If you are being abused, it is not your fault or your responsibility. Your emotional and physical health and your safety are your responsibility. You have a right to protect yourself and to seek assistance. A Safety Plan can help you achieve these goals.
A Safety Plan is a set of actions you can take if you stay with the abuser, while preparing to leave the abuser and/or after you have left. A Safety Plan primarily addresses physical abuse but also is useful for sexual abuse, stalking and harassment. The purposes of a plan are to:
• minimize or avoid harm;
• raise your level of safety; and
• protect others, such as your children, family or friends.
A Safety Plan does not prevent abuse. You may think that you somehow trigger the abuse or can “manage” it. But this is usually not true. The abuser is going to be abusive no matter what you do. Whether you plan to stay or leave, you will be able to do it more successfully if you:
• plan what to do ahead of time;
• prepare to carry out your plan; and
• rehearse the steps you need to take.
If you stay in the relationship, a safety plan may help you avoid the worst of the abuse. If you decide to leave, some abusers can become more abusive while you are in the process of leaving. And with a few abusers, the first few months after you have left can be the most dangerous. A safety plan can reduce your risk for all these situations.
Below are some suggestions that may help you raise your level of safety, but use your own judgment about what will work in your situation. Always trust your instincts.
· An Emergency Escape Plan
The Emergency Escape Plan focuses on the things you can do in advance to be better prepared in case you have to leave an abusive situation very quickly.
The following is a list of items you should try to set aside and hide in a safe place (e.g. at a friend’s or family member’s home, with your lawyer, in a safety deposit box):
a) Take a photocopy of the following items and store in a safe place, away from the originals. Hide the originals someplace else, if you can.
- passports, birth certificates, immigration papers, for all family members
- school and vaccination records
- driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance
- social security cards
- medications, prescriptions, medical records for all family members
- welfare identification
- work permits
- divorce papers, custody documentation, court orders, restraining orders, marriage certificate
- lease/rental agreement, house deed, mortgage payment book
- bank books
- insurance papers
- address/telephone book
- picture of spouse/partner
- health cards for yourself and family members
- all cards you normally use e.g. Visa, phone, Insurance, ATM
b) Try to keep all the cards you normally use in your wallet:
- Insurance cards
- Charge cards
- Phone card
- Banking cards
- Health cards
c) Keep the following handy, so you can grab them quickly:
- car/house/office keys
- checkbook, bank books/statements
- driver’s license, registration, insurance
- social security cards
- address/telephone book
- picture of spouse/partner
- emergency money
- emergency suitcase with immediate needs
- glasses or contacts
- special toys, comforts for children
- items that are important to you or have sentimental value
Open a bank account in your own name at a different bank.
Open a post office box or use another address (family/friend) to receive your mail.
Plan your emergency exits. Rehearse the steps you will take if you have to leave quickly.
Hide extra clothing, house keys, car keys, money, etc. at a friend’s house.
Consider getting a safety deposit box at a bank that your partner does not go to.
When you leave, take the children if you can. If you try to get them later, the police cannot help you remove them from their other parent unless you have a valid court order.
· Creating a Safer Environment
There are many things you can do to increase your safety. It may not be possible to do everything at once, but safety measures can be added step by step. Here are a few suggestions:
If you are living with your abusive partner/spouse:
- Make an Emergency Escape Plan, teach it to your children and practice it.
- Create a telephone list with numbers of local police, local domestic violence crisis line, family members, counselors, children’s friends.
- Make arrangements with friends or family so that you can stay with them if necessary.
- Teach the children to let you know when someone is at the door, before answering the door.
- Teach your children how to use the telephone/cell phone to contact the police.
- Create a code word with your children and/or friends so they know to call for help.
- Teach your children how to make a collect call to you or a designated person in case your partner takes the children.
- Teach your children their own Safety Plan.
If you are not living with your abusive partner/spouse:
- Change the locks on all doors including the garage. Install a peephole in the door. Make sure all windows are locked. Re-program garage door.
- Teach your children to tell you if someone is at the door and to not answer the door themselves.
- Keep a copy of your protection order with you at all times.
- Make sure that the school, day care, and police have a copy of all court orders, including protection orders, custody and access orders, as well as a picture of the abusive partner.
- If you have caller ID, make sure to delete stored numbers to keep others from accessing them.
- Have your telephone number unlisted. Block your number when calling out.
- Rearrange your furniture as this is something your partner may not anticipate, and cause him/her to bump into it and give you warning that he/she is in the house. Keep kitchen utensils and knives out of sight.
- Be aware of your surroundings when coming and going.
- Have rope ladders to escape from upper floors.
- Replace wooden doors with steel/metal doors if possible.
- Make sure smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are in working order.
- Consider the advantages of getting a guard dog.
- Install an outside lighting system that lights up when a person approaches your house.
- Do whatever you can to install security systems, including additional locks, window bars, poles to wedge against doors, an electronic system, etc. – anything to provide added security.
In the Neighborhood
- Ask your neighbors to call the police if they hear a fight or screaming in your home.
- Discuss who can pick up your children with your daycare provider.
- Inform people in your neighborhood that your partner no longer lives with you, and to call the police if he/she is seen near your home. You may wish to give them a photo and description of him/her and of their car.
- Ask your neighbors to look after your children in an emergency.
- Hide clothing and your Emergency Escape Plan items at a neighbor’s house.
- Change your usual routine. Do things at different times from when you were living with your abusive partner.
You must decide for yourself if and/or when you will tell others that your partner is abusive and that you and they may be at risk. Friends, family and co-workers may be able to help protect you. However, you should consider carefully which people to ask for help. If you are comfortable, you may choose to do any or all of the following:
- Tell your boss, the security supervisor, and other key people or friends of your situation.
- Ask to have your calls screened. It would also help to have these calls documented.
- Discuss the possibility of having your employer call the police if you are in danger from your (ex) partner.
When arriving or leaving work:
- Let someone know when you’ll be home
- Carry your keys in your hands
- Get a remote or keyless entry car door opener
- Walk with someone to your car
- Scan the parking lot
- Walk around your car to check if anything has been tampered with. Remember to keep your car seats forward, so you know if someone is hiding in the car
- If your partner is following you, drive to a safe place
- If you are walking, take a route that is populated
- Change the patterns of when you arrive and leave work and the routes you take home
· An Emotional Safety Plan
The experience of being abused and verbally degraded by partners is usually exhausting and emotionally draining. The process of surviving and building a new life requires much courage, and incredible energy. To conserve your emotional energy, and to support yourself in hard emotional times, there are a number of things you can do:
- Talk with advocates at DASAS
- Become involved in community or social activities to reduce feeling isolated.
- Take a part-time job to reduce isolation and to improve your finances.
- Enroll in school to increase your skills.
- Join support groups to gain support and strengthen your relationships with other people.
- Take time for yourself to read, meditate, play music, etc.
- Spend time with people who make you feel good and provide support.
- Take care of your sleep and nutritional needs.
- Keep a personal journal to write about your feelings, especially when you are feeling low or vulnerable.
- Take time to prepare yourself emotionally before entering stressful situations like talking with your partner, meeting with lawyers, or attending court.
- Write something positive about yourself everyday – your own personal affirmations.
- Do not find your comfort in excessive use of alcohol or food – it only serves to increase your depression.
- Avoid excessive shopping and impulse buying.
- Join a health club or start an exercise program. It will increase your energy level and increase your sense of well-being.
- It’s OK to feel angry, but find positive and constructive ways to express your anger.
- Remember that you are the most important person to take care of right now.
· Safety Planning With Your Children
It is very traumatic for children to be faced with violence directed at them or at someone they love. Personal safety and safety planning are extremely important and necessary for children whose families are experiencing violence. Children should learn ways to protect themselves. Here are some things you can do to safety plan with your children.
- Teach them not to get in the middle of a fight between you and your abuser. They cannot stop the abuse, although they often try by distracting the abuser or directly interfering in the abusive episode. It is important to tell the child that the best and most important thing for them to do is keep themselves safe.
- Teach them how to get to safety. Have your child pick a safe room/place in the house to go during an incident, preferably with a lock on the door and a phone.
- Use a code word so children know when to call for help.
- Teach them to call 911 for help and to give your address and phone number to the police. Rehearse what your child/children will say when they call for help. It is important that children know they should not use a phone that is in view of the abuser. This puts them at risk. Talk to your children about using a neighbor’s phone if they are unable to use the phone at home. If you have a cell phone, teach your children how to use it.
- Ensure they know their full name, address and phone number.
- Tell them to stay out of the kitchen during a violent incident.
- Give the principal of your child’s school or daycare center a copy of your protection order and a photograph of the abuser. Tell them not to release your children to anyone without talking with you first.
- Make sure your children know who to tell at school if they see the abuser.
- Make sure the school knows not to give your address or phone number to anyone.
· During a Violent Incident
You cannot always avoid violent incidents. However, in order to increase your safety, here are some things you can do:
- Remind yourself that you have an Emergency Escape Plan, and go over it in your mind.
- Start to position yourself to get out quickly or near a phone so you can call 911, if necessary.
- Try to move to a space where the risk is the lowest. (Try to avoid arguments in the bathroom, garage, kitchen, near weapons, or in rooms without access to an outside door.
- Use your code word with your children so they can call for help.
- Use your judgment and intuition – if the situation is very serious, you might need to agree with your partner or give him/her what he/she wants to calm him/her down. You have to protect yourself until you are out of danger.
- Make as much noise as possible (set off the fire alarm, break things, turn up the stereo or TV) – so that neighbors may call the police for you.