DEAR ABBY: I'm a 27-year-old woman trapped in a loveless marriage. My husband is a few years younger, and very co-dependent. Before he dated me, he had never had a girlfriend or a sexual encounter. I came into the relationship with a child and some trust/fear issues because my ex had abused me.

My husband has now become verbally, sexually and to a lesser degree physically abusive, to the point of striking my 5-year-old son. I threw him out for that, but caved to pressure from my family to take him back. They think he's a "stabilizing" influence in my life. They don't know about, or can't grasp, his abuse or the abuse I survived previously. If I hint at it, they accuse me of "lying for attention."

My husband has left for basic training with the Army and will be gone for a few months. I already feel freer, lighter and more able to cope with things. If I leave him while he's away, the social and family repercussions will be devastating. My son and I may be forced to relocate.

I'm torn and afraid. I went through with the marriage only to please my family, as the abuse started before the wedding. It has been a year and a half, and all I can think about is getting out. Help me, please.

- Canadian Reader

DEAR READER: Deciding to leave an abusive partner can be wrenching, as well as frightening. However, because abuse tends to escalate, it is what you must do. Your and your child's safety could depend on it. It is shameful that your family isn't supportive, but don't let that stop you. Relocate if you must.

You need to form an escape plan. The way to do that is to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The phone number is 800-799-7233. Counselors there can refer you to help in your area - they have done this for other Canadian women. They also offer education and empowerment programs so that victims will be less likely to be sweet-talked by their abusers into returning for more punishment.

Don't wait to reach out, because your son's physical and emotional health depend on it. If not for yourself, do it for him.