If you are in an abusive relationship, or know someone who is and want to help, make a safety plan. Being prepared, thinking ahead, and taking good care of yourself are the most important things you can do. Having a safety plan assures that you have thought through various scenarios and have options in mind in case violence should escalate or you decide to leave.
Since everyone’s situation is different, your safety plan will need to be unique. Think of situations in which you have been trapped, in danger, or controlled by your abuser in the past and plan for similar outbursts in the future. Think of the places you go throughout the week, places he might try to find you, or things he may do to threaten you. Do not underestimate the severity of his abuse, or think that it can’t get worse. It’s better to be prepared. Statistically, abuse gets worse over time. And abuse gets worse when you begin to take care of yourself and/or show signs of independence or thoughts of leaving. IT IS NOT BETRAYAL for you to plan for your safety, talk about abuse, or look for ways to end it. The idea that it is betrayal is in itself abusive. “Don’t talk about it” and “don’t deal with it” are messages of isolation, minimization, and blame (it becomes your issue, not his).
Any domestic violence agency, hotline, or support group will have valuable resources on safety planning and will be happy to help you. Working with people who support you is a good idea: you get their support, their additional insight, and they are made aware of how they can help you.
It’s good to start thinking about these things, but it helps even more if you can write it down. Writing helps with clarity and making concrete plans, and assures that you’re thinking of all the possible situations you can. It will also be useful to you, something physical you can hold, if things get tough. You may need to hide the plan from your abuser: keep it in a safety deposit box, with a friend or family member, at work, or with a counselor/therapist.
You do not have control over your partner’s violence. But you do have choices about how to respond, and the right to get yourself and your children to safety.
Having these and other steps done ahead of time can make the decision to leave easier when an opportunity presents itself or your physical safety demands it.
It can also give you some peace of mind. You are regaining some control over life.
Think about the following when writing up your plan:
*I can’t always avoid violent incidents. In order to increase safety, I can use some or all of these strategies:
- Practice getting out safely. What doors, windows, elevators, stairwells or fire escapes would you use?
*I can keep my purse and car keys ready, always being sure to keep them in a certain place so that I can leave quickly. I can also leave a set of keys with a trusted friend or relative. I will make sure they know WHY so they don’t accidentally let it slip if my abuser talks to them. I can put a set in my desk drawer at work or hidden somewhere on the outside of the home. I can get a magnetic key box that attaches under the fender of the car.
- Where will you stash keys?
*I can tell certain neighbors about the situation and request they call the police if they hear suspicious noises coming from my house.
- Who are your trusted neighbors, what are their phone numbers, and when do you plan to talk to them?
*I can teach my children how to use the telephone to contact police and medical help by using 911. I can make sure my children know their full names, our address, and other important information in case they need to call for help or we get separated because of violence. I can teach my children to run to a neighbor’s house or nearby public place if violence occurs.
- What will you teach and practice with your children?
*Because I might be in danger and not able to talk freely, I will devise a code for my children, family, friends or co-workers so they will know that I need them to call for help on my behalf. For example, I might say that “today is my cousin Shelly’s birthday”. I don’t HAVE a cousin Shelly so my support system will know that if I use this phrase, I might be in danger.
- What phrase can you teach your children, family, neighbors or co-workers? When will you teach them this?
Since I might have to leave my home quickly, I should be aware of where I can go in an emergency. I need to select public places, preferably places that are open 24 hours a day, close to home, and always has someone around. Hospitals, convenience stores, restaurants and grocery stores are ideas; they have pay phones, and room INSIDE for me to wait for police to arrive.
******FIND OUT IN ADVANCE if your local police station is manned 24 hours a day! Victims have been found, sometimes gunned down, in front of police stations because they fled during the evening or weekend shifts to find the doors locked. Police officers are often on patrol in their cars and many police substations are NOT manned 24 hours a day.
******Think of what you can tell others when you get there. Victims have been found in grocery stores, laundromats, convenience stores and even emergency rooms and humiliated into returning with the abuser. This is a risk especially if your abuser has humiliated you in front of others or denied accusations of abuse in the past. Strangers will often not help in what they see as a ‘private’ argument. Abusers often say things like “this is my wife, we’re just having a disagreement”, “she does this to make me look bad”, “I really love her and wouldn’t hurt her”, “she’s overreacting” in public. If you run to a convenience store, etc, consider telling the clerk or others RIGHT AWAY that you are in danger, calling the police, and need help.
- Places I can go in case of violence or crisis:
When I feel that an argument or violence are about to happen, I can minimize the risk of physical injury by trying to get to a room that has access to an outside door; avoiding rooms that provide easy weapons (knives in the kitchen or fighting in rooms where abuser keeps a gun, or rooms in which you can be trapped like a bathroom).
- The safest places in my home for confrontation include:
When I leave the residence I share with an abuser, I must plan carefully to increase the safety of myself and children. If my abuser thinks I am trying to leave, the violence may increase. I can use some of the following safety strategies:
In order to increase my ability to identify myself and my children, to apply for various types of aid and assistance, and to keep me from having to return to the residence and possibly confront an angry abuser, I will keep copies or photocopies of important documents that I can grab quickly if I need to leave:
- I.D. for myself
- Children’s birth certificates
- My birth certificate
- Social security cards
- School and vaccination records
- Checks, ATM card
- Credit cards
- Keys: house, car, office
- Driver’s license and registration
- Welfare identification, work permits, green card
- Divorce papers, order of protection, restraining order, harassment restraining order papers
- Medical records
- lease or rental agreement, deeds, mortgage payment book
- Bank books, insurance papers
- Pet licenses, vet receipts or paperwork establishing your ownership
- Password for online accounts
- The aardvarc.org website provides a worksheet for tracking important information that I should have with me when leaving. The information will help to protect my identity, continue access to important accounts, and provide crucial information to law enforcement should I decide to press charges, file for a protection order, etc. This worksheet is “disguised” as and “Emergency Preparedness Kit” like the hurricane kits provided by agencies like FEMA, to minimize the possibility that my abuser will know the real purpose of the worksheet.
I will be calmer and feel more in control under stress if I am aware of resources waiting to help me, if I know how to contact them, and have an idea of the assistance available to me. I can either ask the police to help me get to safety with friends or family or I can contact my local domestic violence program.
- My local domestic violence program is:
I can keep change for phone calls on me at all times. I should NOT use a telephone calling card linked to my phone bill or credit card, because my abuser will be able to tell what friends, family, or other numbers I have called. To keep my communications private, I will use change or prepaid calling cards.
*****Using a cell phone is NOT safe and can put you in danger. And abuser who knows your number, name, and the last four digits of your social security number can probably access your account and report the phone lost or stolen, cancel the account, or get a list of numbers you have called. If your abuser has your service suspended, you should be aware that as long as your phone is charged, you can still dial two numbers: 611 for customer service and 911 for emergencies.
If my abuser is not arrested at the time of a violent incident, I cannot be sure that it will be safe for me to return home. In order to be prepared, I can
- Leave an extra set of clothes for myself and my children and several days of any required medication at:
If I need to return to my residence, I will call my local police or sheriff and request a “domestic violence standby” to ensure my safety. I will go to a place close to my residence and call to have them meet me there. They will follow me to my residence and wait while I collect some things. I will make sure to ask the officer for a business card or a name and badge number. I might also fill this officer in on the circumstances and ask them to keep an extra eye on my residence.
- Phone number to local police/sheriff
- I will ask them to meet me at:
Items to take with me:
- Childrens favorite toy’s/blankets
- Small saleable objects
- Address book
- Pictures, jewelry
- Items of special sentimental value
Once I am able to return home or obtain alternate housing, there are many things I can do to increase safety in my own residence. It may be impossible to do everything at once, but safety measures can be added step by step. Some safety measures include:
- Change the locks on doors and windows
- Replace wooden doors with steel/metal doors
- install security systems including locks, window bars, poles to wedge against doors, an electronic systems, etc. I might be able to get a free security system from ADT. I will ask my local domestic violence program for information.
- I can purchase rope ladders to be used to escape from second floor windows
- I can install smoke detectors and purchase fire extinguishers for each floor
- I can install an outside lighting system
- I can use a panic button from ADT to alert authorities that I am in danger.
It is impossible for me to know if my abuser will obey protection orders or not. I recognize that I may need to ask the police and the court to enforce my protection order. The following are some steps that I can take to help the enforcement of my protection order:
- Keep copies on or near me at all times. I can also keep copies in the car, at the office, etc
- I will give copies of my protection order to police departments in the communities where I usually visit family or friends and in the community where I live
- For further safety, if I often visit other counties in my area, I might file my protection order with the court in those counties. (you do not need to get another order, simply file the order you have. Domestic violence agencies can help you with this)
- I can call the local domestic violence program if I am not sure about anything on the protection order or have problems with any of the above.
- I can inform my employer, my minister, my closest friend and others that I have a protection order in effect.
- If my protection order gets lost or stolen, I can get another copy.
- If the order is violated, I can call the police and report a violation, contact my attorney, call my advocate, and keep my own records of the violation
- If the police do not help, I can contact my advocate or attorney and will file a complaint with the chief of the police department or the county sheriff’s office.
- I can also file a private criminal complaint with the district justice in the jurisdiction where the violation occurred or with the district attorney. I can charge my abuser with a violation of the Order of Protection and all the crimes that he commits in violating the order. I can call my local domestic violence advocate to help me with this.
Relationship violence is the number one cause of death of women in the workplace. While it might be important for me to try to continue to work during this situation, I might be at continued risk from violence from my abuser. My employer and co-workers can help protect me if I inform them of the situation.
- I can inform my boss, my secretary, the security supervisor and the police department near my office of my situation.
- I can ask co-workers to help screen my telephone calls at work.
- When leaving work, I can try to leave with other people or I can ask security to walk me out. If I know I will be leaving after dark or working late, I can move my car closer to the entrance while at lunch or on my break.
- If problems occur when driving around, I can flag down a law enforcement office or other public safety official, drive to a local hospital or get to some other public place.
- If I use public transit, I can get off at a different stop than my abuser might expect, inform the driver that someone may be stalking me, or wait to exit until I see that other people are exiting also.
- I might have to change the places I shop for groceries and shopping malls, or shop at hours that are different than those when residing with my abuser.
- I can car pool, travel with others on public transit, or ask others to bring me to and from work for a while.
The legal consequences of using or possessing illegal drugs can hurt my relationship with my children and put me at a disadvantage in other legal actions concerning my abuser and/or the custody of my children. The use of any alcohol or other drug can reduce my ability to act quickly to protect myself, and contributes to poor decision making. I can increase my safety by
- If I am going to use drugs or alcohol, I can do so in a safe place with people who understand the risk of violence against me and are committed to my safety.
- If I am going to use drugs or alcohol, I need to do so apart from my children, after I have arranged for them to be in the care of a competent adult.
- If I am going to use, I need to ensure that I have a safe way to return home.
- If I am using to cope with anxiety, depression, or stress, I can help myself and my children by finding better coping mechanism and replacing destructive behaviors with more positive activities. I can join a support group, increase my exercise, spend more time with children, take a class, get more involved at church or volunteer associations, or schedule regular dates with good friends.
In the event that my partner takes my children, I will teach them how to use the telephone to call me (including how to call collect) and how to use 911. I can make sure that if my child has a cellphone, that there are multiple numbers my child can use to contact me. I can “disguise” some of these numbers in case my partner erases my numbers (listing my number under “School Bus” or other name partner isn’t likely to consider).
- I will teach and practice ……..with my kids.
I will tell people who take care of my children what persons have permission to pick up my children and that my partner is NOT permitted to do so.
I will inform
- day care staff
- sunday school teacher
I can inform neighbors, pastor and friends that my partner no longer resides with me and they should call the police if he is observed near my residence.
If immigration issues exist, or if I believe my partner may try to leave the country with my child(ren), I can contact the US Department of State, Office of Children’s Issues at 888-407-4747 to ensure that a visa or passport cannot be obtained for the children. I can also ask their help in contacting the embassy for the country my partner might try to flee, for the same reason.
The experience of being abused and verbally degraded is exhausting and emotionally draining. The process of building a new life takes much courage and incredible energy. To conserve my emotional energy and resources, and to avoid hard emotional times, I can:
If I feel down and ready to return to a potentially abusive situation, I can:
When I have to communicate with my partner in person or by telephone, I know I may feel ……………. I can prepare for this by…….
To help myself feel stronger, I can read……
Things that I could do or learn to do that would help me feel stronger…..
Things I could do or learn to do that would help me become more independent are….
To gain support and strengthen relationships with other people, I can attend workshops or support groups or……
Sit down and review your safety plan, rehearse your escape plan, and, as appropriate, practice it with your children.
Keep your written safety plan in a safe place and out of reach of the abuser.
Review your plan whenever there is a change in your situation. This may include moving to a new location, the serving of legal papers on my abuser, the arrest or release of my abuser, changes in living, working, or school situations.
Having someone else – a friend, minister, counselor or advocate – work with you on your safety plan is a huge step toward help and freedom. You don’t have to do this alone.