No one should ever be abused. Yet, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, nearly one third of all women in California and more than a quarter of men in the state have experienced intimate partner physical violence, sexual violence or stalking at some time during their lives.
If you are involved in an abusive relationship, you may feel trapped and alone. But there are organizations waiting to help you and steps you can take to protect both you and your children. The Women’s Shelter Program of San Luis Obispo County offers these suggestions:
▪ Reach out for help. Call the Women’s Shelter Crisis Line at 805-781-6400 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-3224. Trained counselors are available 24/7 to talk with you about your unique situation, offer referrals and discuss your options. All information is confidential.
▪ Call 911 if you are in imminent danger. When the police arrive, request an Emergency Protective Order. An EPO can be issued any time during the day or night and offers immediate protection from the abuser. It provides a “kick out” order that forces the abuser to leave the premises. Child custody is temporarily awarded to the person requesting protection.
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EPOs expire after five business days or seven calendar days, whichever is shorter.
▪ Create a safety plan. A safety plan is a series of steps that ensure you are not harmed. Each plan is different and varies depending on whether you are still in the abusive relationship or have already left. If you are in the relationship, you will want to think of a safe place to go in case of an argument. Make a list of safe people you can contact.
Keep clothing, personal items and important belongings at the home of a person you trust. Make an extra set of keys to the car and the house; hide them in a secret location. Save money for an emergency escape. If you have already left the relationship, change your phone number. Avoid staying alone. Document all contacts, messages and incidents with your ex. Plan how to escape should you unexpectedly be confronted by your partner.
▪ Seek a restraining order. WomensLaw.org defines a domestic violence restraining order as “a civil court order that is signed by a judge and tells the abuser to stop the abuse or face serious legal consequences.” It offers protection from domestic violence to both female and male victims.
A DVRO may order the abuser not to “assault, threaten, abuse, follow, stalk, sexually assault, destroy the property of or come within a certain distance of” the victim. Obtaining a DVRO requires a court hearing. If you are in immediate danger, you can ask for a temporary restraining order that goes into effect until the actual hearing date. The task of completing the necessary paperwork may seem daunting; the Women’s Shelter Program can assist you with the process.
For more information, go to www.womensshelterslo.org.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.