I want to leave my relationship safely
However you’ve kept yourself safe until now, there may come a time when you feel the only option is to leave your partner.
It’s never too early or too late to leave an abusive partner. Your safety matters — if you do decide to leave, it is best to plan your exit carefully.
Careful planning is important because abusers can become more violent and controlling and their actions can continue to pose a danger after you have left too – so it’s a time to be especially cautious. Remember: ending the relationship will not necessarily end the abuse. Women’s Aid is here for you. You are not alone.
Thinking about leaving and making the decision to go can be a long process and may even take several attempts.
Here is a checklist of things you may want to consider in your planning stage:
- Plan to leave at a time you know your partner will not be around.
- Try to take everything you will need with you, including any important documents relating to yourself and your children. Remember: you may not be able to return later.
- Try to take your children with you, otherwise it may be difficult to have them living with you in future. You may want to contact the school to them let them know what the situation is make sure that the head and all your children’s teachers know what the situation is.
- If at all possible, try to set aside a small amount of money each week, or even open a separate bank account.
A safety plan will help you protect yourself and your children. It will also help you think about how you can increase your safety both within the relationship, and if or when you decide to leave.
Only your partner can change their behaviour and end the patterns of violence and abuse they are responsible for, but there are things you can do to minimise the risk of harm to you and your children.
You might be doing some of these things already, while others might sound very obvious, but it’s worth considering each point because, joined together, they can form a very helpful plan.
Plan in advance how you might respond in different situations, including in times of crisis. This includes thinking about different options available to you. Keep with you any important and emergency telephone numbers, such as:
- Your local domestic abuse service
- Police domestic violence unit
- Social worker
- Children’s school
- Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247
Teach your children to call 999 in an emergency and practise what they need to say (e.g. full name, address and telephone number). You could also teach them the Silent Solution, where a caller can press 55 to tell the 999 operator that they are in an emergency and can’t speak out loud. They can also contact 999 in BSL for free by visiting the website or downloading the app.
What about neighbours? Could you trust them to give you shelter in an emergency? If so, tell them what is going on and ask them to call the police if they hear sounds of a violent attack.
Rehearse your escape plan so you and your children can get away safely in an emergency.
Pack an emergency bag for you and your children and hide it somewhere safe (e.g. at a neighbour’s or friend’s house). Try to avoid mutual friends or family.
Keep money with you at all times if possible, including change for bus fares.
Know where the nearest phone is and if you have a mobile, try to keep it with you at all times, fully charged. If you use , Pay As You Go, make sure it’s topped with credit.
Consider your safety options around tech. It’s important not to do these steps before leaving, as they could result in an escalation to the abuse, but it’s good to familiarise yourself with the steps. Soon after leaving, change your passwords to something the perpetrator will not be able to guess, particularly your banking and email accounts. If you want to, you can talk to your bank in confidence to let them know about your situation, they may be able to help protect your account. You can also add two-factor authentication to online banking, email and social media accounts to add an additional layer of security. Two-factor authentication requires an additional login credential to access your account. You should turn your phone’s location services off so the perpetrator cannot track you, this can be done in your phone’s settings.
Know the safest place in your house and if you suspect your partner is about to attack you, try to go there (e.g. somewhere near an exit where you can access a telephone). Avoid the kitchen or garage where there are likely to be knives or other weapons; and avoid rooms where you might be trapped, such as the bathroom, or where you might be shut into a cupboard or other small space.
Be prepared to leave the house in an emergency. If you drive, keep your car keys in a safe and accessible place and make sure your car has petrol in the tank at all times.
If the abuse continues
If the harassment, threats or abuse continue after you have left, try to keep detailed records of each incident, including the date and time it occurred, what was said or done, and – if possible – take photographs of damage to your property or injuries to yourself or others.
If a perpetrator of abuse partner injures you, see your GP or go to hospital for treatment and ask them to document your visit.
If you have an injunction with a power of arrest, or there is a restraining order in place, you should ask the police to enforce this; and if the perpetrator is in breach of any court order, you could also tell your solicitor if you have one.
In an emergency, always call the police on 999. Remember, if you can’t speak out loud, you can press 55 so that the operator knows you need help. You can also video call 999 to communicate in BSL for free by visiting the 999 BSL website or downloading the app.
As a result of domestic abuse, you may need medical treatment both immediately and in the long term.
If you have been injured, try to get treatment straight away if possible. You could visit your GP, go to an NHS Walk-in Centre, an Accident and Emergency department or Minor Injuries Unit at your local hospital.
Even though you may feel scared, you can tell medical staff how the injury occurred and ask them to record it. This may prove to be vital evidence in any future court proceedings. For example, if you make an application for an injunction; if there is a contact or residence dispute over your children; or if your abuser is prosecuted for a criminal offence. With your permission, health service staff and GPs can photograph injuries. When signed and dated, they are can be useful additional evidence tools in court. If you think you might be pregnant, tell the doctor or nurse as you may need to be examined by a midwife to ensure that the baby has not been affected by the abuse.
This is what you should expect from a health professional. If your experience is not helpful, you may want to reach out to the manager of that service, or contact Women’s Aid for some further guidance.
If you are worried about your health and don’t want to go to your GP, you could ring the NHS non-emergency number on 111 (available 24 hours). NHS online provides information on health services and links to other agencies and self-help organisations.
For information on mental health issues, read more about domestic abuse and your mental health
If you have experienced sexual abuse, try to get yourself to a place where you feel safe. See if a friend or someone you trust can be with you and talk to them about what has happened.
If you need urgent medical care or attention, call 999, ask for an ambulance or go straight to your nearest Accident & Emergency department.
If a sexual assault has just taken place and you feel able to report the incident to the police or attend a sexual assault referral centre (SARC). You may want to preserve as much evidence as possible. Try not to wash or wash your clothes in order to preserve forensic evidence.
SARCs offer a range of support services, including crisis care, examinations, emergency contraception and STI testing. A SARC examination can check for injuries, infections and collect possible evidence. If you decide you want to report an assault to the police, they can arrange for you to speak with a trained officer who can support you with the next steps. You can find your local SARC here.
A refuge is a safe house where women and children who have experienced domestic abuse can live free from fear. The address, and sometimes even the phone numbers, must be kept confidential to ensure the safety of all its residents.
Any woman who needs to escape from domestic abuse can go into a refuge. It does not matter whether you are married to, living with the abuser, or whether you have children or not. There are also refuges specifically run by and for Black and minoritised women.
There are refuges throughout the UK, and depending on space and availability, you can choose where you would like to go. Refuges may be unlikely to accept women from their immediate local area for safety reasons. This will depend on the individual refuge and their safety policies.
Women’s Aid’s No Woman Turned Away Project (NWTA) provides dedicated support to women who face barriers in accessing a refuge space. A team of specialist domestic abuse practitioners receive referrals and work with survivors of domestic abuse, advocating for them when needed, to find safe accommodation. Barriers could include (but are not limited to) having mental health support needs, disabilities, or having a larger family, for example.
Engaging with the NWTA Project does not always guarantee a refuge space and there can sometimes be limitations to the support provided. If you are needing any further information regarding the NWTA Project, you can ask a support worker via our Live Chat service.
You may be placed in a big refuge with space for many women and children, however others are much smaller.
Your children are welcome to come with you to refuge. Most refuges with be able to offer you your own room to share with your children, and some will have self-contained family units.
Many refuges have disabled access, and staff and volunteers who can support you or your children if you have additional needs.
In the refuge, there may be communal spaces like a living room, TV room, kitchen, playroom which will be shared with other refuge residents. In some refuges, the bathroom may be communal too.
You’ll cook for yourself and your children. You and the other residents can cook together at meal times or decide whether you take turns and eat separately. You can socialise as much or as little as you choose.
Refuges have their own codes of conduct for the day-to-day running of the house. These usually cover things like bedtimes for children, incoming calls and rotas for using the washing machine.
Remember, you’ll be asked to sign a license agreement covering the terms under which you can stay in the refuge. This will include the rent, how long you can stay and any guidelines to keep you safe. These may include rules on the use of alcohol and drugs, confidentiality and who can visit.
It depends. Some refuges allow boys up to the age of 16, while others cannot take boys over the age of 13 or 14. Very few refuges will accept male children over the age of 16. Talk to a support worker on Live Chat for additional support you could access around this.
A Women’s Aid support worker can search for current vacancies via the Live Chat service. You also can call the freephone 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (run by the charity Refuge) on 0808 2000 247. The helpline is also available in BSL from Monday to Friday between 10am and 6pm.
Many refuge organisations also have public contact numbers which you can contact yourself. Visit the Women’s Aid Directory to find your local domestic abuse services.
Social services, the police or housing department will also be able to help you find a refuge.
When you are ready to start looking for a refuge, you can contact the Live Chat or the National Domestic Abuse Helpline. Sometimes you can go into refuge on the same day, however, the process could also take some time. Support workers can discuss with you where in the country you may like to go, however, please be aware refuges can be limited on a particular day, so you might want to consider being flexible around location.
If you would like Women’s Aid to search for current vacancies with you via Live Chat, the following information will be needed:
- Some background information including details of the domestic abuse
- Ages of any children who may be going with you
- Information on any support needs you and your children may have
- A support worker can look for any suitable refuge spaces. If there are any suitable spaces, they can give you their contact details and any further information you may need to know about the refuge. You will then be encouraged to directly contact the refuge, so they can go through their own referral process with you. If you are unable to do these steps, perhaps due to financial or language barriers, a Women’s Aid support worker can call the refuge on your behalf.
Once you have been accepted into a refuge, they will provide you with more details and discuss with you how to get there. They will also give you more information on safety at the refuge. If they give you the address and the location of the refuge, it is very important that you keep this information to yourself. Take care not to leave any of the information behind because it will leave you at risk of being traced.
Not all women will need all of these items, and there may be some items that you need to take that have not been included in this list, but you can use it as a general guide. If you are planning to leave soon, it’s important to start preparing these items so you are ready to go, but keep them hidden whilst you are still living with the abuser.
- Important documents such as identification and birth certificates for you and your children. You can put some copies of documents on a USB stick or a cloud account. If you use a USB stick, make sure this is hidden. If you use a cloud account, make sure only you have access to the passwords.
- Passports (including passports for all your children if you have them), visas and work permits
- Copies of documents relating to your housing tenure (for example, mortgage details or lease and rental agreements)
- Insurance documents
- School and medical records, including the telephone numbers of the school and your GP or surgery
- Prescribed medication, mobility and/or hearing aids
- Money including bank account details, bank logins, credit and debit cards
- Child benefit award notices and any other welfare benefits you are entitled to
- Driving licence, car registration documents and insurance details
- Keys for your house, car and workplace
- Contact details of friends and family
- Small sentimental items like family photographs, your diary, jewellery
- An overnight bag with essential clothing and toiletries for you and your children
- Your children’s favourite small toys
- Most refuges do not have a large amount of storage space, so you are unlikely to be able to take large items such as furniture with you.
- Sadly, pets are usually forbidden. Some refuges can accommodate small animals such as fish, mice or other caged pets – but not cats or dogs. However, some refuge organisations have arrangements with local pet fostering schemes. (Ask the staff for more information or see our useful links on pet fostering)
Some refuges have a maximum length of stay but usually you will able to stay as long as you need to, this can be for several months.
When you’re ready to leave, your refuge support worker will usually discuss other housing options with you and support you in finding more permanent accommodation.
If you choose to leave a refuge but need to access a refuge space again, you can contact the Women’s Aid Live Chat to speak to a support worker, they can discuss your options around this and help you with another refuge search.
If you were asked to leave the refuge because you broke the terms of licence agreement, you may find it more difficult to access the same refuge again. If this is the case, you can speak with a support worker on Live Chat to discuss your options.
When you have left the refuge, you may want to reach out to a local domestic abuse service for outreach support that can be delivered to you within your community.
You can return home from the refuge at any point. You might decide to return with an injunction or you may want to be re-housed elsewhere. The choice is yours alone, but refuge workers can help you to think about what is best for you.
They should also be able to tell you how to get advice on joint property and mortgage agreements. Don’t agree to sign any documents relating to the tenancy or ownership of your home until you’ve taken legal advice.
Some refuges can accommodate small pets such as fish or mice but most can’t take bigger pets like cats and dogs.
Some have arrangements with local pet fostering schemes. The local authority has a duty to store the ‘property’ of people who go into refuge and some will accept a pet within this definition of ‘property’. Some charities will foster pets for families fleeing domestic abuse. The Dogs Trust runs the Freedom Project and Cats’ Protection runs Paws Protect.
Alternatively, you might want to think about making arrangements for a friend or family member to look after your pet whilst you are in a refuge.
Guide dogs and other assistance animals may be permitted in some refuges which have self-contained units. You can speak to the refuge directly about this.
You can still speak with a support worker through the Women’s Aid Live Chat or access the freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline, whose support workers may be able to suggest other options to you. If you decide not to go into a refuge, Women’s Aid can put you in touch with your local domestic abuse service, which may have access to outreach support or support groups in your area.
You can still receive personal and legal advice without living in a refuge, but we would never tell you to remain in your home if the situation could be dangerous for you or your children.
You may be able to access emergency accommodation through your local authority, such as a hostel or bed and breakfast, close to home. You may want to ask friends or family if you can stay with them temporarily, if it is safe to do so.
However, bear in mind that you might be more accessible to your abuser in these circumstances.
Private renting could be an option. For more help and information on general housing options you could contact Shelter.
If you want to stay in your own home, you may want to consider an injunction to protect you and your children – and to keep your abuser away.
Individual refuge organisations have their own policies, rules, regulations and separate management committees who are accountable for the policy and practice at the refuge.
If you you’ve been a resident and you want to make a complaint, you can follow the complaints procedure for that particular organisation. The refuge can advise on this process. You don’t have to tell the staff what it’s about.
If you would like to complain to Women’s Aid about a member organisation, you can email [email protected] for further information. Women’s Aid is a national federation of organisations (members) that provide vital services to women and their children experiencing domestic violence. Our members are all independent organisations registered in their own right. As separate bodies, they all have their own complaints policies and procedures that operate independently of Women’s Aid.
If you’re living in a refuge and you’re unhappy with either the location or the refuge itself, you should talk to one of the workers.
If the situation can’t be resolved within the refuge, they may be able to help you move to a different place of safety where hopefully you’ll feel more comfortable.
Not knowing the whereabouts of your friend or relative is understandably very distressing. However, all refuge services are confidential in order to keep residents safe. Women’s Aid services do not keep records of which refuge a woman goes into.
This level of confidentiality is for your friend or relative’s safety, and you can rest assured that if she is in a refuge, she is in a safe place away from harm.
Once in a refuge, your friend or relative will be receiving support and will contact you herself when she feels ready. However, she will not be able to tell you the exact location of the refuge she is staying in.