If you live with an abuser, you may not feel you have the courage to move out yet.
And that’s okay.
Even before you’re ready to take that first step, planning is critical. Doing it early—even if you're not prepared to leave as soon as possible—will boost your chances of success.
Here are some tips from movers and our friends at Fort Bend Women’s Center:
Set aside money when you can. Shelters offer services free of charge. It’s still a great idea to have your own money to access depending on how you are moving out and your post-move plans.
Things will be easier if you have money to access independently. Try setting up a checking or savings account in your own name at a bank that is separate from your partner.
Gather your most important and valuable items.
It doesn’t have to be all at once, but set aside what you can, whenever you can. (Examples: extra car keys, car title/lease paperwork, emergency cash, insurance cards, birth/marriage certificates, social security cards, health records, extra medications, debit/credit cards, extra clothes, children’s clothing or supplies, any evidence of physical abuse— like photos, journals, notes, medical or police records, etc.).
Store them in a private place. Private, as in, ONLY you have access to it. Do not leave this with anyone close to your abuser or any place where your abuser could easily find it. (Examples: a personal lockbox, a backpack, with a trusted friend or family member, or in a safety deposit box in a bank your abuser doesn’t know about).
Make copies of any documents your abuser is likely to notice are missing.
Create a code word, phrase, or signal.
If you have children or other loved ones living with you and your abuser, they need to knowexactly what to do when you say this.
Also do this with any trusted friends, family, or neighbors you can call on stay with or help you leave.
(Examples of a plan: Go to a neighbor’s home, ask your school staff to call/text me, call grandma).
In case you’re in a situation where your abuser is closely monitoring your every move, or listening, create a code term that sounds natural but is unique to you and your loved ones.
You should also practice what to do in case of danger—especially if you have kids.
If possible, get your own cell phone.
The chance that an abuser has secretly installed a surveillance app on their victim’s phone is extremely high. Many IPS (intimate partner surveillance) apps can be installed without even touching a cell phone.
If you can get your own phone, use a passcode that can’t be easily guessed.
How to safely handle a cell phone to plan your move:
DO NOT ditch the compromised phone,(this could enrage the abuser). Use it for simple tasks, but do not use it to call/ search for movers or domestic abuseresources.
Suspect you’re being spied on?Don’t bother paying for anti-spyware apps since most can’t find all the creepy software, and the abuser could react violently. The only way to remove it is to factory reset the phone, and that will remove all your current apps and settings. It’s best to get a cheap phone that allows you to privately text, browse the internet, plan your move, and make callsto police or family violence centers.
Can’t get your own cell phone?
Keep the Fort Bend Women’s Center hotline number handy:281-342-4357. They suggest “saving it under something innocent like the name of a restaurant [or business] you like."
To plan your move from an abusive situation:
Use a public computer at a library, school, or friend’s house. If you know where you’ll be moving, set up mail forwarding through your local United States Post Office, or do it online for $1.05. If you don’t know exactly where you’re going, you can get help from a shelter when you’re there. (Log out of all services and clear your history when you’re done.)
Research how you’ll move. Will another trusted adult be helping you move? Will you hire a moving company instead? Make sure that whatever company you choose has domestic violence policies in place (what we call “privacy moves”), and that the movers have undergone criminal background checks. We call these “privacy moves” because we take every precaution to protect your privacy—which is vital in cases of abuse. No one who calls will be able to discuss details of the move just by using your name. In fact, you’ll be issued a personal file locator number so only you can review the move information.
Know your options: call shelters in advance. This is important to learn the policies about whom they allow to stay or visit. Even if there isn’t room, a shelter can often refer you to another place. Hotels are often used to house people escaping abuse when centers are full, and staff members will assist with meals, health care, child care, pet care, education, job training, counseling, waivers for utilities and phone service, legal help, longer-term shelter, and more.
Shelters may be able to help you with pets. Take any evidence you gathered previously, (like photos or medical records of abuse). Besides legal help, you’ll also want to ask if the shelter is pet-friendly. Typically, service and support animals are welcome. If not, you can leave your pet with a trusted friend or family member out of the abuser’s reach in case (s)he tries to retaliate. Shelters may also be able to connect you with resources on fostering your pet if necessary. Fort Bend Women's Center, for example, has connections with the Houston Humane Society and can help make arrangements for fostering or sheltering pets.
Determine the best time to leave. If you live with your partner, ask yourself: when do they go to work or leave the home for extended periods of time? Are there any rooms you feel safe in that you can exit from in case you have to move quickly? If you don’t live with your partner, consider: When is the best time for you to be alone or have privacy?
Avoid posting or messaging anything on social media about your plan.
You’ll need tomemorize important information, like phone numbers or addresses of trusted neighbors, friends, or family.
If you have children, tell them to memorize it too. Agree on a code word/phrase that will let everyone involved know what to do when it is used.
When survivors of violence leave their abusers, it can be a dangerous time. But you are strong enough to make it out! These steps will help make it easier on the day of your move.
Confirm the details with your movers & others
Whether you’re hiring pros or supporters to help you move—or getting out by yourself—review how you want your move to work. Go over your code words and escape plan with children or people who are helping you move. Use a public computer (like at a library or at most shipping stores) to print out the destination in case your phone is being spied on.
Make sure your essentials are ready to go.
In a hurry? Grab the essentials that you packed previously and go. Remember those copies you made? Leave them in case you have little to no belongings to move and don’t want your abuser to quickly catch on that you’ve left.
What to do if you don’t have boxes(or the money to buy them)
Ask your local grocery store. These boxes will probably be somewhat worn or less sturdy (and you may be able to only use them once), but grocery store boxes are a good fix if you have no money.
Your moving company can also provide these—especially if they have packing services.
Lock up anything that could be used as a weapon.
Make sure these items are as hard to reach as possible. (Example: Put things like guns, knives, or bats in a safe, on top of kitchen cabinets, or in a toilet water tank.)
Also, review where your exits and windows arelocated in case you have to run to another room.
Know your end destination.
Will you be leaving unexpectedly? Where will you go and how will you get there? Have your printed directions ready—especially if you think your cell phone is being used to spy on you.
If you have children at school and can't pick them up before moving...
Ask the front office to change release privileges so an abusive partner cannot pick them up after finding out you have left.
Sometimes when abusers feel they have lost control, they may try to lash out and retaliate by hurting your loved ones. Do this on the same day and time you’re planning to leave home you share with your abuser.
Ditch the compromised cell phone.
Remember: it’s highly likely that your abuser is spying on your location and whatever info passes to or from your phone.
Once you are safely on your way to your destination, that is the time to ditch your current phone or do a factory reset.
But first, log out of every online and app account you own so they can't access your location through your app and online account permissions.
NOTE: Things to know before doing a factory reset on your phone.
Resetting your phone will remove your current apps and settings, so you’ll have to download and log into them again.
Some apps you should avoid downloading again (like certain email apps) and only access them through a computer.
Update each account password and its security questions.
Change your passwords to something the abuser can’t guess. Do this for your email account first, because social media and other apps will often send location info to your email to authorize any changes.
Unable to discard the compromised phone?
Disable your Bluetooth, Bluetooth scanning, and location so your phone cannot communicate with other devices.
This is usually called Location Sharing in your Settings or menu bar.
Look in Settings to ensure Bluetooth scanning is disabled, as apps can use it to share your location even if you have Bluetooth turned off.
Check each application in your privacy and security settings to ensure suspicious-looking apps cannot access and share your information.
Download Google Voice, a free service that generates a virtual phone number for you to make and screen calls or texts.
Ensure that no one can make changes to your wireless service.
If you are the account holder for your wireless service, call and ask them to put additional security measures in place, or change your verbal PIN.
If you are setting up a new service, inform them of your situation as many providers will waive fees.
Have your personal phone easily available & set up Emergency SOS.
Moving out due to domestic violence can be scary, so it’s necessary to be prepared. Using the SOS feature is easy and will call the police first, then alert your emergency contacts in case you are in danger.
NOTE: In case of danger, use your Emergency SOS buttons or call 9-1-1 .
Use the secret code/phrase/signal with any children or people who are helping you move. Do not run to where your children or loved ones are, in case your partner tries to hurt them. If you must go to another room, make sure it has an exit.
What to do if your abuser shows up unexpectedly.
Your abuser may already be home when your friends/movers arrive— so it's important that your helpers are prepared. For movers, this means acting on their privacy move policies.
Example: at 3 Men Movers, this includes appearing as if they have the wrong house.
For children or supporters helping you move, this means acting on your emergency code word plan or calling 9-1-1 in case your partner becomes threatening or violent.
Disable anything that could be used to track you during a move.
Moving out is an extremely sensitive and nerve-wracking process if you're dealing with abuse from an intimate partner. That's why it's critical to make your move-out as streamlined and private as possible.
It's common for abusive partners to exert control by tracking you without you even knowing it.
In fact, Bluetooth-enabled devices that were originally created to find lost items are being leveraged for stalking unsuspecting victims.
Devices like Apple AirTags can be stealthily slipped into a bag or attached on a car and track everywhere you go.
So not only should you check your vehicle and other belongings for trackers, it's also a good idea to turn off any GPS navigation in your car, and disable the location-tracking features on your smartphone.
Be aware that if you have an iPhone, it can take anywhere between 8 to 24 hours before an AirTag will alert you to its presence.
That means you'll need to plan a specific time to check your belongings for tracking devices before moving out.
Below are apps that can help you find out if you're being tracked by an unknown device:
Wherever you’re going—be it a shelter or a loved one’s home—reach out first. See if they can provide you with any help or transportation to your destination.
After Moving: Protect Your Future
Follow these post-move privacy tips to embark on a new, brighter future and stay safe.
Get & keep copies of your protective order.
Depending on their funding and access to lawyers, shelter or domestic violence attorney may be able to connect you with a family violence attorney or help you fill out paperwork—but you may have to persistently check on the status.
Children and pets can be included in these orders, too.
Carry a certified copyof the protective orderwith you everywhere you go. Addresses may be on these documents or police reports, so consider using a P.O. box or a friend’s address for your mail.
Be careful who and where you submit your new phone number and address.
Ask for service deposit waivers.
Getting a break for a while will help you gain financial independence and avoid returning to toxic partners who make you feel like you can’t succeed without them.
In Texas, the deposit for utilities (like gas, electricity, and wireless/phone service) can be waived or reduced to a monthly basis.
The requirements include getting a letter signed by Certifying Entity andfaxing it to the utility company (you can use faxes at any shipping/postal store).
According to the Public Utility Commission of Texas, entities that can sign utility waivers are
Family violence centers
Treating medical staff
Law enforcement personnel
Office of Texas District or County Attorney
Office of the Attorney General
Grantees of the Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation
Change up your routine.
If you take the same route to/from work, take a different route.
Avoid going to the places your abuser knows. If you normally work or shop at night, try switching to the daytime. The most vulnerable time for survivors is when they leave and the abusive partner has lost control.
Ensure your abuser can’t predict where you’re going. This will be easier if you’re moving a lengthy distance from where your abuser lives.
Notify your workplace.
You just did an incredibly brave thing by choosing a better future! Someone else’s choices shouldn’t change that. Give a photo of the abuser to your work supervisors, security staff, or coworkers that you trust and work closely with at the same time.
They don’t have to know the details, but they should be aware that (s)he isn’t allowed near the premises to harass, stalk, or threaten you via a protective/restraining order.
You can also alert authorities at your children’s school, even if you changed their schools
Unlist your new phone number.
Lockdown new emails or social accounts. It’s common for abusers to show lots of remorse or even cry in order to get back into your life.
This is a manipulative tactic to regain control, and they may also try this through mutual friends or family. Unfortunately, you’ll have to make some changes to avoid caving to pressure.
First, set up two-factor authentication (this is available on almost all Internet-based accounts).
Next, do a social media cleanse, like blocking your abuser and their friends,not allowing yourself to be tagged in photos without review, notsharing any location tags/check-ins, etc. so they cannot see where you now live. If you share mutual custody of children, it’s more complicated. Shelters can connect you with a family violence attorney who can assist you further. Call your wireless company and ask to change or unlist your newphone number.
Read the Fine Print in New Contracts, Service Agreements, & Privacy Policies.
Finally, avoid doing business with companies who state in their Privacy Policies that your personal information might be sold for marketing purposes.
Set up security in your new space.
Pick security systems (like cameras and alarms) with motion-sensitive lighting and backup that won’t fail in bad weather or can’t work without WiFi.
You’ll also want to make sure a simple laser cannot disable them.
Security system companies may also be able to help you settle in with discounts or a monthly waiver. For this, you may be asked to furnish some proof, so consult with your attorney or ask the company what you need to provide.
Replace wooden doors with steel or metal doors.
Secure windows, garages, locks, and doors with security bars or locks so they can’t be opened or kicked in from the outside.
How Survivors Can Get Help For Domestic Violence
If you or someone you know is in an abusive situation and needs help, please contact the following:
How We’re Helping Domestic Abuse Survivors During the Pandemic
On average, 20 people per minute are physically abused by a partner in the United States.
Reports of domestic violence are rising due to the coronavirus pandemic, and it is impacting the way we live, work, and how we feel.
But, at 3 Men Movers, our hope is to reduce that number to 0.
So, we’re using our expert moving resources to support local organizations to address domestic violence. Here’s how we’re partnering with the nonprofit Fort Bend Women’s Center (FBWC) in Texas tosupport survivors.
TLDR: No time to read? Listen to this blog instead!
Houston Partnership Eases COVID-19’s Effect on Domestic Abuse
Typically, the FBWC resale shop, PennyWise, accepts donated furniture and appliances for resale. Proceeds are used to provide programs and goods for domestic abuse survivors and their children.
Until the stay-at-home order in Greater Houston is lifted, PennyWise is closed and cannot move donations to their warehouse. So, our crews are helping by moving donated furniture from clients to the FBWC warehouse.
Three Men Movers has been a wonderful friend and partner to Fort Bend Women’s Center for many years, and we’re thrilled to be working with them to bring in donations for our Pennywise stores, which support our mission to help survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault and their kids. Through this partnership, people can use the VERY BEST movers in town and also make much-needed donations to a great cause! Thank you, Three Men Movers!
To dig deeper, we sat down with Sean Hughes, Resale Operations Director for PennyWise. Here’s his take on the partnership and how the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders are affecting domestic violence.
Can you tell us a bit more about your organization and what your mission is?
“Fort Bend Women’s Center has been part of the community for 40 years, and our primary goals are to promote healing and hope and assistance for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. And, unfortunately, with a large community, we have lots of needs for assistance.”
What is your role at Fort Bend Women’s Center and why do you find it rewarding?
“I have a lot of fun doing what I do. My program involves the resale stores—the thrift stores—that are part of the fundraising portion for the agency. So I get to apply a lot of my traditional retail background in a nonprofit organization.
And, I realized, not only am I benefitting myself and my team by having a good operation, but I’m able to make a great place for volunteers to come, a great place for donors to contribute to our cause.
Ultimately, everything that we do well ends up being beneficial to our clients, the survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. So, that part of the things is a little bit more meaningful knowing that all our good works go directly translated into good things for the survivors.”
Can you tell me more about PennyWise?
“We operate four different stores and two stand-alone donation centers across Harris and Fort Bend counties, and we operate with a team of paid staff members and lots and lots of volunteers.
Primarily, what we do is we gather donated items from the communityeither through our trucks and the team of drivers that is involved with our trucks or directly in our facilities. We prepare those items to be gifted to needy clients who qualify for certain things or to be sold to the public.
A lot of members of the public who love to shop in our thrift stores, and we love having them. It’s exciting to see what’s new every day for us, too, because we never know quite what we’re going to have for sale and it’s a lot of fun.”
How is 3 Men Movers currently working with your organization?
“Well, there’s two parts to what’s going on.
We were able to provide some material for 3 Men Movers to use as training aids. Some of the appliances and furniture that we get are things that we can’t give to clients or sell to the public because of their condition or their age, but they’re the right size and texture and they’re great training tools. So, y’all got a hold of some of our stuff and are training new staff members to use those sample items.
From our end, we have had a great opportunity to do some cross-marketing through 3 Men Movers, and also to make some arrangements to have things donated from the public and stored by the 3 Men Movers team, so that we have really an additional donations pipeline. As a nonprofit who is very interested in material donations, we love any new source of items! Our clients appreciate that and the buying public appreciates that, too.”
What expected or unexpected changes have you noticed as a result of this involvement?
“Well, we’ve seen an opportunity to begin to explore some things. I’m actually kind of new to the organization and new to this particular partnership, so perhaps my perspective isn’t as informed at some other folks… But I know that we’re grateful for the opportunity to share some marketing ideas so that both sides can be benefited.
I know—just as an aside—I have been a customer of yours multiple times. I’ve had a chance to move in a couple different places in the Texas area and every time my first call has always been to 3 Men Movers. I’ve had some sensational experiences so I’m anticipating that all our connections going forward are going to be really solid.”
What are your biggest challenges with getting donations?
“Well, the biggest challenge is a good thing. Houston is such a large and diverse city, that there are a lot of very effective and great nonprofit organizations up there. Everywhere from churches to community organizations to government groups, and they all have different niches, geographically and economically, and with their mission.
So we are very competitive for donated items, as well as funds, as well as volunteer time. So our biggest general challenge is to stay relevant and to stay top of mind to those generous people in the community that want to give their money, their time or their property to us.”
What types of donations do you need the most?
“Honestly, the thing that gets our staff and our clients most excited are furniture items. We sell everything from clothes, to shoes, to household goods, to home décor, toys and games, and neat stuff. But, we have the best luck and have the best opportunity to make the most money for the agency with furniture items.
For instance, we recently opened a second community that provides shelter for some of our needy clients, and all of those members of the community needed new furniture of some kind.
And so, we had a huge run on our inventories of furniture during the early to middle part of February. We were pretty well cleaned out, and that was great because it means we were providing things to clients. But, we’d like to get the opportunity to be restocked always, in the future. People will always get excited about furniture!”
What types of donations are you currently not accepting?
“Well, the things that we don’t accept are for three basic reasons:
One is if the items are so large that it’s not physically practical for our staff to move them around. We don’t like certain things like huge, huge, huge desks, or large pool tables or aquariums that are the size of Cleveland or things like that. So, really large items—things that aren’t safe to resell.
We pay attention to the government guidelines from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and there are certain things—because of the technology or just general safety concerns—that we don’t like.
The other type of thing is, if you wouldn’t want to use it yourself, you shouldn’t donate it. We want something that’s clean and healthy, and that next person who does have a chance to use it, it’ll be hazard-free for them.”
One reason it is so difficult for domestic violence victims to leave is because their abusers often take over financial control. How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting this and what do you think can be done to help people finding it harder to leave?
“That is a super great question, and there’s no easy answer for it.
Yes, there’s additional stress—both in financial circumstances and the proximity to your abuser. Let me talk about finances first.
The government relief programs are great, and there’s a lot of local people who are stepping up and trying to help needy people. But, all those sorts of relief connections take time. It takes time for the money to come in.
So, the suggestion always is for anyone in a relationship to try to establish their own credit, their own separate banking accounts, and things like that if it’s at all practical to do that. Having some money squirreled away so that you can make a more informed and capable escape from your situation is critical.
The other tricky part right now, especially with the [coronavirus], is that people are shut in together to a degree that they weren’t before. Typically, an abuser doesn’t like being out of their own routine, and it’s an opportunity for that person to get triggered and act really, really badly towards their victims.
Our suggestion here is to try to create circumstances where you can have some alone time. It could be a trip to the store, it could be a trip to the bathroom inside the store if you’re shopping as a group. Or, it could be going into the garage or into a car if you have access to a car just to get a little privacy.
At that point when you have that privacy, we encourage people to call a number like our helpline which is 281-347-HELP… Or, get on our website, which is FFBWC.org.
Folks can get connected with our team 24/7 and explain, ‘Hey, I’m in the middle of something that’s really ugly… Can you give me some quick ideas about what I can do to try to make my situation better?’
Our staff is trained to help get people started to plan that exit.
Unfortunately just like you say with the financial stresses and being in close proximity to your abuser, it’s harder than ever to do that right now.
Typically, in a standard situation, statistics say that it takes something like seven attempts before someone can actually exit a toxic relationship. I can only imagine that it’s harder right now.”
What housing, financial, or moving resources would you recommend to people who currently feel trapped in abusive domestic situations?
“The best thing that they can do is to leave with a concrete plan where to go, who to be with, when to be there, how to get there.
Our 24/7 helpline has trained folks that’ll assist with those sorts of issues. It’s always a challenge to leave and to bring enough with you. Sometimes people are leaving money and checkbooks behind, they’re leaving credit cards behind, they’re leaving family members and pets behind. A lot of times, when the survivors are fleeing, they’re bringing some family members, but some of them are still in school or across town or doing something and they can’t have an intact family.
But the more time you have to think about what you need when you get to your new space, the more successful that situation is going to be. And, making a plan about how and when and what to bring and who to bring is critical.
There are resources that we have online for that, as well as counselors.”
If people want to get involved with donating or volunteering, what are some important things they need to know?
“The ‘where to learn more’ part is easy! We just updated our website, so again it’s FBWC.org for Fort Bend Women’s Center. There are a couple different types of volunteering that people can do: You can get some specialized training to work directly with clients. We do background checks and we go through an extensive training program that’s certified by the office—or, the Attorney General’s office here in Texas. Then, folks can accompany people to court, or go to hospitals, or work one-on-one with their children… All sorts of things.
But the easier way, something that groups can do that doesn’t take as much training, is to volunteer inside our PennyWise stores. Lots of people can relate to working inside retail stores, and we work real hard to have the volunteers that work in PennyWise help us prepare the items for sale, help us treat our customers nicely and just do things inside stores. That’s a great opportunity for individuals to come in anywhere from 15-90, to volunteer, and for large groups to come in and help us.
We work with donors of money too, and obviously cash is always acceptable. There’s portals on our website for financial assistance, and for pledges for future assistance. There’s information about fundraising programs that we have, because we have special events that are great. Also, just in general, we love and need volunteers.
So if you’re donating items, you’re donating yourself, or you’re donating your time, we can put that to use and you will feel satisfied at the end of your donating experience or volunteer experience that you’ve done some immediate good.”
What is Fort Bend Women’s Center’s vision for the future?
“It’s sort of funny because our CEO says we’d love to put ourselves out of business.
We’ve talked about the fact that we help survivors to get on their feet, get away from their traumatic situations, in short-term and long-term health, and we talked about the PennyWise program and how it helps fund the organization but something I haven’t spoken about yet is our prevention programs.
We do some prevention and some community outreach so that people in our community—from student groups to social organizations, to law enforcement and healthcare providers—understand the dynamics of healthy relationships, what to look for, what to expect, and how to stand up for yourself and what consent looks like.
There are people who have been exposed to unhealthy behavior for a long, long time, and they don’t realize how utterly toxic their circumstances are. So, our prevention program helps to show what the norms of behavior are and helps to get at those people early enough to potentially solve some of the problems.
One of the cool things that we do when working with our survivors, is about half of our clients are kids. It’s the adult in the relationship that’s usually fleeing, but they’re bringing children with them. Those kids sometimes are direct abuse victims, but more often are indirectly abused and they’re aware of how badly their parent has been treating the other parent.
Breaking that cycle of violence in someone who’s young is incredibly critical to their long-term health and emotional stability.
So, the prevention efforts that we’re making is what we want to continue to emphasize a lot. We’re glad that we’ve had an opportunity to serve a lot of people in a lot of ways. We are doing trauma-based treatments with people. We’re recognizing that many of our clients have physical issues. We have a lot of people that we’re helping who have had chemical dependencies, or traumatic brain injuries, and that changes how they’re able to handle their own treatment. So we’re sensitive to that, and have developed some new therapies to do a better job connecting with those folks.”
National & Local Resources to Help Stop Domestic Abuse
If you or someone you know is in an abusive situation and needs help, please contact the following for help: