Abuse is about power and control. Abuse in a relationship is about one person using a pattern of behavior to gain or maintain power and control over the other and over the relationship. When a victim leaves an abusive relationship, the abuser is losing control over them and will frequently exhibit even more dangerous behavior – potentially lethal behavior – in order to regain control. In fact, 75% of all domestic violence-related homicides occur while a victim is trying to leave or shortly thereafter.
Safety planning can help a victim of domestic violence be safe whether they live with their abuser or not, and whether they choose to end the relationship or not. Basically, safety planning means taking steps to be safe that are specific to you and your life circumstances. SWiC staff can help you make a safety plan; call SWiC’s 24-hour hotline at 570.622.6220 or 800.282.0634.
Safety planning may save you or your loved one’s life.
Because abuse is about power and control, the most dangerous time for a victim is when they leave and the abuser tries to regain control. If you think you might leave, here are some ideas to keep in mind when safety planning:
You don’t have to make your safety plan alone. SWiC Advocates are available to help you on our free and confidential 24-hour hotline, 570.622.6220 or 800.282.0634.
First, ask yourself these questions:
If you feel in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.
Leaving an abuser does not mean that the abuse is over. Abusers may react in several predictable ways, and knowing what an abuser may do can help you prepare for what to expect. Again, the most dangerous time for the victim is when s/he leaves the abuser. Keep in mind the following when safety planning:
The abuser will likely try to locate you.
One of the perpetrator’s first responses will be to try to locate you. They may go to friends and family who they think will help you. Depending upon the history of their relationship with them, the perpetrator may either threaten them or attempt to gain their sympathy. If they do not know where you are, only that you are safe and well, they cannot be intimidated into disclosing your location. If the perpetrator preys upon their sympathies, the story may be such a distortion of actual circumstances that they may even try to persuade you to return to the abuser. Remember: The batterer can be charming and persuasive, so be prepared for him to use this tactic on others.
The abuser may apologize.
If the perpetrator does make contact with you, by whatever means, they will probably first try to apologize and promise to change their behavior. They may also promise other things that you have wanted, such as attending marriage counseling, buying something, or even having another child. They will promise whatever will get you to return.
The abuser may make threats.
If previous strategies for getting you to return have not worked, the perpetrator will next try threats and intimidation. He may threaten to harm family and/or friends, you, or the children. He may also threaten to take the children away from you or threaten harm to himself. SWiC counselors and advocates can help you choose a safe, appropriate response to specific threats.
The abuser may promise counseling and/or religion.
“Finding” religion may also be a manipulative tool to get you to return. The abuser may suddenly become active in a particular church to prove that he has changed. The abuser may enlist a counselor or spiritual leader to encourage you to return to the relationship and help the batterer complete his redemption. Those who accept responsibility for their wrongdoings must understand that their behavior has consequences which may not include forgiveness by the victim and/or restoration of trust or the relationship.
The abuser may plead.
The abuser may cry, beg, and plead for reunification. These efforts may occur in a public setting so that you are embarrassed or appear to be “hard-hearted.” The perpetrator may further harass by leaving excessive telephone messages, misusing public systems to frustrate you (e.g., initiating unnecessary court actions, reporting you for fraudulent behavior to welfare, etc), or showing up at your place of work or annoying friends and family. SWiC counselors and advocates can help you choose a safe, appropriate response to specific threats.
The abuser may ask you to meet with him.
The abuser may claim to be despondent, depressed, or even suicidal. You are not able to help him by meeting with him. If you are concerned about his well-being, ask others who care about him to get involved or call 9-1-1. Do NOT meet with him alone or in a secluded place; in fact, you are safest if you do not meet with him at all. Most domestic violence-related homicides occur while a victim is trying to leave or shortly thereafter
Safety planning tips for after you have left an abuser include:
Most victims leave an abusive relationship 3-7 times and return again before leaving for good, but some decide to stay for a number of reasons. If you have decided not to leave an abuser, here are some things to keep in mind for safety planning:
SWiC’s Children’s Advocate can conduct safety planning with children and include a parent who is not the abuser. However, the following are key points to make your children safer: