Safety Planning in Abusive Situations
A safety plan is a practical plan to improve your safety while experiencing abuse, preparing to leave an abusive situation, or after you leave an abusive situation. A safety plan is your personalized and unique plan to safety, and each safety plan is personalized to your situation. Preparations for a safety plan might seem obvious or redundant, but keep in mind it can be hard to think clearly or make logical decisions during high stress situations. Having a safety plan laid out in advance can help you protect yourself and can help you remember things that you already pre-planned out in case you are in an emotional and/or high stress situation. There are many things you can do to increase your safety. It may not be possible to do everything at once. But safety measures can be added step by step.
Safety Planning While Pregnant:
- Pregnancy is the second most dangerous time in an abusive relationship. There is always a heightened risk during violent situations when you are pregnant. If violence becomes unavoidable and you are unable to escape, assuming the fetal position and protecting your stomach with your arms can help protect you and your pregnancy.
- Avoid areas where you can be cornered, such as bathrooms or closets, and areas that pose a safety risk like stairs.
- Doctor appointments are usually a part of every pregnancy, so this is a good way to get help without drawing suspicion. Your doctor can become part of your safety plan. If your partner goes to the appointments with you, try to find a moment alone with the doctor or nurse. If your partner is not within ear shot during check-in, you may be able to ask the front desk for help providing you with an excuse to talk to medical staff one-on-one. With the recent COIVD-19 protocols, sometimes doctor visits will be limited to only one person. This is a great opportunity for you to seek help, or let your doctor or nurse know that you want or need help. Even if you are not ready to leave, they can still be a part of your safety plan.
Safety Planning with Children:
- If you have children, you will need to include them in your safety plan. This can be hard to think about doing but above all else, you will need to explain to your children that violence is not okay.
- It is important to teach your children to never get involved in a physical or verbal altercation.
- You can talk to your kids about using a safety word. This will alert your children to not get involved, try to escape the home, and get help. Only do this if you feel that it is safe to do so.
- Talk to your children about ways they can safely escape the home and get help from a trusted neighbor or friend.
Creating Your Personal Safety Plan:
- Always keep your safety plan in a secure location away from your abuser. Share this safety plan with a trusted friend or family member, and also with any trusted professionals you are in contact with such as a therapist, doctor, or advocate.
- Come up with a code word to use that won’t be obvious. Tell the code word to family and friends so that they are aware when you need help. If you feel comfortable, tell your children to alert them as well. For example, choosing the word “Purple” would allow you to ask a friend, “Where is your purple jacket today?” to alert them that something is wrong without drawing suspicion.
- If possible, try to open a savings account with a P.O. Box as your address so that no statements come to your house. Try to save little by little in case you decide to leave.
- Make copies of important documents so that you can give them to a trusted friend or relative to keep on hand at their home, in case you need them.
- If possible, you can give original documents to a friend or family member to keep safe, such as passports, driver’s license, birth certificates, a photo of your abuser, health cards or insurance cards, or any other important documents that you have.
- Try to make a list of phone numbers of friends and family. Most of us use cell phones now and have numbers programed into our phones and may not have the phone numbers memorized. It is a good idea to keep a list of phone numbers in your safety plan.
- Observe your surroundings in your home. Start thinking of the worst and best places to be if your abuser starts becoming violent. Think about exits and which rooms in the home have the best exits.
- Think about what season it is, especially for us in Minnesota. If it’s below zero, then you will have to make sure that you are safe to go outside, especially if you live in a remote area. You could think about keeping extra clothing and shoes in your vehicle and hiding a spare key in case you need to leave in the winter quickly.
- Try to avoid areas where there could be items used as weapons, such as a kitchen or garage. If your household owns guns, try to avoid going near where the guns or other weapons are kept.
When You Are Ready to Leave:
- Plan and rehearse the steps you will take if you have to leave quickly and learn them well.
- Decide and plan for where you will go if you must leave the home quickly, even if you don’t think you will need to.
- When you leave, take the children if you can, or make arrangements beforehand to bring them to a trusted friend or relative. If you try to get them later, the police cannot help you remove them from their other parent unless you have a valid court order signed and directed by a judge.
- In some circumstances arrangements can be made to have the police bring you back to the home later, to remove additional personal belongings, if it is arranged through a court order.
- If the situation is very dangerous, use your own instinct and judgement to keep yourself and/or your family safe.
- Don’t wear scarves or long jewelry as they could be used to assist in strangulation.
After You Leave:
- This is one of the most dangerous times for survivors so make sure you don’t put your guard down. Don’t leave out any signs. Even after you left, you should keep your safety in mind. You can never be too careful.
- Get a brand-new cell phone. It can stop your abuser from contacting you and can prevent your abuser from tracking you.
- Apply for a Safe at Home address before you permanently move anywhere. Safe at Home is a statewide (MN) address confidentiality program designed to help survivors maintain a confidential address. It was established by MN state law. When someone enrolls in Safe at Home, they are assigned a PO Box address that they can use as their legal address. In Minnesota, all public and private entities must accept a participant’s assigned address and a participant cannot be required to disclose their real address. This allows a program participant to go about his or her daily life without leaving traces of where they can typically be located, such as their residential address, a school address, or an employment address. This safety measure is an attempt to keep their aggressor from locating them. Contact them at the following telephone numbers: 651-201-1399 (Metro), 1-866-723-3035 (Greater MN), 711 (MN Relay Service).
Plan for all possibilities. You know your partner best so you will know what he or she will most likely use as abusive tactics. Your abuser also is likely to know you, and can sense when something is off, or different in your demeanor. If your abuser notices something is off with you, your abuser may become more controlling. When an abuser feels like they have lost control, this is often the most dangerous time for a survivor. Make sure you think about that when you are getting ready to leave. You can prepare by playing out scenarios in your head. For example, if an abuser is likely to corner you in a room where you cannot get out of, try to divert away from that corner or room. If your abuser is threatening to hurt your children or animals if you leave, make sure that they are in safe place before you decide to leave.
Always remember that it is not okay for anyone to abuse you. It is not okay for anyone to put their hands on you. It is not okay for anyone to emotionally abuse you. It is not okay for anyone to physically abuse you. It is not okay for anyone to sexually abuse you. It is not okay for anyone to verbally abuse you. These are never okay-and no, it is not okay that many people accept that they are. For survivors everywhere, I stand with you. I stand with you when you cry, confide in your friends, or think to yourselves about the adverse experience that you have endured. I stand with you because whatever happened to you, is NOT okay. I hope that the information in this blog will help you or a friend going through an abusive situation.
-Kristin Camacho, Client Services Coordinator
CMLS has provided a resource list in the Blog Post “Domestic Violence Resources in Minnesota”.