Having a Safety Plan
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If you are the victim of abuse or face the threat of physical violence, you need to have a safety plan. This plan can help you to respond in a crisis and, hopefully, keep you and your children safe.
Why You Need a Safety Plan
Abusers can behave unpredictably. Patterns of abuse often escalate. An abusive partner may begin with isolating or verbally abusing you. However, the abuser may become violent or increase the level of violence directed towards you.
Those in abusive relationships may remain with the abuser for a variety of reasons, such as financial concerns or their desire to preserve the family relationship.
Even if you stay in the relationship, you will still need a safety plan in place. You will need to be able to react if you are in danger. A plan can help you to quickly escape a bad situation and alert others that you need assistance.
Creating a Safety Plan
The right safety plan will depend on whether you are staying in your home with the abuser, preparing to leave or reacting to a situation that you have already left.
The following resources can help you to come up with the proper plan for you and your family:
- National Domestic Violence Hotline (sample safety plan; call (800) 799-SAFE)
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence – My Safety Plan
- SAFE-LINK Domestic Violence Assistance Program
- North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- List of Domestic Violence Shelters and Services, by County
If you are living with an abuser, you should consider trying to avoid the abusive situation by leaving. However, if you remain with the abuser, your safety plan should include taking steps to reduce the risk that your abuser could represent to your safety.
Some of the different things to include in your safety plan are:
- Identify the force your partner uses so you can assess the danger you are in.
- Identify areas of the house where you can escape and where there are no weapons. Try to move into those spaces if an argument occurs.
- Try to stay away from your children during an argument to avoid the risk they will become victims as well.
- Make yourself a small target if your partner becomes violent. You can do this by diving into a corner, curling into a ball, entwining your fingers and putting your arms around your head to protect your face.
- Keep a phone with you at all times if you can and know what number you will call for help. Learn the number of the local battered women’s shelter by heart. Never be afraid to call the police.
- Alert friends and neighbors to your situation and develop a plan to signal to them that you are in need of help.
- Teach your children how to get help. Make sure they are told not to become involved if violence occurs. Teach them that violence isn’t right and that it isn’t their fault. Tell them how to get help. Consider having a code word or signal that alerts them to leave to avoid a dangerous situation.
- Practice a safe escape route with your children.
- Plan what to do if your children tell your abusive partner about your plan.
- Keep weapons inaccessible, locking away guns and knives if possible.
- Keep your car fueled, unlocked and backed into the driveway so you can escape quickly if necessary.
- Avoid wearing scarves or jewelry that your partner could use to strangle you.
- Create plausible excuses that will allow you to leave the house several times or at different times during the day or night.
- Discuss your options as often as possible with the domestic violence hotline.
Whenever possible, you should make plans to leave your abuser or to help ensure your abuser becomes involved in intervention education to break the cycle of abuse.
Your Safety Plan If You Are Getting Ready to Leave
Planning to leave an abusive partner takes courage and preparation. When getting ready to leave, some of the steps to include in your safety plan include the following:
- Take pictures of physical evidence of abuse and gather any evidence of the abuse that you can. You may keep a journal of any instances of abuse or threats, including the date and time.
- Tell someone you trust about the abuse.
- Know where you should go to get help. There are shelters for battered women in North Carolina that will offer you assistance and a roof over your head. You can secure a protective order to prohibit your abuser from approaching you.
- Go to a doctor or emergency room if your partner hurts you.
- If possible, set aside money or ask a friend or family member to hold it for you.
- Take courses at a community college and/or take any steps you can to acquire job skills so you can support yourself after leaving an abusive partner.
- Keep safe as you leave. You may plan to sneak away or ask for a police escort when you leave. You can create a false trail by calling motels or real estate agents in locations other than where you plan to go.
- Take with you all of your medications, pay stubs, checkbooks, bank account information, driver’s license, citizenship documents, property deeds, medical records for you and your children, phone numbers, school records, Social Security numbers, welfare identification, insurance information and valued pictures or personal items. You can begin to remove these items from the home before you get ready to leave and put them in the care of a trusted friend.
- Have an extra set of car keys hidden and clothes for yourself and your children stored at a friend or family member’s house. Try to avoid using the home of a close neighbor or close family member where your partner would look for you.
There are many resources and many people who will help you leave a domestic violence situation when you are ready to reach out and ask for assistance.
Your Safety Plan After You Leave
Unfortunately, the threat presented by an abusive partner does not necessarily end if you leave your home or try to leave the relationship. It is important to have a safety plan after you leave, which should include the following:
- Change your phone number.
- Change the locks.
- Alter your route to work and try to change your work hours if possible.
- Change the route your children take to school.
- Have a certified copy of your restraining order with you wherever you go.
- Let friends, family and relatives know you have a restraining order.
- Call the police if your partner approaches in violation of the restraining order.
- Consider using a post office box or a friend’s address for your mail and remember that police reports and restraining orders can contain your address.
- Let your children’s school know what is going on and even consider changing your children’s school. If your children have any caregivers, alert them as well and be clear on who is permitted to pick them up.
- Reschedule any appointments that your abuser is aware of, and think about changing where you shop and usual social spots.
- Alert your neighbors and co-workers about the abuse and ask them to contact law enforcement if they sense you are in danger.
- Install a security system, motion sensitive light system and metal or steel doors instead of wood doors if possible.
- Have caller ID put on your phone, use an unlisted number and ask the telephone company to block your phone number so it does now show up if you call someone.
Ultimately, a safety plan cannot guarantee that you will be safe. However, it can reduce the risk that something bad will happen because of your abuser.