You and your children have the right to be safe. This means that you have the right to stop the violence. More than that, you have the right to live a violence-free life. This guide is one way to help you find ways to stop the violence.
Things have been difficult for a long time. Is there someone I can talk to about what to do next?
Yes. You may want to talk with someone before you decide whether to stay or go. You can talk with the staff at social service centers, domestic violence's programs, or mental health agencies. You can find a list of domestic violence programs on Jane Doe's website. Jane Doe, Inc., with the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, has a Directory of Domestic Violence Programs in Massachusetts and a map of services on their website. You can find some of these programs in the first few pages of your local telephone book in the self help section. You can also call Safelink, a statewide hotline that can tell you where to find help near you.
What if I can't leave now?
Sometimes people are threatened with worse harm if they leave. Some people depend on their abusive partner for the money to live, which makes leaving hard.
A first step is to look at what is possible for you and your family right now. Talking to a counselor (see above) may help you decide whether or not you want to continue the relationship. You may be able to use the information in this guide even if you do not leave your partner.
Abusive partners often play "games" and make promises that do not last long. Take a look at Games Batterers Play. Has your partner done or said some of the things described there? If so, their promises to change may be empty promises. You know your situation better than anyone else. Only you can decide what the best decision is for now.
Should I have a plan?
Yes. Domestic violence can make you feel trapped and afraid of physical harm. A Personalized Safety Plan will help you think ahead about things such as:
- what you can do to protect yourself when other person gets violent;
- how to leave quickly and where you can go;
- if you live separately from your partner, how to protect yourself if they try to find you;
- how to stay safe on the job, at school, in public; and
- how to use the courts to help keep you safe.
See the Personalized Safety Plan.
I am thinking about moving out of state with my children. Would this be a problem?
You should check with a lawyer if you plan to move your children out of state. The answer to this question is beyond the scope of this manual. Whether you may move or not depends on the specific facts of your situation. Important facts include:
- why you want to move out of state;
- whether the move will improve the children's quality of life;
- whether you are married to the other parent of your children or not;
- whether you are divorced or in the process of getting a divorce;
- what kind of relationship the other parent has with the children;
- whether there are any existing court orders involving the children;
- whether you suspect the other parent has filed or will file for custody; and
- many other considerations.
Often parents need court permission to move to a new state. The court weighs many factors in deciding whether or not to allow it. If you move the children to another state without the other parent's written permission or permission from a court, they may ask a court to give them custody and order that they be returned. For more information see Custody, Parenting Time and Visitation, and Moving out of Massachusetts with your children.
To see if you qualify for free legal services, call the legal services program near you.
Can I get a restraining order even if we are still together?
Yes. Even if you are still living together, you can still get a restraining order. In Massachusetts a restraining order is called a 209A protective order. If you are living together and you do not want to leave, the protective order will tell your partner not to abuse you, not to threaten you, not to harm you, and/or not to force you to have sex. See 209A Protective Orders and other articles about Abuse Prevention Orders.
What about a treatment program for my abusive partner?
A criminal court can order your partner to go to a treatment program called a "certified batterer intervention program." If you file for a 209A protective order (restraining order), the court may recommend or refer him to this kind of treatment program or to alcohol or drug treatment.
These treatment programs are all different. Massachusetts Department of Health and Human services has a web page about Certified Batterer Intervention Programs in Massachusetts where you can find the phone numbers and addresses of batterer intervention programs in your area.
If your partner is in a program, the program may contact you. You do not have to agree to anything they suggest. See 209A Protective Orders. If your partner is violent, it means that they have a problem and needs to be willing to change.
What about a treatment program for me?
Many domestic violence programs offer individual counseling and peer support groups. You may find a support group helpful. You can find out about these programs by calling Safelink.
If your partner is in a batterer intervention program, the program may have a support group for survivors of domestic violence that you can join. These groups are confidential and entirely voluntary. You do not have to join the' group that is connected with the batterer intervention program.
If you have an open case with the Department of Children and Families (DCF), you may have to go to a group as a condition of your service plan. See Department of Children and Families.
I want to leave, but the children want the family to stay together. What can I do?
It is important to trust your own judgment. You are the adult and responsible for making decisions that affect your children.
Sometimes, after people have been exposed to violence for a long time, they start thinking they aren't worth very much. They may not be able to make decisions. Sometimes, they start depending on their children to decide because they don't trust themselves.
You can make the decisions. Trust your own thinking.
My children love the other parent and want to see them. What can I do?
It is always hard for children to separate from a parent. It is also hard for children to see violence in their home. 'Witnessing domestic violence can seriously affect children's development, mental and emotional health, relationships with family and friends, and education.' Children who grow up seeing violence between their parents often have problems later in life.
You have to decide what is best for your family. If you separate from your partner, you may be able to work out ways for the children to visit with them, as long as visiting does not put them in danger. You also need to make sure that you keep yourself safe in the process. See Visitation for information on how your children can spend time with the other parent and still make sure every one is safe.
Who can I talk to about my children and their safety?
You may want to talk to a domestic violence program for referrals and guidance. Jane Doe has a map of Domestic Violence Programs in Massachusetts on their website. You can find some of these in the first few pages of your local telephone book in the self help section. You can also call Safelink, a statewide hotline that can tell you where to find help near you.
What can I do if I think my child is being abused?
If you think someone is abusing your child, take steps to stop or limit contact between your child and that person. This may mean limiting visitation with a parent see Visitation. You can also take your child to a doctor for an exam and talk with the doctor.
If you suspect child abuse or neglect, you can also call the Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-792-5200.
You can also call DCF. DCF is the state's child welfare agency. Before calling DCF, you might want to read Department of Children and Families. DCF can investigate abuse, write a report, offer services, or go to court to get custody of the children.
What if I can't protect my children?
Even though you are not the one abusing your child, it is a crime to "recklessly" let anyone physically harm a child. (Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 265, sec. 13J.)
Try to get help for your children if you can't protect them.
You may want to call Safelink for help finding a domestic violence program near you that can help you take steps to protect your child. Or look up a program on Jane Doe's website.
You may be able to get help from friends, family or other agencies.
You can also call the Department of Children and Families (DCF), the child welfare agency in Massachusetts. DCF can help you, but DCF can also take custody of your children in certain situations. See Department of Children and Families for more information on DCF.