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It’s a cruel irony: The most dangerous time for a survivor of domestic violence is the moment when he or she decides to leave their abusive partner. At the moment when a batterer realizes they’re losing control over the victim, they often take drastic, and sometimes deadly steps to regain it.
Having a safety plan in place is vitally important to ensuring a survivor’s safe escape from an abuser’s control. Even if an abuser has primarily used non-physical forms of abuse before—mental, emotional or verbal abuse—it’s important a survivor doesn’t underestimate what could happen when he or she decides to leave.
After deciding when to go, the next question is where to go. Options may include a nearby shelter or a shelter in another city or state; a friend or family member’s house; or, starting over in a new house or apartment. Below, some important questions to ask if you’re the survivor contemplating leaving:
- Does your abuser have a history of threatening other people in the your life, such as family members or friends? If yes, it makes sense to assume that staying with someone the abuser knows will put that person at risk as well, says Ruth Glenn, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. In that case, a shelter could be the best bet.
- How close to or far from your original home do you need to be? If you’re escaping with children who are in school, you may need to (or feel you need to) stay within that school district. In which case, seeking out a shelter or other safe housing option in your area could be the best thing for your children. If you’re afraid your abuser will find you if you don’t flee further away, look for a shelter that provides schooling options until you can figure out a more permanent solution.
- Do I need drug or alcohol counseling, or support groups? If so, ask an advocate to help you find a shelter that offers these things on site or can refer you to a nearby program. According to the domesticshelters.org database, about 80% of shelters provide some level of counseling or support groups.
- Do I need to escape immediately? If you have no time to make a plan before fleeing, staying with a friend or family member, preferably one that your abusive partner is not familiar with, may be your best option at that moment. It’s always a good idea to then call an advocate (find one near you by entering your city or ZIP on our home page) who can walk you through the next steps to remain safe.
Sometimes, says Glenn, the safest option is going nowhere at all. “It may seem illogical to those of us observing what’s happening to the survivor, but sometimes, the safest place is exactly where she [or he] is right now.” That’s not to say one should stay indefinitely, either. “Victims continue an ongoing assessment of their safety,” says Glenn, and leave when they feel they have a safe plan in place.
Also check out "Important Questions to Ask a Shelter," for things you can ask a shelter before deciding to go. If you believe escaping to a different city or state would be safer, read "Flying the Survivor Skies," about a nonprofit that will fly survivors to a new location, free of charge.
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