Safety Plan for Domestic Violence Victims

Learn How to Protect Yourself

Two Women Talking
Don't Try to Leave Without a Safety Plan. © Getty Images

If you are in an abusive relationship, it is important that you develop a safety plan whether or not you stay in the relationship or plan to leave. It is particularly important to have a plan in place if you decide to leave.

Abusive relationships can explode into violence suddenly without warning and the violence can escalate quickly. What you may not know is that most violent incidents and most domestic-related fatalities occur after the victim decides to leave.

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It's About Control

Domestic violence is about control. If you try to leave the relationship, it represents the ultimate loss of control for abusers, and they will desperately escalate their efforts to try to maintain that control.

Well-meaning friends or family members who know your situation may tell you to "get out now," but the truth is leaving without a carefully developed safety plan in place can be more dangerous than staying.

Victim advocacy groups and law enforcement departments across the United States have developed suggestions to help you make your own personal safety plan, whether you stay or ultimately leave. The following is a suggested plan of action adapted from several of those safety plans.

The following plan does not cover every situations and scenario. Some of the suggestions may not apply to you while others will.

That's why it's important for you to develop your own personal plan for your protection and the protection of your children.

If You Are Still In the Relationship

Many victims of domestic violence decide to remain in the relationship in spite of repeated abusive episodes. Even if you have no intention of leaving the abuser, you can still put a plan into place that will help improve your safety.

Talk With Someone You Trust: Let someone you trust know about your situation and the potential violence. Tell your neighbors to call the police if they hear a disturbance. Talk with your children about safety and make sure they know how to call 9-1-1. Establish a code word or sign with others so they will know when to call for help.

Be sure your children know that they should not get involved in the violence between you and the abuser. Talk with your children about a safe place they can go, such as a neighbor's home, in an emergency. Let them know that the most important thing during a violent incident is not for them to protect you, but for them to remain safe.

Call for Help: Memorize or keep a list of telephone numbers you might need in an emergency, such as the police, friends, help hotlines or local shelters. Put those numbers into your cell phone and keep your phone charged.

If you don't have a cell phone, make sure you know where the nearest pay phone is located and always keep enough change on hand to use a pay phone.

Do not be afraid to call for help. Check with your local social services agencies. In some areas, agencies can provide you with a cell phone.

Stay Safe Physically: If you sense that a violent incident is developing, move to a safer area of the house where there are ways to escape and no weapons. Avoid rooms where there are no doors or windows and rooms such as the garage or kitchen where weapons are available.

Avoid running to where your children are. An out-of-control abuser could hurt children if they are easily available targets.

Try to keep guns and knives locked up and inaccessible as possible. Avoid wearing scarves or jewelry that can be used to choke you.

If violence begins, try to make yourself as small a target as possible. Move into a corner and curl up into a ball. Try to protect your head and face by placing your arms on each side of your head with your fingers together on top of your head.

Have an Escape Plan: Think about how you would get out of the house in an emergency. Practice getting out safely and practice it with your children. Again, have a code word ready to let your children know it's time to escape.

Think of places that you can go if you have to leave. Devise plausible reasons to leave the house at different times of the day, such as walking the dog, taking out the garbage or going to the store.

If possible, keep your car backed into the driveway. For a quick escape, keep the driver's door unlocked and all the other doors locked. Make sure you always have enough gas in the vehicle to escape.

Preparing to Leave

You may find that the only way that you can assure your safety is to leave the relationship. Not everyone has the time to prepare for leaving, but the more preparation you can do, the safer and easier your departure will be. Here are some suggested preparations:

  • Keep a journal of all violent incidents, with dates and details.
  • If possible keep evidence of abuse, such as photographs, medical records.
  • Get a cell phone or keep change for pay phones.
  • Open your own bank account, or get a credit card in your name.
  • Try to put some money aside, or ask someone to hold money for you.
  • List friends or family members who might help you financially.
  • Make of list of places you can go if you leave.
  • Find out what community resources are available to help you.
  • Take job training or college classes, if possible.
  • Make plans for your pets.
  • Hide an extra set of car keys.
  • Put together an emergency bag.

An Emergency Bag

A key part of your safety plan to leave an abusive relationship will be the preparation of an emergency bag that includes money, extra keys, medications, important papers, phone numbers, clothes and other things you may need if you have to leave in a hurry.

Once your emergency bag is ready, you will need to put it in a safe place. You might want to store it at a trusted friend's house. It might be best to avoid keeping it at the home of close family members, nearby neighbors or mutual friends - places the abuser is likely to look for you first.

The following is a list of some of the items you may want to consider putting into your emergency bag:

  • House keys
  • Car keys
  • ATM card
  • Money/cab fare
  • Checkbook
  • Credit card
  • Passport
  • Green card
  • Work permit
  • Public Assistance ID
  • Order of Protection
  • Divorce papers
  • Custody orders
  • Mobile phone
  • Change for pay phone
  • Driver's license & registration
  • Social security card
  • Your partner’s social security number
  • Medical records
  • School and immunization records
  • Address book
  • Insurance policies
  • Important legal documents
  • Police records
  • Record of violence
  • Baby supplies
  • Birth certificates
  • Medications
  • Clothing
  • Eyeglasses
  • Mortgage payment book
  • Unpaid bills
  • Lease
  • Non-perishable snacks

Don't let the long list overwhelm you, take the items that you can and those that apply to your situation. The point is, you don't want to have to go back into a dangerous situation because you forgot something that you need.

Leaving the Relationship

If you have been abused, you have every legal right to leave the relationship to protect yourself and your children. It's within your rights to call the police and ask for a police escort to safely leave the residence.

If, however, you feel that you need to sneak away, make a plan for a quick, safe departure. This can be the most dangerous time of the transition as the abuser feels the total loss of control over your life.

Carefully consider whether or not to take your children during your escape. There are times and situations in which taking your children could put all of you in extreme danger. You may find that you need to protect yourself first so that you will be able to protect your children later.

Getting a Restraining Order

After you leave the abuser, you may want to consider getting a restraining order or personal protection order. If you do get a restraining order, keep a copy of it with you at all times.

You may also want to give a copy of the order to the local police, anyone who takes care of your children - teachers and babysitters - and to your employer.

Remember, however, a protection order may be legally beneficial to have, but in the end, it's just a piece of paper. Many victims have been harmed by their abusers after they took out a restraining order and in some cases because they did.

After Leaving the Relationship

Just because you are out of the house doesn't mean you are out of danger. You need to continue to protect yourself and maintain a safety plan. Again, after you leave can be the most dangerous time.

Depending upon your situation, here are some safety steps you may want to consider:

  • Some cell phones have GPS tracking, get another phone and provider.
  • Rent a post office box for your mail.
  • Change the locks on your doors.
  • Install a security system.
  • Change your work hours, or route you take to work.
  • Change your children's school, if possible.
  • Avoid staying alone.
  • Vary your routine.
  • Screen your calls, even at work.
  • Use different stores and businesses.
  • Reschedule any appointments the abuser knows about.
  • Let others know about your situation.

Having a safety plan prepared in no way guarantees your safety, but having a plan in place can improve your chances of avoiding further violence. When a violent episode occurs and you are overwhelmed emotionally and perhaps not thinking clearly in the middle of the crisis, it can be very helpful to have a well thought-out plan prepared in advance.

Sources

Clark County (Indiana) Prosecuting Attorney "Domestic Violence Safety Plan." 2012

Creative Communications Group " Personalized Safety Plan." Divorce Online 2009

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence "Safety Plan." 2009

National Domestic Violence Hotline " Safety Planning." © 1998, Accessed September 2013

Safe Horizon "Identify Safety Options." Updated 2016

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