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Safety Tips for Leaving an Abusive Relationship

The decision to allow singer Chris Brown to perform at last month's Grammy Awards - just three short years after he brutally beat his then-girlfriend Rhianna - has breathed new life into the national conversation surrounding domestic violence.

It can be easy to wonder why victims of physical, verbal and emotional abuse don't just pack up and leave. Of course, anyone who has been in an abusive relationship knows that such action is never that easy.

Abusers thrive on instilling fear and shame in their victims. It is not rare for an abuser to threaten a victim with physical violence, or even death, if he or she tries to leave. In addition, abusers have an insidious ability to inspire victims to believe that they could never survive on their own. Abusers often cut off access to money, break ties to victims' friends and family, and actively seek to destroy the victim's sense of self-esteem and emotional independence.

If you are being victimized by domestic violence, or any other form of abuse, know that you have the power to leave. However, it is imperative that you take steps to ensure your safety.

Various domestic abuse experts recommend considering the following advice:

Tell someone: Abuse is not your fault. Too many victims suffer in silence because they are afraid and ashamed. If you're not comfortable discussing your situation with family and friends, or if you think your abuser might find out, consider talking to a community organization, clergy member or private counselor.

Make a plan: Research the legal resources and shelters in your area to figure out where you will go when you leave. You will want to go somewhere that will offer you protection from your abuser. Choose a back-up location in case your first-choice shelter doesn't have room.

There are a number of organizations devoted to helping victims flee abusive relationships. In California, victims can call the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence at 800-524-4765. In other parts of the country, victims can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233. It's important that victims use a phone that their abuser cannot track. Don't use your own cellphone or landline if you can avoid it.

Establish private communication channels: Depending on the severity of the abuse, it may be safer to do this after you leave. Get a post office box, private email account and a prepaid cellphone. Keep this information private, and remember that your abuser could be tracking the activity on your home computer. It's better to use an Internet café or public library if you need to go online.

Don't look back: When it's time to leave, just go. The only time you should ever go back is if you are accompanied by law enforcement. Too many victims get hurt or killed when they return home to retrieve possessions or tie up loose ends.

If you are the victim of domestic abuse, know that you are not alone. There are many of individuals and organizations that will help you reclaim your life. If you ask for help, and focus on protecting your safety, you can leave your abuser successfully.

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