Leaving an abusive relationship can be a very stressful, and often dangerous, time. When you are in crisis or danger, you may not be able to think clearly. Creating a safety plan in advance can help you stay calm and react more quickly in an emergency. A safety plan should address all potential areas where you may be in danger – whether you are staying in the relationship, are planning to leave, or have recently left. The following tips are not intended to scare or alarm you, but rather to help you plan so that you can be more prepared.
If you can keep written documentation safely, without the abuser finding it, you can write this plan down. Otherwise, just use the following tips to think through your plan, and talk with others who can help. Take some time to consider how you can increase your safety in each of the following areas:
- Safety at home. Pack a bag with important contact information, paperwork — identification, birth certificates, medical information, financial information — as well as essential items for you and your children, and keep it somewhere you can easily grab it. You may want to consider changing your locks, installing a security system, or changing your security code. You may also want to hide knives or any other objects that could be used as a weapon, or ensure that they are somewhere only you can find them. If you have a restraining or protective order, keep a copy where you can easily access it. Get to know your neighbors and, if safe to do so, let them know about your situation and ask if you can come over in an emergency. You can also tell neighbors you will call and hang up, leave your porch light on, or create some other signal if you need them to call law enforcement. Enlist as much help as you safely can.
- Safety at work. If you feel safe doing so, let your boss know that you are in or are leaving an abusive relationship. If you have a restraining or protective order, make sure your employer has a copy and knows to call law enforcement if the abuser shows up or calls you at work. If possible, try not to be at work alone or after hours. Ask a security guard or coworker to walk you to and from your car or public transportation. Find supportive coworkers and remember that you have nothing to be ashamed of. The abuse is not your fault.
- Safety for children. It is important to talk with children about safety without causing additional fear. Make sure your children know to call 911 if they are afraid or see something dangerous happening. Let them know who is allowed to pick them up from school and to not leave with anyone else. Talk with neighbors and find safe places for children to stay in case of an emergency. Let school officials know that about the situation and make sure they have a copy of any protective orders or custody decrees. Most of all, make sure children know that the abuse is not their or your fault, and that you are doing everything you can to keep them safe.
- Legal safety. As a victim of abuse, you have legal rights. Most of all, you have the right to be safe and protected. Call 911 any time you feel you are in danger. You may want to speak with an advocate about obtaining a restraining or protective order, which can order the abuser to stay away from your home, work, and possibly the children’s schools or daycare. You may also want to talk with a lawyer about establishing a custody or visitation order, or modifying an existing order. And if/when you are ready to consider filing for divorce, be sure to let your attorney know that you are a victim of domestic violence and have specific safety concerns. There may also be additional housing, employment, custody, and other protections available in your state. Talk with an attorney for further information.
- Emotional safety. Too often in the chaos of coping with or leaving an abusive relationship, we focus only on our physical safety, which can leave you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. It is important that you plan for your emotional well-being, as well. Find friends or loved ones you can trust and confide in. Make sure you are taking time to relax and care for yourself every day. As often as possible, eat healthy foods and make sure you are getting enough sleep. Most of all, remember that the abuse is not your fault. When reaching out for help, you may receive some negative responses from people who do not understand abuse. Do not let other people’s opinions bring you down. You deserve to be surrounded by people who will love and support you.
Abuse is never your fault, and you do not have to face it alone. For help with creating a safety plan, and to find an advocate in your area, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Remember: You deserve to be safe and respected.