Recognizing spousal abuse and making a plan to escape

It can be difficult to recognize the signs of an abusive relationship. Escaping an abusive marriage may also be difficult, but possible with the right help.

Countless people in Arkansas and across the country are trapped in abusive relationships and may be feeling hopeless as to how to escape. Domestic abuse can involve more than physically harming an intimate partner. In fact, some types of abuse may be difficult to recognize. People in unhappy marriages may not realize they are being abused, and therefore may not know that they can take advantage of programs or facilities that can help.

What is domestic abuse?

Ending a marriage is rarely easy, but it is often especially difficult when it involves abuse. First, it is important to recognize the signs of abuse. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, spousal abuse may involve physical violence, but just as often can include emotional, verbal, financial and sexual abuse. For example, an abusive spouse may do the following:

• Criticize, insult or belittle the other partner to make him or her feel worthless

• Threaten to harm children or pets or to destroy personal property, whether or not actually carrying out these threats

• Restrict the other spouse from having access to money, transportation, employment or social activities

• Coerce or force his or spouse into unwanted sexual activity

• Frequently play "mind games" that leave the other partner feeling confused and hopeless

It is important to note that the forms of abuse that do not include physical or sexual abuse are not specifically addressed in the domestic abuse statutes. Instead, these types of abuse are most often the basis for a divorce based upon general indignities, and they are certainly relevant to custody and visitation disputes.

Often, although not always, domestic abuse may escalate into physical violence. In the majority of domestic abuse cases, an abusive spouse's tactic is to exert complete control over his or her partner's life. This may make it extremely difficult to leave. Therefore, it may help to come up with an escape plan before attempting to end an abusive marriage.

Creating an effective escape plan

The National Domestic Violence Hotline has provided numerous tips on putting together a plan of escape. Letting close family members or friends know about the abuse and asking for help can be an important first step. It is crucial to learn the addresses and contact information for abuse shelters and law enforcement agencies. It is wise to set aside emergency cash, clothing, documents and other personal items in a safe place the abusive spouse does not know about. Taking pictures of physical injuries and keeping a journal of the abuse for law enforcement can help to protect the victim legally. Taking the steps to obtain a protective order against the abusive spouse can provide additional legal protection. Protective orders prohibit the abuser from approaching or contacting the victims.

When planning to leave an abusive marriage, it may be a good course of action to consult with an experienced Arkansas family law attorney. An attorney will know how to obtain a protection order and may have additional resources to help victims of abuse make a safe escape.