Confronting Domestic Violence: Domestic abuse victim breaks free, but safety planning never stops


The is the final installment in Darlene’s five-part series on the effects of domestic violence.


When a domestic abuse victim is finally ready to escape her situation, she identifies a domestic violence and trauma-informed therapist to help her keep her sanity for the road ahead. She joins a domestic violence support group and connects with a domestic violence advocate to help her do safety planning in multiple areas – financial, professional, legal, court, technological, etc. – because all of these areas will be subject to attack.

She may join a faith-based organization for added support and connection. She finds a place to live, looks into the California Secretary of State’s Safe at Home program to protect her address, and plans to equip her new home with security cameras once she moves in. If her employer is sympathetic, she shares her plans. She embarks on a self-care program to address all of the areas of her life that will need shoring up – nutrition, exercise, sleep, mindfulness/prayer, friends, therapy, healthy ways to deal with stress; all of these will be weapons in her arsenal for the battle that lies ahead. Her abuser will declare war on her, so she must gather her inner and outer resources to have a fighting chance.

Ambivalence will be part of every decision, and she may take a step or two back from time to time. Before leaving for good, she may even return several times to her partner and the inevitable abuse that will follow, after the “honeymoon/reconciliation period” ends and he has gotten control of her once more. Typically, each time she goes back, the abuse gets worse. Over time, inevitably, her thoughts will return to what life could be like if this time she answered the call – and stayed gone.

The day finally comes. She has an attorney, a therapist, a domestic violence advocate, a support group, a source of income, a place to stay, a safety plan. She is still uncertain, still terrified. But she has learned that true courage is being afraid, being uncertain of the outcome, and doing it anyway. She hires someone to serve him possibly with both a restraining order as well as divorce papers. She flees, like a refuge from a war-torn land, the war-torn land that was her home. She may go dark for a time – stay at a shelter, with friends or extended family or a hotel while she plans her next move. There’s no turning back now. She is still afraid but savoring that sweet taste of freedom for however longs it lasts. She is learning to live with that fear, learning to live far outside her comfort zone, learning to live again.

The battle begins

The battle begins. Her abuser will declare war on her, transfer the abuse from home into the legal arena. He will say any injuries she sustained were self-inflicted. He will say she’s crazy, and produce doctored evidence to back it up. If they have children, he will pursue full custody, claiming that she is an unfit mother. He is so persuasive, many of his lies will have the ring of truth to them, and he will repeat them over and over. She will need to defend herself against many of them to avoid having them turn the tide of public opinion – and the court – against her.

At some point, the legal battle ends – for now at least, the divorce settlement is reached and she has cut the last tie with her partner.

On some level, she is destined to remain alert to the possibility of revenge. She has left. In leaving him, she has telegraphed that life without him is better than life with him. The shame, the abandonment, the loss for someone used to winning, boasting, succeeding will be intolerable for many years to come.

Safety planning never stops, but it is a small price to pay for waking up every day, knowing that she will determine what happens in her life from this day forward.

She has taken control of her life back. She has escaped. She has reclaimed her home as sanctuary.

She is free.

Ruthven Darlene, M.A., is founder and director of the nonprofit WomenSV, which provides a range of services for women – and some men – experiencing domestic violence.

For more information, call 996-2200, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit

Why the name change?

Some readers, no doubt, saw the name of the author in the above column change during the course of the five-part series, from Ruth Patrick to Ruthven Darlene. The founder and director of the Los Altos nonprofit WomenSV offered an explanation for the change in the following statement.

“Ruth is entering an exciting new phase in her advocacy work, which will involve turning WomenSV into a national training center geared toward educating providers around the country about the unique risks and challenges of dealing with an affluent abuser. She is celebrating this new stage in the life of WomenSV, and in her own life, with a return to her roots and her given names: Ruthven Darlene.”

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