Serving Clients in Knox, Blount, Anderson, Loudon, Sevier & Roane Counties

Domestic Violence Series: Resources for Leaving an Abusive Relationship

There are many reasons that someone facing domestic violence may remain in an abusive environment, be it from a romantic partner, close friend, or a family member. In fact, people in the midst of an abusive relationship might not even be fully aware that what they are experiencing “qualifies” as domestic violence or abuse. This is not because they are stupid, clueless, or naïve. It is often a social or economic survival tactic. Other times, it is the result of an escalating abusive pattern that builds over a period of months or years, emerging so slowly that even those closest to it don’t recognize it right away.

Those who are subjected to domestic violence and those who perpetrate violence are often not who popular culture tells us they are. Take Sara’s story, for example:

Sara (whose name has been changed for this article) was with an abusive partner for around three years, and they even discussed marriage. “Everything becomes normalized, and you just don’t see it,” she says, noting that it took a while for her partner’s violent tendencies to emerge – and even when it did, it was in small increments. This made it difficult for her to recognize what she was dealing with. She often attributed his behavior to stress, a bad mood, or simply an “off” day: “I’m not some self-hating woman,” she says. “I identified very vocally as a feminist right from the start. He was always codependent, but things never escalated physically until alcohol became involved.”

Sara says while that she never felt in danger of violence day-to-day, she worried when they drank that he would be set off by something small. She recalls an argument at a friend’s party one night that became physical. She tried to publicly call him out immediately afterward, thinking she could shame him into better behavior. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a long-term solution.

Sara also says that even as she attempted to disentangle herself from the relationship, it became difficult for her to return to social spaces she had previously occupied. “He always portrayed himself as an ally,” she says. “He wasn’t the guy anyone would have thought would do that. Plus, if people found out we were usually drinking when it happened, I knew there was a good chance I wouldn’t be taken seriously.”

Sara’s experience is, unfortunately, a common one. In Tennessee, an estimated 40 percent of women and 32 percent of men have experienced violence, rape, or stalking at the hands of a romantic partner, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So what can you do if you find yourself in an abusive relationship?

First and foremost, if you are in immediate danger, call the police (or a 24-hour helpline if you are uncomfortable with police contact). If you want to know what to expect at the moment that police become involved so you can weigh your options, click HERE.

The Knoxville area’s confidential 24-hour Family Violence Helpline is 865-521-6336. The Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee is also a confidential 24-hour number and can be reached at 865-588-9040. The sexual assault crisis line is 865-522-7273.

Mobile crisis numbers can also be helpful when you or someone around you is experiencing a mental health crisis and poses an immediate danger, either to themselves or others. Several state and local agencies have their own mobile crisis units. Find a list here. Some of these organizations also have 24-hour crisis walk-in centers for mental health emergencies, if that applies to your situation.

If you have recently separated yourself from an abusive partner and are located in Knoxville or the surrounding area, there are several resources available to you. It can be lonely, overwhelming and a downright terrifying experience. Take a breath. You are not alone.

You may need to find a shelter or safe housing program. This will give you a place to stay short-term (3 days to a few weeks) until you can come up with a plan. You will have help from a caseworker, so again – you do not have to face that alone. When you call, you will probably be asked to keep the location of the shelter secret so that your abuser cannot show up unannounced. These programs are free, and you can bring your children with you. Most shelters do not allow pets, but they can work with you to find somewhere for your pet to go until you get back on your feet. You will be provided meals and, if necessary, clothing and toiletries.

Next, you will need to find more permanent housing and figure out how to pay your bills. This can be difficult to do even under normal circumstances, but again, help is out there. If you have a case manager at a shelter, they can assist you. You can also call the Tennessee Department of Human Services at 865-594-6151 and explain your situation. DHS works slowly due to the number of people it serves, and you will probably have to keep calling to check on the status of your case, but they will assign you a case manager and get you on track.

You are your own best advocate here – be ready to repeat your story to several people, write down the first and last names of anyone you speak to, take notes on what was discussed, and call them back if you don’t hear from them within a reasonable amount of time. You may be eligible for subsidized housing, SNAP benefits (food stamps), and childcare assistance, but you will have to work hard to make sure you don’t slip through the cracks. Knoxville Utilities Board also has a social work department. Again, if you call and let them know what you are dealing with, they will try to work with you. You can ask for a grace period or a break on your utility bill.

  • Another option: The Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee. CAC works in the community to connect those in need with nutrition, childcare, and other federal and state programs. They have employment assistance, mobile meals and food distribution programs, transportation services, emergency utility bill assistance, and more… if you need it, they can probably help you get it. For a full list of services, CAC offers as well as contact information, visit

If you are unsure of where to find your next meal as you apply for these various programs and wait on people to call you back, there are several pantries around town that can help you keep fed so you can stay focused on the tasks at hand. These services are free, you just have to go pick up the food, usually located at various churches around town. You can find a list of all pantry locations by the city at

You may eventually (or immediately) need legal services. Depending on your unique situation, you might require anything from a temporary restraining order to divorce. Your children may need to stay with relatives for an extended period of time while you find housing. or you may be worried about whether or not your partner should have contact with the kids (Wondering what to expect if the Department of Children’s Services gets involved in your case? Click HERE.). You can certainly call Held Law Firm at 865-637-6550 whenever you are ready to take that step. You may also reach out to Legal Aid of East Tennessee (learn more about what they do at or even the Attorney General’s office at 865-215-2515.

This may feel like a lot to take in, and that’s because it is. Please know that your safety is our top priority, as it should be for everyone that helps you through this process. For a more complete list of resources available to you in Knoxville, visit the city’s info page, which is dedicated to providing this information.

The information in the blog was compiled and written by Faith Held.