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The First Breath

by Amanda Callahan, REP Educator for Anderson & Oconee Counties

“Why doesn’t s/he just leave?”

This is by far the number one question that people ask me as a domestic violence educator.  There are so many difficulties and obstacles in leaving a violent relationship. My colleague, Julieta, wrote an excellent post about all the reasons that someone might stay in an abusive relationship, which you can read here: http://localhost/wp-safeharborold/why-doesnt-she-just-leave/. However, even after a victim makes up their mind to leave, it’s not as simple as walking out the door or ending the relationship.

Would it shock you to know that one of the most dangerous times for someone in a violent relationship is the moment that they leave? In fact, it can be deadly.

It’s true, just ask Demi. She lost her life after she broke up with her boyfriend whose jealous and controlling behaviors became too much to handle. She was 16 when she was stabbed to death. Or, we could look at the recent murder-suicide in Oconee County that happened on January 5, 2013.  Gwendolyn Hiott was found dead at her vehicle after being shot by her boyfriend in what appeared to be an attempt to leave. I use these two examples, but there are countless more. Not all situations end in death, but it is important to understand that victims of domestic violence are at risk for stalking, harassment, physical assaults, and deadly threats and homicide attempts, even after a break-up. Just because a victim ends the relationship, it doesn’t necessarily put an end to the abuse.

The defining characteristics of an abusive relationship are POWER and CONTROL. When a victim leaves a violent relationship, it is seen as an act of defiance to their abuser.  After the abuser loses that control, sometimes they will do almost anything to get it back, including the ultimate act of control: taking someone’s life.

Subsequently, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that sometimes leaving a violent relationship may not always be the best option…at least, not right away. Sometimes it might be safer for a victim to stay until the safety plan to leave is foolproof. A safety plan is essential for leaving a violent relationship. Here are some basics of a safety plan: collecting and obtaining all the necessary documents for starting a new life (social security documents, ID’s, birth certificate, bank records, cherished pictures and memorabilia, etc.), planning the exact moment of escape, how and where you will live, children, dealing with common friends/family and how you will successfully avoid your abuser. The list of complexities grows quickly. 

Then the moment arrives that the victim has been planning for. They are able to leave and leave safely. Can you imagine the fear and anxiety they must be feeling to have had to plan every single minute and detail of their escape, because they know how dangerous their partner is? They arrive at Safe Harbor and for the first time in years maybe, they are FREE. Free of the fear, the incessant worrying, the emotional abuse and torture. They are free of the corroded thinking, the distorted perspective that has clouded their mind and spirit.

That’s the first breath that Becky is talking about in this video. The first breath of air that is positive, loving, supportive, and nourishing to parts of their mind and body that have been deprived for so long. That’s the hefty and honorable task we have at Safe Harbor. We have to constantly strive to create an environment where our clients can achieve their first breath, free of abuse.  We are up for the challenge. Are you ready to help? Learn more here: or contact us at

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