Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States. Every year more than one million women seek medical assistance for injuries sustained in an abusive relationship. And about one in five female high school students have been physically or sexually abused by someone they're dating.

Physical and sexual violence aren't the only forms of abuse in a relationship. It can include emotional abuse, controlling behavior, constant threats and insults, alienation from your friends and family, excessive jealousy, financial abuse, and abuse of your children.

An abusive relationship is emotionally, physically and mentally draining. You may feel afraid, helpless, or even guilty. Remember that you're not to blame for your partner's abusive relationship, and it's not your responsibility to "fix" him. These can be some of the stumbling blocks that may prevent you from leaving before it's too late.

Here are a few other strategies that can help you to leave an abusive relationship:

• Ask for help. Talk to a friend, colleague, family member, therapist, clergy member, or someone you trust. You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

• Understand that you deserve better. It's quite common in an abusive relationship for the abuser to degrade and emotionally abuse their partners. You may begin to believe that there's no better alternative, or that you don't deserve to be treated better. No one has the right to abuse you and you do have options.

Have a packed bag ready. The Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence (KCSDV) recommend that you keep the bag hidden in a handy place so you can leave quickly. Or, consider leaving it somewhere else - at a friend's or work - in case your partner searches your home.

• Plan where to stay. Find a safe place where you and your children can stay when you leave. Don't make arrangements from home by telephone as the charges will show up on your bill. Also, don't make arrangements through the Internet on your home computer as these can be traced.

• Determine the safest time and way to leave. Monitor your abuser's schedule to find the best time to leave your abusive relationship. Plot your route down to the finest details. On the day when you plan to leave, keep your activities normal so your abuser doesn't become suspicious.

• Open a savings account. You'll need money to survive when you leave an abusive relationship. Try to stash away some money in a savings account at a bank that your partner doesn't use. Also, apply for a new credit card using the address of a friend or family member you trust.

• Take important documents. Pack items such as your birth certificate and your children's, Social Security Number, driver's license, passport, restraining order, and children's school records. If your partner keeps your personal documents, find out where they are and don't take them until the last minute.

• Don't take old credit cards. If the bill goes to the home you're leaving, your partner may be able to trace your whereabouts from the charges.

• Secure your home. If you stay in your home, install a sound security system to keep your abuser out. Let neighbors or your landlord know that he shouldn't be in your home.

• Change your phone number. Ask for an unlisted number. Or, switch to a cell phone, which will come in handy if your abuser approaches you in public.

• Keep records of abuse. Make a tape of any abusive phone messages, keep pictures of your or your children's bruises, and file threatening emails or letters in case you go to court.

• Talk to your child's school and day care staff. Let them know about the abusive relationship and custody order to alert them so your partner cannot snatch your children.

• Get counselling. An abusive relationship is traumatic and you may take years to recover. You can find abuse counselling through your local YWCA, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, or the National Sexual Abuse Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or online at