Safety planning is just what it sounds like: creating a plan to keep yourself and any children and/or pets safe while living in an environment of domestic violence and abuse, preparing to leave, leaving, and after leaving an abuser. A survivor’s safety and well-being is most at risk during episodes of violence and when attempting to leave an abuser, so it’s especially important to prepare ahead of time to be as protected as possible.

Below are some basic guidelines for safety planning in a domestic violence situation.

Safety During an Explosive Incident

  • If an argument is unavoidable, stay in an area where you have access to an exit.
  • Practice getting out of your home safely.
  • Keep a packed bag at a trusted relative’s or friend’s home.
  • Tell trustworthy neighbors about the violence. Ask them to call the police if they hear or see any disturbance.
  • Devise a code word or signal to use with your children, family, friends, and trustworthy neighbors when you need the police.
  • Plan where you will go if you have to leave.
  • Trust your instincts and judgment. You have the right to protect yourself until you are out of danger.

Safety When Preparing to Leave

  • Establish your independence. Open savings and credit card accounts in your name only.
  • Leave money, extra keys, copies of important documents, extra medicine and clothes with someone you trust so you can leave quickly.
  • Determine safe people you can stay with or borrow money from.
  • Keep hotline phone numbers and change, a calling card, or a safety cell phone on you at all times for emergency phone calls. Most crisis lines do accept collect calls and 911 is free.
  • Review and rehearse your safety plan.

Safety in Your Own Home

  • If possible, obtain an order of protection.
  • Change the locks on your doors. (Landlords are legally obligated to change locks within 24 hrs if you are experiencing DV).
  • Install locks on your windows. (Renters check with your landlord first.)
  • Discuss and practice a safety plan with your children for when you are not with them.
  • Inform your children’s schools or caregivers who has permission to pick up your children.
  • Inform neighbors and landlord that your partner no longer lives with you and to call the police if they see him or her near your home.

Safety with a Restraining Order

Keep your protective order on you at all times, and give a copy to a trusted neighbor, friend or family member.
Call the police if your abuser violates the protective order.
Think of alternative ways to keep safe if the police do not respond right away.
Inform family, friends, neighbors and health care providers that you have a restraining order in effect.

Safety on the Job and in Public

  • Decide who at work you will inform of your situation, include building security.
  • Provide a photo of your abuser for quick identification.
  • Screen your telephone calls.
  • Devise a safety plan for leaving work.
  • Have someone escort you when leaving and wait with you until you are safely en route.
  • Use a variety of routes to go home.
  • Rehearse what you would do if something happened while going home.
  • Create a safety routine when you arrive home: checking your house and property, checking in with someone to let them know you are safe, etc.

Internet and Computer Safety

Remember that all computer and online activity may be monitored. Abusers may monitor your emails and internet activity. This may include more than just websites; if you are planning to flee to a particular location, don’t look at classified ads for jobs and apartments, bus tickets, etc. for that place. It is safer to use a computer in a public library, at a trusted friend’s house, at an internet cafe, or any other public terminals. Abusers may also track your activity and whereabouts through your cell phone; if you think there a chance this may be happening, take your phone into your provider and have it thoroughly checked.

Checklist: What You Should Take When You Leave

  • Legal Papers
    • Restraining order/stalking order
    • Lease, rental agreement, house deed
    • Car registration
    • Health and life insurance cards
    • Divorce papers
    • Custody papers
  • Other
    • House and car keys
    • Medications
    • Valuables, photos, etc.
    • Address book
    • Phone card/safety cell phone
    • Clothes, blankets, small toys for children
    • Clothes, hygiene necessities, etc. for yourself
  • Identification
    • Driver’s license
    • Children’s birth certificate
    • Social security card
    • Self-sufficiency/disability identification
  • Financial
    • Money and/or credit cards
    • Bankbooks
    • Checkbooks and/or ATM cards
  • Papers
    • Medical records for you and your children
    • Work permits/green card
    • VISA