Survivor Voices: Finding the Courage to Leave


By Maya*, REACH Survivor Speakers Bureau

I knew I had to leave…it was the only way my son and I would ever be safe.”

Those are the words I spoke when I sat down with REACH staff during my initial intake. For most people, deciding to leave can seem like such a simple thing. If you don’t want to be somewhere, you turn around and you leave. Easy as that. But for domestic survivors like myself, choosing to leave is often not so simple, and it’s never easy.

As survivors, one of the questions we’re asked most often is some variation of “if it was so bad, why didn’t you just leave?” It’s a fair question, but also one that glosses over much of what we experience as survivors of domestic abuse and intimate partner violence. For us, leaving comes with ramifications, and it also might come with consequences. I’m incredibly thankful for the patience and kindness the REACH staff showed me, especially since they knew how difficult it was for me to even decide to leave in the first place.

When I first called the REACH hotline, my abuser was already in jail. But just because he was in jail didn’t mean I felt safe. His case was still being processed, which meant I had no idea how long he’d remain in jail. If I was going to leave, how long did I have to prepare? Days? Weeks? Months? Even while he was gone, I felt trapped. If I started planning to leave and he suddenly showed up, I knew the consequences would be severe, not just for me but also for my young son. And if I stayed on the off chance that my abuser was released early, that feeling of constantly living in fear would never go away.

It wasn’t long before I had a new problem to deal with. I had become dependent on my abuser’s financial income, which meant that with him in jail I couldn’t pay for our bills or our rent. My son and I were soon evicted from our apartment, and we spent several weeks living out of my car and staying with whatever few friends and relatives were willing to take us in. It got so bad that at one point I was even tempted to reach out to my abuser’s parents for help, despite the fear I felt and despite knowing they were likely still in contact with him. Thankfully, I called REACH instead.

With REACH’s help, I got into a shelter where my son and I both finally felt stable and safe. It took several months for me to start rebuilding my life, and REACH was there every step of the way. Their shelter advocates guided me through all the paperwork to apply for housing and helped me move into a new apartment when one finally became available. They encouraged me to join a support group where I could meet other survivors and share my experiences in a safe and supportive environment. With the resources they provided and the confidence they gave me, I found a new job and secured quality childcare for my son. Thanks to REACH, I regained control of my life.

Taking that first step and deciding to leave was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I knew I would struggle; I knew my son would struggle, and I didn’t want to put either of us through that hardship. REACH went above and beyond in their efforts to help me, and I take comfort in the knowledge that they’re there to help survivors like me who might want to leave but who are also terrified of what leaving might mean. Thanks to REACH, I have the resources I need to create a new life for myself and my son. Thanks to REACH, my son will grow up knowing that the abuse he witnessed was not his fault. Thanks to REACH, I now have the confidence to tell other survivors that leaving may be hard, but once you make that decision to leave, REACH will be right there to help you along the way.

*Name changed for confidentiality