Need pragmatic advice for a friend who is suffering spousal abuse
January 14, 2017 10:48 PM   Subscribe

A friend (let's call her Sarah - not her real name) confided in my wife late today that her husband Bob (again not real name) has been physically abusive to both her and her four year child multiple times. Sarah has asked my wife to help - not just to be a friend to talk to - but basically a lot of pragmatic - "so what do I do now, how do I change my phone password, should I leave?" type questions. Wanted to check if any of the below is bad advice or should be added to (lots more inside...)

My wife and I are helping in near real-time over IM/email so open to any comments - we have not been in this situation before, so we are totally open to being schooled here on does and don'ts.

Firstly we have recommended that if she feels immediately at risk that she should not hesitate to call law enforcement, leave, or both. Also that she needs to get legal advice ASAP (Saturday night here and with Dr Martin Luther King day on Monday that may be a few days out). We have identified the appropriate free legal services in the local county (San Mateo County, CA) and provided her information.

Aside from that, our suggestions included:

1. Sarah should get her and her child out of the joint family home as soon as possible - even for a few nights. Sarah is already sleeping in a different room from Bob. She has a key to our house and we have offered for her to come at any time with her son - though we live a good 90 min drive away. She has her own car for transport, and cash to support herself at least for a short period. We have also offered to use our hotel points to get a hotel for the next 3 or 4 nights closer to her location if needed.

2. Because she is messaging my wife constantly about this - and is still in the same house as Bob, Sarah should change relevant passcodes/passwords for her phone/email, and remove IM messages from being displayed on her lock screen. Bob has shown tendencies to be very controlling and is a IT specialist/programmer - there is a potential risk that he would "snoop" on her phone.

3. If she is going to leave, and to prevent Bob from easily identifying her location, disable location services on her phone - or unfriend her husband on "find friends" and make sure her iCloud password is either changed or secure or otherwise disable "find my iPhone". Bob has not been to our house (though would likely know within a mile or two where we live).

4. Should she decide she is going to stay (she seems in shock and may be wavering on leaving before she can get to a lawyer next week because "he's not being aggressive today" and she's concerned about losing access to the family home) she should make a small and subtle "bug out" bag with true essentials she needs to grab and go if needed. Doesn't need to be much - we have a similar aged/size child so you can assume clothes/food supplies for the child etc are not an issue if she pulls the trigger on leaving.

If it makes any difference, Sarah does not have any family within long-haul flight distance, though obviously has friends (including my wife and I). She is not employed so does not have commitments she needs to stay within the local area for. She and her child do not have any medical conditions or schooling concerns about leaving.
posted by inflatablekiwi to Human Relations (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Assume that whatever he's done so far, it will get worse if he thinks she is leaving. A little paranoia is very appropriate here.

If she can make up an excuse to get herself and the daughter out of the house for weekend (going to see a sick friend/relative) that might give her time to figure out what she wants to do (even if she decides to go home and wait to act) without alerting him to intent to leave.

She (or you) can call CORA, the domestic violence support organization for San Mateo county at or 800.300.1080

Texting might be safer than messaging if messaging goes over the household wifi.
Also, if there is cloud backup for her stuff, she will want to change passwords or bypass it.

If she can, she should make copies of last year's tax returns and any other critical account information that she might need later in negotiating custody and spousal support. Taking pictures with her phone could be an unobtrusive way to do this.
posted by metahawk at 11:04 PM on January 14, 2017 [15 favorites]

Here's a personal safety plan with a checklist of things to consider taking and things to think about once she has left.

Two key concepts: leaving is often a time of escalated danger, and she is the expert on what will keep her safe, as she has lived with his moods for awhile. Draw out her instincts.
posted by salvia at 11:25 PM on January 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

One piece of advice for you and your wife (that I have heard from a social worker friend who worked at a domestic violence shelter for years): it often takes people in abusive relationships a few tries to leave (ie, they decide to leave but then don't, or leave and then go back). This is often incredibly frustrating and heartbreaking for friends and family to watch, and many times friends/family will make things worse by giving the abused person ultimatums or lecturing them, or cutting them off.

Obviously, you have to do whatever you can to protect your own emotional health around this, but often the best thing you can do for someone in a situation like this is to give them fairly unconditional emotional support, even if it takes a few tries to leave, and whatever material support you can offer, which it sounds like you are doing.
posted by lunasol at 11:36 PM on January 14, 2017 [22 favorites]

If I were her I would get a new phone SIM asap (for a new number) and change the Apple id password (as well as anything else). Her partner can get to just about anything on the phone through icloud backups if he has it. All passwords need changing immediately. If she could stay with you tonight that would be ideal as you'd be able to help her with the logistics of finding somewhere else and suchlike.
posted by tillsbury at 11:45 PM on January 14, 2017 [7 favorites]

Call the domestic violence hotline based nearest to you and have them talk you through what you should be doing right now.
posted by kelseyq at 12:46 AM on January 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

Here is more information on computer safety from La Casa de las Madres, a great IPV resource in the bay area. I would also recommend contacting them for information and resources; they additionally have a 24/7 crisis support line.

Agree highly with the above that leaving is a time of escalated potential for worsening abuse. Men who have been physically violent to women and children are likely to continue to escalate the situation over time, and especially when threatened with losing control of the woman and/or child. Please be very careful and protect the safety of yourself and your family, in addition to helping your friend. I second the suggestion to contact a local IPV organization to see if there are other recommendations for your friend or for your family in helping her.

If she or the child is in immediate danger, you can call the police and request they report to the house to evaluate the situation.
posted by stillmoving at 3:38 AM on January 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Please do have your wife contact and work with a local domestic violence resource, preferably in Sarah's county of residence, because they will have contacts in the community and local law enforcement. Having LLE on your side is pretty critical, and a local shelter/org will be able to give you the actual dos and don'ts that we may not be able to.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:20 AM on January 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

Thanks all - have passed this all on to my wife who is sharing with Sarah / taking some of the actions outlined. Truly appreciate it - especially the link to CORA from Metahawk.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 8:50 AM on January 15, 2017

we have a similar aged/size child

Please put your child first and be very very careful here. My personal opinion is that she should not stay with you in your home. Rather, it would be much better to have her at a hotel or shelter. Her safety and her child's safety are both really important but this could very easily become very violent and you need to be cautious for your family. If she does leave, I would err on the side of caution and have you and your child take a vacation for a few days as well. I cannot stress enough how dangerous someone like this can be when "humiliated" by their spouse and child leaving.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:43 AM on January 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

Both children need to be put first, not just yours. You're her lifeline here and thus her child's. If you say he would know a one or two mile radius, make sure she turns off location services on her phone, and that her car is parked inside a garage instead of out and visible. That's all that's really necessary if he doesn't know a street name.

Also, take the time now to read Why Does He Do That. It's incredibly helpful for people who are dealing with abuse in any way, and I think especially for you two right now.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 11:18 AM on January 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

If there are any pets at her house, she might want to think about getting the animal(s) out as well if possible. It may seem strange to say this, and that one should be worring much more about their own safety and the safety of their children (as well they should, and I am not discounting that at all), but abusers can and do often use pets and the threat of violence against pets as leverage to get their victims to come back.
posted by oflinkey at 12:26 PM on January 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

Abusers are at their most dangerous when someone leaves. She needs to do this discretely/secretly.

Domestic Violence Shelters are essentially the same thing as family-oriented homeless shelters. If she can avoid that, that would be awesome. It would be wonderful if she could stay in a hotel with your points. She needs to NOT tell him she is in a hotel or anything like that. Ideally, find her a hotel that is in walking distance of eateries and the like. Cheaper is better. Whatever stretches your points (without putting her in a clearly bad neighborhood) would be a good thing.

Given his IT background, if she can get a disposable, cheap phone, I would try to stop using anything he is already aware of for further communications with you. I would also set up a NEW, fresh gmail account at a library or something and stop using anything he is currently aware of in terms of hardware, email accounts, etc. Among other things, controlling IT types can put hidden software on the phone to track it. Whatever obvious safety measures you can think of, it is probably not enough.
posted by Michele in California at 3:11 PM on January 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

Again thanks all - all the information has been very helpful
posted by inflatablekiwi at 8:23 AM on January 17, 2017

If she and her son have passports, they should be included in the bug-out bag. Same goes for any important documents - make copies or take pictures with a phone if they can't be taken along. Car titles, registration, et cetera.

Does Sarah have her own bank accounts? Her own credit card? Does her husband have control of all of their finances? I would prepare for worst-case scenario in terms of access to funds. I would be making cash withdrawals from my account in small amounts that wouldn't arouse suspicion.

I hadn't even thought about your family's safety until I saw the comment posted above. Given that her husband can figure your address to about a mile or two, I doubt it would be hard to find you via the internet. If she does stay with you (or even if she leaves and he suspects that she's staying with you), I would be in high-alert mode.

Ditto the advice about removing family pets if relevant.

When she does change her passwords, it should be from a computer that Bob has had no access to, like at the library or at your house.

Personally, if I were Sarah I would box up any "if there were a fire and I had ten minutes" items and store them at your place. Photos, old letters, jewelry, mementos... things that could be used as leverage by Bob and that would entice her back to the house. Even if she ended up staying with him I would still keep that box away from the house.

If there were any guns & ammunition in the house I would get them out ASAP.

Best of luck...
posted by amicamentis at 2:25 PM on January 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

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