If you are in an abusive relationship, safety planning can be essential in reducing the amount of risk that you and your children face. By having a safety plan in place, you will know what to do in case of an emergency and will be more likely to make a successful escape.
There is no right or wrong way to make a safety plan; it should above all be something that will work for you. Review it often and make changes as you need to; if possible, review it with a social worker, family violence worker, or a police officer.
Safety plans are used by people who:
- Want to leave but it is not safe to do so
- Are not sure about leaving but want to have an option in case the abuser gets violent
- Have already left and are still worried about the threat of violence
This can be a very stressful and dangerous time for you and your children – if you feel threatened, you should call 911.
Listed below are tips and information that can help keep you safe. This is not a comprehensive list of safety planning techniques and you know your own situation best: if something feels like it will not be safe for you, do not do it.
If you are in an abusive relationship, try to think about:
- Have important phone numbers nearby for you and your children. These might include the police, shelters, other social services, hotlines, trusted friends and family.
- Friends or neighbours you could tell about the abuse. Ask them to call the police if they hear loud arguments or violence in your home. If you have children, teaach them how to dial 911 in an emergency. Develop a code word that you could use in a dangerous situation for them to seek help.
- Make a plan for how to get out of your home safely, and practice ways to get out.
- Safer places in your home with multiple exits and no weapons; if abuse is imminent, try to get the abuser into these spaces to minimize the damage they can do
- Think of ways you could get potential weapons out of the home or make them less accessible without tipping off the perpetrator
- Even if you are not currently planning to leave, you should think about what you would need to do to leave.Work things that get you out of the house into your daily routine, such as taking out the trash, walking the dog, or going to the store.
- If it is safe for you to put together a bag of necessities to have on hand in case you have to leave, do so. Some women find it helpful to buy (or have friends buy) an extra set of clothes, toiletries, etc, to have in this bag so the perpetrator will not notice anything missing. Hide this bad somewhere it is easy for you to get.
- Go over your safety plan frequently, adjusting it for any changes in your circumstances.
If you are considering leaving your abuser, think about:
- Four places you could go if you left your home (shelters, friends, family). Keep in mind that you may not want to go somewhere that the perpetrator would think to look for you, such as a parent’s home. How long could you stay at any of these places?
- People who might help you if you left; who could keep a bag for you? Who could lend you money? Who could take care of your pets?
- Keep change for phone calls (or a cell phone with minutes); keep cash on hand for a cab
- Consider opening a bank account at a different banking institution and/or getting a credit card in your name. Putting measures in place like adding a middle intial to the name on the account or using security questions that the perpetrator will not know the answer to can help protect your emergency funds.
- Consider or practice ways you might leave, such as ‘taking out the trash’, walking a pet, taking children to school, etc.
- How could you take your children with you? There are times when taking your children with you might put everyone in more danger – but if you leave your kids behind, the police will not be able to help you retrieve them later unless you have a court order. Consider very carefully the potential outcomes of taking or leaving your children. Remember that you need to protect yourself in order to protect your kids!
- Put together a bag of necessities you would need if you left. If it is safe to hide it somewhere in your home, do so. If you have a friend or neighbour who could have the bag ready for you in an emergency, it may be safer to hide it with them.
Items to include in your emergency bag:
- keys to house, car, work, etc.
- extra clothes
- medication and copies of your prescriptions/children’s prescriptions
- important papers for you and your children
- birth certificates
- social security cards
- school and medical records
- bankbooks, credit cards
- driver’s license and passports
- car registration
- welfare information
- immigration or treaty papers, work permits
- lease/rental agreement
- mortage payment book, unpaid bills
- insurance papers
- divorce papers, custody orders
- address/phone book; try not to leave the perpetrator a list of places you might have gone
- pictures, jewelry, items of sentimental value
- pawnable items for emergency cash
- a few items for your children; toys, clothing, diapers and formula
- a photo of the perpetrator in case it is needed by police or others
Remember that if you cannot safely hide important documents without alerting the perpetrator, even making photocopies of these documents will be helpful.
If you have already left your abuser, still think about:
- Your safety; in many cases, the risk is increased during or following a separation
- Getting an unlisted cell phone number
- Seeking a protection order from the courts; keep a copy of this with you. Distribute it to the local police, your workplace, children’s schools and daycares.
- Provide a picture of the perpetrator to schools, workplaces, etc; inform them that they are not allowed to pick up your children.
- Change the locks; think about installing stronger doors, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, a security system, outside lights or a motion detector system
- Tell your friends and neighbours that the perpetrator no longer lives with you; if they see the perpetrator in the area, they should call the police.
- Talk to your employer about the situation, if you have a protection order in place, let them know about it. If your employer does not have a protocol in place to prevent domestic violence in the workplace, you may wish to refer them to this site. Try to develop a safety plan for your workplace, including how you get to and from work.
- Not using the same stores or businesses that you did when you were with the abuser; if you don’t have many options, try to go at different times of day.
- Someone that you can call or talk to if you start to feel down.
- Support groups or workshops that you might be able to attend
- A safe way to speak with your abuser if you have to
- Go over your safety plan often.
Keep in mind that the purpose of abuse is to maintain a system of power and control; if the abuser feels that their control is being threatened, they may resort to more extreme measures. Be extremely careful in leaving and planning to leave; once you have left, be sure to remain vigilant for signs of the abuser.