If you or a loved one is in an abusive relationship, it is important to create a safety plan that can be used while leaving the abusive partner. A safety plan will outline resources and steps to be taken so that the survivor can focus on their emotional health as they recover from the trauma of the situation.
What is a safety plan?
A safety plan is a personalized set of actions that you can take while you experience abuse, while you plan to leave an abusive situation and after you have left the abusive partner. The plan outlines steps you can take to respond to different scenarios as well information and resources that will be helpful as you begin a life without the abuser. A safety plan is important because it is difficult to make informed decisions under emotional pressure. Planning in advance will help you focus while you balance emotions with actions so you can feel in control in this pivotal life transition.
Safety Tips During a Violent Incident
- Avoid letting the abuser get between you and the exit.
- Practice leaving your home safely.
- Do not go in rooms with weapons, like the kitchen
- Tell trusted neighbors that you have been experiencing violence and to call 911 if they notice any disturbance.
- Use a code word or signal with children, neighbors or other family when you need the police.
- Understand the abuser’s patterns so you can predict when they are getting violent.
- If the abuser is violent, avoid moving to where there are children or pets as the abuser may hurt them too.
- Do not wear scarves or necklaces.
- Avoid rooms with hard floors.
- If you cannot escape, crouch into a ball and use your arms to protect your head with your fingers interlocked.
- If possible, call a crisis line before the situation escalates.
Safety Tips to Secure Your Household
If the abuser has left the home…
- Change the locks. Even if you think they do not have a key, they may keep a spare somewhere you are unaware of.
- Use deadbolt locks and, if possible, replace wooden doors with steel or metal.
- Consider installing a security system if you are financially able.
- Keep the outside of the house well-lit.
- Change your phone number and ask the phone company to keep you unlisted in phone books.
- If the abuser enters the home, even if you do not have a protective order, you may call the police if you feel there is danger.
- Install locks on windows.
- Discuss your safety plan with your children and practice with them.
- Tell your neighbors and landlord that the abusive partner no longer lives with you.
If you moved to a confidential location…
- When you must share your address, use one other than where you are living, like a PO box or the address of a trusted friend or family member.
- Similarly, ask if you can keep your address confidential or use an alternate address on your protective order or police reports.
- If possible, change your working hours and alternate the routes you take to and from work or to your child’s school.
- Follow any of the tips applicable in the above “If the abuser has left the home” section.
Safety Tips When Preparing to Leave
- Create your own checking, savings and credit card accounts to establish financial independence.
- Select trusted friends and family members who can escort you and who you can stay with while you seek permanent housing.
- Create a section in your safety plan with specifics on where you will go, how you will get there and how you will cover your tracks.
- Create a “go-bag” with the items listed at the end of this article and keep it in a safe place the abuser will not find it.
- If you plan to bring your children, contact a lawyer who specializes in domestic violence before you leave to protect yourself from accusations of custody violation or parental kidnapping.
- Teach your children to call a trusted family member or friend in case the abusive partner leaves and takes the children with them.
Safety Tips With an Order of Protection
- Keep a certified copy of the protective order with you at all times.
- Tell your friends, neighbors and coworkers about the order and share photos of the abuser.
- Tell any caretakers of your children like day care workers, babysitters or teachers and school administration about the protective order and to keep the abuser away from the children.
- Call the police if your abuser violates the order.
Safety Tips at Work and in Public
- If possible, share your situation with your manager at work and/or trusted coworkers. Consider sharing this information with building security as well. Ask to have your calls screened if they are part of your job.
- If you need help in public, shout “FIRE!” This has the highest response rate compared to other cries for help.
- Keep a cell phone and a backup phone with you. Ask a local domestic violence organization if they give out cell phones as you may be able to take one as your backup.
- Plan an exit route from work in case you need to leave quickly and discreetly.
- Frequently change your route to get to and from work.
- Change your shopping routines and locations frequently.
Safety Tips for Using the Internet
- Understand that there is no way to go unmonitored on the internet or on your cell phone.
- Regularly clear all data pertaining to your internet activity including browser history and email inbox and sent folder. Make sure you purge your email’s trash can as well.
- If you share a computer with the abusive partner, log out of your email and social media accounts every time you use them. Change your passwords frequently.
- Disable autocomplete on search engines or browse using Incognito Mode.
- If you get a new phone because your old one was compromised, do NOT allow it to update with information with the Cloud.
- Make social media accounts inaccessible from search engines.
- Keep your location turned off as much as possible, especially when using social media.
Checklist of What to Take With You
- Car and house keys, plus spare keys for each
- Driver’s license
- Car registration
- Copies of important documents, like:
- Birth certificates (for you and children)
- Social security cards (for you and children)
- Marriage license, divorce papers, custody papers
- Protection order
- Children’s school records and immunizations
- Passport and visas
- Green card, work permits and welfare identification
- Financial documents for accounts you and the abuser share
- Lease or housing deed
- Cash, checkbook and your credit and debit cards
- At least one change of clothing for you and your children
- A list of phone numbers for domestic violence services and hotlines, local police department, support groups, friends, family, taxi services, doctors, etc.
- Medication and insurance information
- Evidence to show that you have been abused (eg. bloody clothing)
- A safety cell phone or phone card
- Blankets and toys for children
- Necessary toiletries and menstrual products
- Sentimental items and valuables like jewelry
If you need help safety planning, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1–800–799-SAFE (7233)