that can help.
Taking advantage of sick leave
There is institutional support for domestic violence survivors, though it varies by employers. There are no legal repercussions for employers that fire victims for taking time off work. Meaning that survivors sometimes have to walk yet another difficult path, with employment on one side and safety on the other. Maine’s department of labor and family crisis services found that 60% of domestic abuse survivors reported that they lost their job directly because of abuse.
Every employer is different and will offer various support for their employees. However, not everyone feels comfortable speaking directly to their employees. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) grants time off for recovery. There are state and local laws that allow survivors to take the time they need. There is support, you just have to know where to look.
For some it’s not possible to put money aside or open a separate bank account without their abuser finding out. Finding the money to finance your move to safety doesn’t have to fall completely on your shoulders. Use the state and federal resources available to you to secure your better life.
It can feel impossible to recover from the outcomes of financial domestic abuse. But it isn’t. Each state has a crime victim program that may have money for you. Annually, the programs across the country pay around $500 million to more than 200,000 domestic violence survivors. While 35% of the money for these programs come from federal funding, a great amount of the money comes from the fees and fines that are charged against those who have been convicted of crimes. The financial assistance that come from these programs average around $25,000, though it will vary by state. Both Texas and Minnesota offer $50,000. Research your state’s award amount as well as the eligibility, procedures, and funding at the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards.
When leaving an abusive relationship, finding a place to go is one of the first things to consider. While staying with friends and family members is a great first step for some, though it isn’t available for everyone and oftentimes can’t last forever. Shelters and transitional housing are other important options that provide survivors somewhere they can feel safe. Though these are temporary options that can be limited, depending on where you live. The issue of housing is a big hurdle for some. The leading cause of homelessness is both women and children is domestic violence.
Past actions of an abusive partner may have damaged your renting record, meaning you are a less attractive renting option to property managers. But that doesn’t mean you are out of options. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) states that landlords and property owners cannot deny housing or evict women based on domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault. This act only applies to public or subsidized housing. States individually have laws that protect domestic violence survivors. Whether it be allowing them to break their lease early or transfer housing, there are accommodations out there.
When enacting your VAWA rights, your landlord or housing agency can ask you to provide proof of domestic violence, and they may require that it is provided in multiple contexts. After requested, the housing provider can, if they choose to, enforce a 14-day deadline for the survivor to provide their documentation, which is not ideal when the circumstances are dire. Try to prepare as best you can by having the accepted documentation with you when you leave an abusive situation. Generally, there are three:
- A HUD-approved form.
- A formal statement from a qualified third party.
- Police or court report.
There are a number of upfront costs that are associated with securing a rental property. Undeniably, paying for them can be tough. Especially if you are exiting a situation that was abusive. But if you’ve built up an emergency fund, this is a great place to use your savings. Some common costs include:
- Application fee
- Security deposit
- Pet deposit
- Renters insurance
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
- The Hotline state organization list
- Safe Alliance
- Safe Horizon
- Domestshelters.org resources about children
- Office of Women’s Health state resources
- Women Against Abuse
- Department of Justice grants and programs
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development resources
- Helping Americans Find Help
To feel safe in their new property, some survivors choose to install cameras, alarms, and door sensors in their homes, all of which costs money. Thankfully, there are grants and loans that can not only help you find housing, but also secure it. The Rural Health Information Hub has transitional housing assistance grants that provide funding for short-term housing assistance as well as rental and utility assistance, which would help with things like security deposits. These grants also provide access to job training, counseling, child care and transportation.
You have rights when it comes to housing and insurance, though they vary by state. Generally, insurance companies must allow you to alter your policy, refuse to renew or cancel your policy. They cannot refuse to give you a policy or deny your claim for covered losses that were a result of domestic violence. You also are able to request confidentiality to safeguard your information from anyone you are on a policy with.
Washington state requires that if you hope to file a claim to recover your portion of any property loss, you have to file a police report and fully cooperate with both police and insurance investigations. This isn’t uncommon; make sure you contact your insurance company to confirm any requirements they have.
Renters insurance is an important facet of finding housing. Having an insurance policy is often a requirement that’s put forth by property managers before they rent to you. Besides being a requirement to rent, renters insurance makes sure you’re covered for any accidental damage to your personal property and liability for others in your home. When you are taking out a renters insurance policy, make sure you take an inventory of your belongings so you make sure everything is covered. If you choose to install a home security system in your home, make sure you tell your insurance company, this may qualify you for a discounted rate.
One of the most important things to remember is: you are not alone. You have resources available to you and people who are willing to help. Regardless of what kind of help that is. If you need access to counseling or financial support to find housing, there are programs and grants that can support you.
We’ve also included a list of ways to keep your information private on your phone. Emailing and texting are a great way to communicate with those who are helping you. Though if you think your abuser is going through your phone, you may be hesitant to reach out in fear of retaliation. Your line of communication to the outside world doesn’t have to be cut off. There are apps on your phone that you can install to protect your messages.
|Telegram||This app promises encrypted messages that cannot be forwarded. When the messages are deleted, they are deleted on the other person’s app too.|
|Whatsapp offers both private and group chats that are encrypted. Even if they chose to take the sim card out of your phone, they still couldn’t access your information.|
|Threema||Promising to never collect your data, your messages and contacts are not even shared with Threema. Any messages you recieve in the app are deleted after delivery.|
No one should feel as though they are trapped in a relationship because of limited financial access. That doesn’t have to be your reality. Don’t hesitate to reach out to anyone who can help you, including the institutional programs that are made to support you. Don’t forget, you’re a survivor.