If you are being abused, it is not your fault or your responsibility. Your emotional and physical health and your safety are your responsibility. You have a right to protect yourself and to seek assistance. A Safety Plan can help you achieve these goals.
What is a Safety Plan?
A Safety Plan is a set of actions you can take if you stay with the abuser, while preparing to leave the abuser and/or after you have left. A Safety Plan primarily addresses physical abuse but also is useful for sexual abuse, stalking and harassment. The purposes of a Plan are to:
• minimize or avoid harm;
• raise your level of safety; and
• protect others, such as your children, family or friends.
A Safety Plan does not prevent abuse. You may think that you somehow trigger the abuse or can “manage” it. But this is usually not true. The abuser is going to be abusive no matter what you do.
Whether you plan to stay or leave, you will be able to do it more successfully if you –
• plan what to do ahead of time;
• prepare to carry out your plan; and
• rehearse the steps you need to take.
Why Have a Safety Plan
If you stay in the relationship, a Safety Plan may help you avoid the worst of the abuse. If you decide to leave, some abusers can become more abusive while you are in the process of leaving. And with a few abusers, the first few months after you have left can be the most dangerous. A Safety Plan can reduce your risk for all these situations.
Below are some suggestions that may help your raise your level of safety, but use your own judgment about what will work in your situation.
Creating a Safety Plan
Now that you know what a Safety Plan is and the reasons to have one, the following takes you through the practical steps of developing and implementing a Safety Plan. The steps are listed. Just click on a step below to go directly there.
• General Considerations
• During a Physical or Sexual Abuse Incident
• Safety When Preparing to Leave
• If You Decide to Leave
• Safety at Home after You Leave
• Safety at Work
• How to Make Your Children Safer
• Safety at the Courthouse
• Changing Identity
General Considerations when Developing a Safety Plan
• Let a trusted person, such as a friend or family member, know about your abuse and what you would like him or her to do in emergency. You may want to give him or her a code word or phrase that can signal you need help.
• Keep your wallet with important ID, credit cards and so on with you at all times. Make copies of critical documents and account numbers and keep them someplace safe, such as a friend’s house or at work.
• Get support for yourself and your children (contact friends, family or one of the resources listed on this Website [See Links]). You don’t have to leave or want to leave the abuser to get support.
• Learn where to get help and memorize emergency telephone numbers.
• Keep a dated journal of your abuse, including threats, stalking and destruction of property. The information will be useful in securing a restraining order and any other legal action. Obviously the journal must be kept in an extremely safe location to which the abuser has no access.
• Consider getting a restraining order, available free of charge at any court in Massachusetts (or through the police after hours). A restraining order can instruct the abuser to stop abusing you, to have no contact with you, to leave your apartment/house, to compensate you for expenses related to the abuse, and/or to grant you temporary custody and support for your children. In Massachusetts, orders are available regardless of sexual orientation, immigration or domestic partnership status or whether or not you have ever lived together.
If you are not yet ready to get a restraining order, learn where to go and how to get one, and gather any needed information and documentation in preparation.
(See Restraining Orders)
• Plan ahead. Some people develop an ordinary activity that takes them out of the home regularly, such as taking out the garbage, walking the dog or getting a newspaper. This activity can be used if you have warning that abuse is about to occur in order to leave the home. Or if you are planning to leave, the activity can be a safe way to get out of the home.
• Assemble a Safety Bag. A Safety Bag includes such items as money, keys, medication, green card and/or other important documents, clothing, and anything else you may need (See Safety Bag below.). If you have children living with you, include their information in the Bag. Store the bag in a safe and easily accessible place, such as a friend’s or a family member’s home, at work, in a car trunk, or any place to which the abuser will not have access. You can use the bag if you need to flee.
Possible Contents of Your Emergency Safety Bag:
- Credit cards and ATM card
- Checks and a copy of your monthly checking account statement
- Extra car and house keys
- Identification, such as birth certificate or passport
- Social Security card
- Driver’s license, car registration and proof of insurance
- Medication and prescription(s)
- Health care or Medicaid ID cards
- Spare glasses or contact lenses
- Pre-paid phone card(s)
- Personal address/telephone book
- Welfare identification
- Green Card
- Visa and other immigration papers
- Work permit
- A change of clothing
- A copy of any restraining order and a photo of the abuser
- A mass transportation schedule
- Your journal of abuse, if you keep it at home
- Items unique or personal to you.
If you want to leave, you don’t have to wait for something terrible to happen. It’s okay for you to go whenever you want to or can.
During a Physical or Sexual Abuse Incident
• Position yourself so you are not cornered. Avoid bathrooms, closets and other small spaces where the abuser can trap you. Bathrooms can be particularly dangerous because a toilet, sink or bathtub can become a weapon if pushed or thrown against it.
• Move to a room where there are fewer or no weapons. Avoid the kitchen or any place where a gun or other weapons are stored. Be aware of household items that can be used as weapons, such as a fire extinguisher and fireplace tools, and avoid being near them if possible.
• Avoid stairways, except to escape.
• Get to a room with a door or window to escape. Try not to have your abuser standing between you and an exit. Think ahead. Before an incident practice how to get out. Teach the escape plan to your children.
• Go to a room with a telephone to call for help. Or get your cell phone and keep it with you in order to call for help.
• Call the police – 911 – and get the dispatcher’s name. Most police officers will be professional and helpful. It is possible a police officer may be insensitive to your situation, but you have a right to call the police and to expect respectful assistance. It is illegal for the police to ask you about your immigration status or to contact the INS when dealing with domestic violence.
• Get medical attention for any injuries you or your kids may have. Besides making sure you are okay, medical records may be useful in the future to document the abuse.
• If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, do not wash. Go to a hospital immediately for a medical examination. Preserving any evidence and documentation of injuries may become important.
• Make photographs of any injuries and any destruction of property.
• Plan where to stay in case you have to leave during an incident.
Safety When Preparing to Leave
• Develop or review a separation and Safety Plan with a GMDVP Client Advocate.
• Determine where you could stay.
• Double check that your Safety Bag is prepared and accessible.
• Open a bank account of your own, if you don’t already have one; have statements sent to a safe address, such as a friend’s.
• Consider getting a restraining order.
• Keep the GMDVP number with you at all times (800-832-1901).
If You Decide to Leave
• Find a safe place to stay (a friend’s, co-worker’s or family member’s home, a motel, or the Gay men’s Domestic Violence Project’s Safe Home Network). If you need to get out, but can’t find a place to stay, hospitals, airports and bus terminals are often open 24 hours.
• If you choose to go to an emergency room, you do not need to go into detail with the staff about your situation, but alerting a triage nurse that you are in flight from your abuser will get you some assistance. Most emergency rooms have social workers on call who are available to help secure shelter, work with police and contact family or friends. If you wish to remain anonymous, simply ask the triage nurse if you can stay in the waiting room because you are not safe on the street,
• Change your routines whenever possible so it’s harder for the abuser to find you if you don’t want to see him or her — i.e., your work schedule, where and when you go grocery shopping, do laundry, have medical/therapy appointments, etc. If you can’t change routines, see if someone can accompany you so that you’re not alone if you run into him/her.
• Get support. Trust your instincts about whom you can rely on to keep your whereabouts and activities confidential. It may be helpful to emphasize the importance of confidentiality to those in your support system.
• Cancel any bank accounts or credit cards you share with the abuser. Consider withdrawing money from joint accounts.
• If you used the abuser’s computer, clear all your personal information from the computer, particularly any information that could be used to find you or financially abuse you.
• If you have a restraining order, enforce it. Call the police if the abuser violates the order.
• Take a good self-defense course.
• Develop and follow Crisis Rules that are appropriate for your abuser in case you run into him/her. For example,
• Avoid eye contact.
• Never speak to the abuser.
• My safety first: get a taxi, run or call the police.
• If I run, run toward help, run to a public space, run to people.
• Tell the person I am with what is happening
What to Take With You When You Decide To Leave:
- Address book
- Bank book/check book
- Driver’s license
- Car title/registration
- House and car keys
- Identification: birth certificate, passport
- Social Security information/card
- Insurance papers (car, home, personal)
- Lease or home deed
- Children’s identification/adoption records
- Marriage license or divorce papers
- Medical records
- Restraining order and photograph of abuser
- Other court documents
- Your journal of abuse and other records
- Jewelry, personal photographs and other valuables
- School records (self and children)
- Welfare information/card
- Work permit/immigration papers
- Other items unique to your situation: _____________________
Safety at Home after You Have Left
• Inform neighbors, landlord and friends that the abuser does not live with you and ask them to call the police if they see him/her near your home.
• If you live where there is security or a rental property manager, give them a copy of any restraining order and a photo of the abuser.
• Develop and rehearse a safety plan in the event the abuser shows up at your home, including an escape route and where you would go in an emergency. Teach the plan to your children. Keep your Safety Bag handy.
• If you are living in the home you shared with the abuser, change or add locks on doors and windows.
• If you have moved to a new home, be careful who you tell where you are. Unfortunately, abusers usually find their victims through family members or friend networks.
• Review your home security. Add a peephole to outside doors and increase outside lighting if appropriate. Consider a burglar alarm system, as well as a smoke alarm and fire extinguishers.
• Change your telephone number. Get an unlisted number. To protect your new telephone number, use the block code when making telephone calls. Keep a phone in a room you can lock in case the abuser comes to your home. Consider getting a cell phone or get a “911 cell phone” from your local police department. A “911 cell phone” only works when calling 911.
• Learn about caller ID, blocking caller ID and dialing *69. In the simplest terms, you want your telephone number blocked when you make a call, and you want to only get calls when the caller is identified. Dialing *69 returns the last call made to a telephone and can identify the number called. So if you call the abuser, the abuser can call back using *69 and get your number.
• Use an answering machine; screen calls.
• Use a private post office box.
• Change all passwords and PINS, such as on telephones, ATM’s, computers, etc.
• Keep records of all attempts to contact you by the abuser, such as phone messages, mail and e-mails.
• Be aware that motor vehicle records, including addresses, may be available to the public. Most Departments of Motor Vehicles permit drivers to use a number other than their Social Security number for identification purposes and will keep information confidential upon request.
• Ask your local police if they perform security checks for residents of the community. A security check is when the police will occasionally pass by your home.
• Teach your children not to let the abuser into your home.
• In case of identity theft, check your credit rating periodically with the national credit rating services.
Safety at Work
• Decide whom at work to inform about your situation, such as Human Resources, security personnel or your supervisor.
• Provide a copy of your restraining order and a photo of the abuser to the security personnel. Keep a copy of the restraining order for yourself at work.
• Develop a plan, possibly with your workplace, about what to do if the abuser comes to your workplace. – where do you go, who do you call, and so on.
• Check your workplace policies regarding domestic violence and/or workplace violence. Workplaces may have a policy of not informing callers of an employee’s location or work schedule. Also, ask that your home address and telephone number not be given out to anyone other than authorized individuals.
• If possible, have someone screen your telephone calls.
• If the abuser contacts you at work, save any voice mails or e-mails.
• Devise a safety plan for arriving and departing work. Use a variety of routes and times if possible. Travel with others when possible. Rehearse a safety plan in the event that something were to happen on the way to or from work.
• If you travel to another state for work or to get away from the abuser, take your restraining order with you; it is valid in every state.
• Suggest that your workplace have a GMDVP Client Advocate consult with them and do a presentation on domestic violence to employees.
How to Make your Children Safer
• Teach them not to get in the middle of a fight between you and your abuser.
• Teach them how to get to safety, to call 911 and to give your address and phone number to the police.
• Teach them who to call for help.
• Tell them to stay out of the kitchen during a violent incident.
• Give the principal of your children’s school or daycare center a copy of your restraining order and a photograph of the abuser. Tell them not to release your children to anyone without talking with you first. Use a password so they can be sure it is you on the phone.
• Make sure your children know who to tell at school if they see the abuser.
• Make sure the school knows not to give your address or phone number to anyone.
Safety at the Courthouse
• If you have a “no contact” restraining order, the abuser can not contact you in any way even in a courthouse. If the abuser violates the order, immediately contact a court officer.
• If you drive, park a safe distance from the courthouse. When returning to your vehicle be alert to the possibility of having been followed.
• Sit as far away for the abuser as you can. Sit near a court officer when possible. You don’t have to look at or talk to the abuser; you don’t have to talk to the abuser’s lawyer, family or friends if they are in the court.
• Bring a friend or relative to wait with you until your case is heard. Or bring a GMDVP Client Advocate with you.
• Tell the court officers that you are afraid of the abuser and ask them to watch out for you.
• Make sure you have your court order before you leave.
• Ask the judge or the court officers to keep the abuser there for a while when court is over; leave quickly.
• If you think the abuser is following you when you leave, call the police immediately.
In extreme cases, safety planning may include changing identity, such as a new name, a new social security number and other identification.
For information on new social security numbers for domestic violence victims: www.ssa.gov/pibs/10093.html.
GMDVP Client Services can explore with you whether this is a necessary option for you.