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Breaking the cycle

About one in four American women have been victims of domestic abuse at some point in their lives—violated by husbands or partners who had promised to love them.

Some victims may blame themselves for the abuse. But the reason abusers hit or threaten has nothing to do with the victims. Many abusers have poor self-esteem and other personality problems that fuel their need to exercise power and control over another person.

So, why does a victim stay? Perhaps she’s not financially independent or fears that her abuser will come after her if she leaves. Maybe she has children and worries how she’ll manage alone. And sometimes the abuser is sincerely sorry after a battering, promising never to do it again, so she forgives him and stays.

But what she may not realize is that the cycle of violence will likely continue and worsen until the victim, abuser or both either seek help or end the relationship.

When the worst happens

If you’ve been abused, ask for help right away. You may feel embarrassed, ashamed and frightened, not even sure you’re making the right decision. But confiding in your healthcare provider or a mental health counselor can help you sort out your feelings and create a safety plan. You’ll need to:

  • Be prepared. Hide an emergency bag with clothes and important papers, such as a passport or marriage license, and plan where you’ll go and how you’ll get there. If you have school-age children, contact their school and let them know about the situation. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233), the National Sexual Assault Hotline at (800) 656-4673 or ask your healthcare provider for information about women’s shelters or other services available.
  • Cover your tracks. Avoid telling friends or loved ones about your plan from your home phone or cell phone because calls can be traced. If you must tell someone, use an e-mail account, such as Yahoo, Gmail or Hotmail, that doesn’t save e-mails on your computer. Make sure to change your password frequently and clear your Web browser’s history.
  • Leave safely. Leaving is scary, and in many cases dangerous, but you’re doing the right thing for everyone involved, especially your children. Decide when it’s safest to leave—when the abuser’s at work, during the middle of the night—then make your move.

If you’re in immediate danger

If you don’t feel safe in your home:

  • Call the police. They’re equipped to safely help you find a shelter and obtain a restraining order if needed. Calling friends or family members for assistance may put their lives in jeopardy, too.
  • Follow up with professional help. This step is essential to starting the healing process and breaking the cycle for good. Those who end an abusive relationship without seeking help tend to find themselves in another abusive relationship.