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Safety Planning

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:

  • Prepare a packed bag/emergency kit.
    It should include items that won’t be missed but that can help you if you decide to leave suddenly: money, ATM cards, credit cards, and checkbook; spare and comfortable items for you and your children; a spare set of car and house keys; any protection orders and/or custody orders that you have; prescriptions and/or medicines for you and your children; your driver’s license or photo ID; you and your children’s social security cards and other identification; birth certificates; health insurance cards; school and immunization records. You could also include any special photos that are important to you, other items of sentimental value, along with your address book, current unpaid bills, insurance papers, your marriage license, divorce papers, titles to vehicles, property, mortgage papers, deeds, and bank statements. Put the kit where you can get to it quickly, yet where it won’t be easily found by your partner.
  • Make an extra set of keys to the car and house and keep them hidden.
  • Plan the safest time to get away.
    Leave when your partner is at work or away from home.
  • Tell someone you can trust.
    Having someone else that you can trust know what is going on can serve as a resource or as an alert for you.
  • Plan the safest way to get out.
    Identify dangerous locations in the house, and plan for a quick exit so that you don’t get trapped in those locations where you have no way out to safety.
  • Plan with your children.
    Identify a safe place (room with a lock, a neighbor’s house) or the safest way to get out of the house and out of harm’s way. Let them know that their job is to stay safe, not to protect you. Practice with your children for an emergency.
  • Plan access to a phone.
    Be sure to plan how you can easily and safely get to a phone to call for help. Is a phone located in a room with a door that locks, so you can stay away from your partner while you call for help? If not, consider making up a code word or signal that you can share with your family, close friend, or trusted neighbor so that they know they should call the police or get help for you. Have a cell phone that your partner does not know about so that he cannot access your records of calls and texts or use it to locate you. SWiC has used cell phones that have been donated and re-programmed so that you can call 911 in an emergency.
  • Don’t tell your partner your plans!
    Sometimes making a plan can make you feel empowered, but your safety may depend on NOT letting your partner know that you are intending to leave.

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:

  1. Are you ready to end the relationship?
    Keep in mind that ending any relationship is never easy, especially an abusive one. Writing a list of positive and negative things in your relationship may help you make this decision. If you are ready, keep that list for yourself and re-read it if you are having doubts after the breakup.
  2. Do you feel safe ending the relationship?
    If you don’t feel safe…
    Call Schuylkill Women in Crisis’s free and confidential 24-hour hotline at 570.622.6220 or 800.282.0634 for help in figuring out a safety plan. Don’t break up in person. Doing so may seem cruel, but you may not be safe with the abuser when he realizes he has lost control over you.

    Even if you feel safe…
    Break up in a public place. Have a family member or friend waiting nearby. Take your cell phone with you. Tell your parents and friends you are ending the relationship in case your ex decides to come to your home.
  3. What should I do after the breakup?
    After a victim ends an abusive relationship, the risk of violence is even greater. Talk to a SWiC counselor for safety planning and help in healing. Talk to friends and family for support. Avoid isolated areas. Don’t walk alone or go places alone. Save any threatening or harassing emails or text messages. Stay off social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.

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:

  • Change all locks to your residence. Keep all doors and windows locked at all times.
  • Change phone number or phone plan. If abuser gave phone as a gift, it may be safest to buy a new phone.
  • Change passwords to all accounts.
  • Consider deleting your accounts on social media.
  • Try to make your schedule unpredictable to the abuser. For example, shop at different stores and/or at different times; get rides with different people and/or take different routes; park at different places; open new accounts at new banks.
  • Keep a copy of any court orders with you at all times, and keep a copy at work or school or daycare centers.
  • Give a photo of the abuser to your employer, teachers, daycare workers, trusted neighbor. Warn neighbors, friends, and family about your situation.
  • Save any voicemails, emails, texts, or other communications from the abuser.

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:

  • Learn where to get help if necessary; memorize emergency phone numbers.
  • Keep a phone in a room you can lock from the inside. If you can, get a cellular phone (SWiC may be able to help you) that you keep with you at all times.
  • Plan an escape route out of your house (and teach it to your children).
  • Think about where you would go if you need to escape.
  • Stay away from the kitchen where the abuser has easy access to weapons. Stay away from bathrooms, closets, or small places where the abuser can trap you. Teach this point to your children.
  • Pack a bag with important things you would need if you had to leave quickly; put it in a safe place, or give it to a friend or relative you trust.
  • If applicable, take pictures of bruises, injuries, damaged property, etc.
  • Call SWiC’s hotline to discuss a more in-depth safety plan.

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:

  • Teach children not to get in the middle of a fight, even if they want to help. They can help the victim more by remaining safe.
  • Teach children to stay away from the kitchen and any areas in the home where they could get trapped. Instead, teach them how to get to safety (possibly a nearby home) and who to call for help. For example, teach them how to use speed dial or voice dial, how to call 911, and to give address and phone number to the police.
  • Give the principal and school or the daycare center a copy of any court orders. Tell them not to release your children to anyone without talking to you first, and use a password so they can be sure it is you on the phone. Give them a photo of the abuser.
  • Make sure the 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.
Click here for information on staying safe from an abuser while working online.
  • Traditional “corded” phones are more private than cell phones or cordless phones. You may not be able to reach 9-1-1 using an internet phone or internet-based phone service. You may need to be prepared to use another phone to call 9-1-1.
  • If you use a cell phone, be aware there are numerous ways an abuser can use cell phone technology to overhear your calls or locate you. Use a cell phone only if you do not have access to a regular phone, and make sure that you do not give any identifying details on a cell phone. If your abuser works for a phone company or law enforcement agency, use extreme caution, and discuss cell phone safety with a domestic violence advocate.
  • Do not use a cell phone that has been a gift from your abuser or is on the same account as your abuser’s phone. He will be able to access logs of your calls and texts and even be able to locate you through the phone’s GPS (Global Positioning System) which is a location-finding feature. A cell phone in "silent mode" or "auto answer" can serve as a tracking device. If you are fleeing from your abuser, either turn off your cell phone or leave it behind.
  • Wireless carriers are required to complete 9-1-1 calls, even when a phone is not activated. Any phone that turns on and receives a signal is capable of making 9-1-1 calls. NOTE: If the phone you're using isn't activated, (i.e., no phone number is assigned to it), and you're disconnected from the 9-1-1 dispatch center, you must call 9-1-1 back.
  • You can obtain a donated used cell phone from SWiC in order to be able to call 9-1-1.