Creating a safety plan is a vital step when one is considering leaving an abusive partner. In doing so, this plan can help a survivor strategize what they will do to stay safe—and keep their children and pets safe—in the midst of abuse, be it to escape temporarily during an incidence of violence or when they’re ready to leave their abuser for good.
Leaving an abusive partner is notoriously the most dangerous time for a survivor. As an abuser feels they are losing power over their victim, they can become increasingly more controlling, threatening, violent or may even turn lethal.
Below, three steps to follow when you’re ready to create your own safety plan.
Step 1: Abate Your Fears
Some survivors of domestic violence are rightly fearful that implementing the steps in a safety plan will place them more at risk with their abuser. After all, packing a bag or trying to find copies of important paperwork could raise suspicions with your abuser. Survivors are wise to know that this can be a very volatile time, says Marylouise Kelley, director, Division of Family Violence Prevention and Service, whose office supports domestic violence shelters nationwide, through funding, awareness and support. “The survivor is the expert on her own life. She has the best sense of how dangerous her situation is.”
As such, consider an order of protection as part of your safety planning. When you’re ready to leave, your abuser can be served with this order simultaneously, creating a legal disincentive for him or her from making contact with you while you find safety. A domestic violence advocate in your area can help you secure an order of protection.
Regardless of where you’re at in the leaving process, Kelley says planning ahead is still helpful. “I think it’s really important to gather information, even if you’re not ready to make a move. [A survivor] can reach out to a local program and ask questions about what their options are, without ever having to disclose to someone that they’ve done that.”
Plus, she adds, “If you’re in the midst of a crisis it’s really hard to think straight. Putting a plan in place ahead of time, knowing where things are and having children understand what steps they can take to be safe—those are all things that are best done in advance.”
Step 2: Find Your Advocate
You can read all about safety planning, but since your abuser is different than someone else’s abuser, and since you know him or her better than anyone, your safety plan will need to be customized to fit your unique scenario. You know what time of day will be safest to leave, a place you can go where he or she won’t be able to find you and what steps you need to put in place beforehand—such as acquiring an order of protection, or making sure your child’s school is aware of the situation—in order to ensure safety after you leave.
But in the midst of such stress, it can help to not go at this alone. A trained domestic violence advocate can help you sort through everything you need to do and plan for in order to create a safety plan that makes the most sense, something that Kelley recommends as well.
“It is the critical role of an advocate to talk to a survivor about safety planning. When we ask survivors what they need, the number one thing they ask for is an opportunity to talk about their options … and how they can go about [leaving] safely.”
You can find an advocate near you here.
Step 3: Plan for All Possibilities
Safety plans need take into consideration all aspects a survivor is dealing with, says Kelley. “Consider who is involved, what family members are affected.” Below, some different variations of safety planning to consider:
Children: If there are children in the home, safety plan with them. The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers up safety plan tips when children are involved. Among them, teach them to never intervene during a violent incident and make up a code word you can use when they need to leave the home because of violence.
Pets: In “Planning for Pets’ Safety,” we tell you how to establish custody of your pets and what to pack in your safety kit that you may need for your furry family members.
Disabilities: The National Clearinghouse on Abuse Later in Life has created a safety planning guide for individuals with physical disabilities.
Pre-Packing: Finally, when packing a bag, consider including some or most of these 32 things advocates say you may need once you leave. It’s important you keep this bag in a place where your abuser wouldn’t look for it, such as at a friend or neighbor’s home, or at your place of work.
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