by Molly Anderson
Domestic violence tears lives apart in many ways, but one of the most insidious is the way fear and vulnerability linger long after you’ve left your abuser. After violence has found its way into your home, the place that’s supposed to be your sanctuary, it can be hard to ever feel safe at home again. But you don’t have to live in fear forever. Use these strategies for reclaiming your safety at home.
If you’re still living in the house you shared with your abuser, it may be time to move. Not only does the household painful memories, but living in a home your abuser is familiar with puts you at risk of ongoing harassment. Simply moving to a new house and only sharing your address with trusted individuals can do wonders for your sense of security. If you own your house and need to sell before moving, consider staying with family or friends until you can afford to buy or rent a new home.
Secure Your Personal Items
If you have a car, it is strongly suggested that you have it checked for GPS tracking, as your abuser can put one on your car without your knowledge. If you aren’t sure what to look for, your local police department can check your car to determine if any sort of tracking device has been placed on it. Also, if your abuser gave you a computer or phone, have both of them checked for any device that would allow your abuser to listen in and/or see your emails, texts, etc.
Use an Address Confidentiality Program
If you’re worried about your abuser using public records to find your new address, an Address Confidentiality Program can help. According to the Stalking Resource Center, Address Confidentiality Programs “give victims a legal substitute address (usually a post office box) to use in place of their physical address; this address can be used whenever an address is required by public agencies.” If you need to change your ID then the Social Security Administration can assist you.
Add a Door Chain or Limiter
It’s a scene that gives you nightmares: You open the door after a knock only to have your abuser barge in before you have a chance to react. A security door chain or door limiter is a small, inexpensive measure that gives you the comfort of knowing no one can enter your home unless you want them to. Also you can buy a doorbell with a video camera system attached to see who is outside your door.
Secure Your Windows
Once your doors are secured, the next area to focus on is the windows. When securing windows, it’s important not to do anything that would prevent a safe escape in the event of a house fire. That means window bars are out, but you can easily upgrade your window locks; Home Depot offers a helpful rundown of various window lock options.
Install Motion-Activated Flood Lights
Motion-activated exterior lighting adds to your sense of security in two ways: It eliminates the ability for anyone to covertly sneak up to your home, and it illuminates your path from vehicle to front door when getting home after dark. Consider adding motion lights near ground-level windows as well.
Install a Security System
Don’t count on physical barriers alone. By installing a security system that monitors both doors and windows, you can rest assured that if someone gains unauthorized entry, the police won’t be far behind. Ensure your security code won’t be easily guessed by your abuser by avoiding important numbers like your birth date, instead choosing a random combination.
Lock Down Your Social Media
Doors and windows aren’t the only way your abuser can infiltrate your home. If you’re still active on social media and posting publicly, your abuser may be able to follow your actions, send harassing messages, and otherwise invade your peace of mind. If you don’t want to delete your social media accounts entirely, you can lock them down by blocking your abuser and your abuser’s family and friends, restricting your post visibility to friends only, declining location tagging, using an alternate name, and limiting the ways people can search for your profile.
If Harassment Continues
Sometimes, despite all the above measures, you may find that your abuser is still harassing and/or stalking you. If this is the case, get a restraining order. You can also change your identity (and your children’s) by going to the Social Security Department. If your abuser is persistent in their harassment or continues to threaten you, you can and should consider moving out of state to a safer location. Be sure to check with an attorney or free legal aid office if you have children to ensure you aren’t breaking any laws should you leave.
The transition from domestic violence victim to domestic violence survivor is both incredibly empowering and fraught with risk and anxiety. Securing your home is just one of the things you can do to take back control after leaving an abusive relationship. However, it’s only one part of the equation. In addition to creating a safe home, seek support, practice self-care, and give yourself time to heal and grieve. It takes time, but you can move on after abuse.