Having a safety plan can be a way to increase your own as well as your children’s safety if there is a risk that you could experience abuse.
You do not have control over your abuser’s violence, but you can map out action steps to increase your safety and prepare in advance for the possibility of future violence/ harassment. Our staff can offer information, ideas and suggestions for a woman to think about. They will encourage a woman to take it one step at a time and start with ideas that seem realistic and right for her.
REMEMBER that many women have escaped and survived abusive situations.
Safety plans can be developed for many different situations. Staff are trained to help women identify their own personal safety plan needs. Here are some suggestions to consider:
Have an emergency bag ready and keep it close to your escape route so that you are not scrambling to find it. If it’s possible, you might want to hide this bag at a trusted friend’s or family member’s home so your abuser won’t be able to find it. If this isn’t a possibility, try to hide it somewhere your abuser would never think to look – even outdoors should be fine if its short term and you are able to protect the bag from the elements. Your safety bag should have as many of the following items as possible. Prepare in advance to take important items with you when you leave. Make copies or duplicates of things you need. If you believe that you or your children are in danger, leave immediately, even if you don’t have some or any of these items:
- Cash for taxi and/ or payphone (quarters or a calling card). If possible, try to save as much cash money as you can prior to leaving.
- Debit and credit cards, cheque book.
- Identification for you and your child(ren) such as Health cards, driver’s license, status card, birth certificates etc.
- Immigration papers and work permits
- A list of emergency numbers to ensure you have a safe place to go immediately (try to memorize these numbers in case the list is lost or stolen)
- Change the password on your voicemail in case your abuser knows it.
- Car/ house keys
- Any supporting documentation for custody, divorce, court orders, restraining orders, marriage certificate etc.
- A copy of any bill that’s in your name
- A copy of any marital asset, including RRSP’s, a copy of your abuser’s pay stub (recent is better), RESP’s, GIC’s, etc.
- School and vaccination records
- Vehicle registration and proof of insurance, ownership and/ or license plate number.
- Income Tax documents
- Will, Power of Attorney for Personal Care and Power of Attorney for the Management of Property.
- Medication and/ or prescriptions for you and the child(ren)
- Social insurance numbers and a copy of your abusers social insurance number.
- Any personal devices such as glasses, dentures, cane, walker, hearing aids etc. for you and the child(ren)
- Address Book
- A prepared list of household items you would like to come back for with Police assistance, (photographs, jewellery, items of special sentimental value)
- Child(ren)’s favourite toy for comfort
- A change of clothes for you and the child(ren)
- A recent photo of the abuser (for police, work etc.)
Think about opening a bank account in your own name at a different bank – but be sure to either not have any mail delivered about this account or have it sent someplace where he is not going to know about it. If you don’t want your abuser to know your whereabouts once you leave, try to avoid using credit cards, gas cards, bank cards if you’re able – even if these things are in your name only. It’s easy to pull up information instantly online and banks have a tendency to give out information all too willingly to a spouse, even if the spouse’s name isn’t listed on the account. The flip side of this is to withdraw whatever funds you may need at your regular bank as soon as you leave. Abusers tend to move/withdraw all of the cash once they realize what’s going on. A one time withdrawal at your regular bank will not indicate your whereabouts as long as you do it immediately after leaving and do not do it again.
Be prepared for your abuser to:
- Freeze your bank account(s)
- Cancel your credit card
- Cancel your cell phone
- Remove you from his medical benefits plan, etc
Be careful of what you do online. Anyone who has even a little bit of computer knowledge can easily install a keystroke logger on a computer. Information about what sites you’ve viewed, passwords, etc, can easily be seen by the abuser. Depending on the software used, this information can even be sent to the abuser’s cellphone/computer. Instead, whenever you’re online to find out information about leaving, use a public computer or work computer if your employer allows it.
Be careful with your phone calls. Many phones have features to allow someone to see, not only who you’ve called, but who has called you, as well. This information can be erased on most phones but in order to avoid suspicion, do not use a ‘clear all’ selection – only delete the phone numbers you don’t want your abuser to see. Once you’ve left, if you need to contact your abuser remember that, even if you didn’t have caller ID, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t added this feature to the phone.
Know your escape route and ensure the child(ren) do also. Practise the route often and revise it if necessary. If your escape route is a window that isn’t on the main floor, ensure you have a rope ladder in a safe place (perhaps in or with your safety bag)
If possible, try not to have your escape route go through the kitchen. There are sharp and unsafe objects here. Also if possible, stay away from areas such as hallways that lead nowhere or the bathroom as your abuser can trap you there.
Program your cell phone for 911. Perhaps speed dial would be good in this case. Be sure to show the child(ren) how to work the cell phone and which buttons to press to call out.
Teach the children where they are to go once out of the house in case you don’t get out at the same time. Make sure the child(ren) know to get to safety and don’t come back to save you. Practise often and revise if necessary. Plan an alternate place to meet in case one of you can’t get to the original location (i.e. the neighbour you planned to go to isn’t home). Go somewhere the abuser wouldn’t automatically think of. This will ensure you will be safe while you wait for the police to come.
Tell a trusted friend or family member, doctor, lawyer, etc, about your plan to leave. Give some of the details like the date and where you will be able to be contacted after you’ve left. Just be very sure that this person will not tell your abuser any of the information you’ve shared.
If necessary, pay attention to what the abuser is saying and/ or doing. It may be beneficial to agree with him or give him what he wants in order to calm him down. This is a good way to protect yourself from danger. Once calm, prepare to make your exit or phone call.
Call a shelter/ crisis line and speak to a worker about safety planning. They can assist you in brainstorming options for your specific situation.
Practise with your child(ren) where his/ her “safe place” will be. If possible, it should be a space such as a closet or room with a lock on the door.
Stress to your child(ren) how important it is for him/her not to try and save you. Teach him/ her that it is more important to stay safe and call for help.
Teach your child(ren) how to call for help. Ensure he/ she understands WHO to call. It should be someone who can arrive quickly such as Police or a friend or neighbour. Be sure he/ she know not to use any phone that the abuser can see him/ her using. It should be a phone that is out of sight that perhaps the abuse isn’t aware of. If calling Police, teach the child(ren) to leave the phone off the hook once the call has been ended to prevent the phone from ringing back, or to stay on the phone with Dispatch until Police arrive.
Teach the child(ren)what to say when he/ she calls for help. If it is the Police, ensure the child(ren) know the address and phone number. If it is a neighbour or friend, the child should know beforehand what sort of information to give to ensure the call is quick.
Make sure your child(ren) are aware of the escape route. It is very important that he/ she makes it out of the house in order to prevent you from having to go back in to search for him/ her.
Teach him/ her to stay clear of the kitchen as there are dangerous objects there that may be used to hurt them.
Teach him/her that if they are grabbed or someone is trying to take them and there are people nearby to scream “STRANGER” and “HELP” to get attention and help.
Consider changing your furniture around in a way he wouldn’t expect. If he gains access to your place, he won’t be able to move around as well if the layout is unfamiliar.
Get a cell phone and put a list of important number into its contacts. Such number’s as;
- Local VCARS/ Victim Services
- Women’s Shelter(s)
- Crisis Centre
- Family/ friends
- Police/ 911
Change the locks on all exterior doors. There are community agencies that can help with the expense (local Victim Services/VCARS). Also, installing locks on windows in order to prevent him from gaining entry in other areas.
If possible, ensure all outdoor areas are well-lit at night.
It is advisable to have a wide angle viewer (peep-hole) in the door so that you can check a person’s identity without unlocking your door and get in the habit of using it regularly. If you live in an apartment building with an intercom system to the front door, make sure the landlord keeps it in operating order.
Do not hide spare keys anywhere outside your home (in a mailbox, under a door mat, etc)
Change your phone number and have it unlisted. This will prevent him from being able to contact you. Don’t give all of your contacts your new number until the situation settles down with your abuser. Only give the number to those who you trust and know of the situation.
Teach the child(ren) not to answer the door but to come get you before opening the door to anyone. Teach them not to answer the phone. Encourage them to tell their friends to leave a message so that their call can be returned.
Show a picture of the abuser to your manager, supervisor or security personnel and advise that he is not to be near you. It may feel a little embarrassing to share your story with your employer, but it is only to ensure your safety and the safety of your co-workers. They may not only appreciate the warning but may be able to also offer you additional support.
Drive an alternate route to work to avoid being followed. If possible, try to car pool with a co-worker of friend so that your vehicle isn’t spotted by the abuser
If possible, have someone screen your calls to avoid contact with the abuser.If possible, have a friend or co-worker walk you to your vehicle, your ride or to the bus stop to ensure your abuser isn’t waiting for you outside/ by your vehicle
If you drive your own vehicle, do a walk around your car before opening the doors. Look on all sides and underneath to ensure there is no one there. Once in your vehicle, check the back seat before driving away. If possible do a quick check under the hood of your vehicle looking for any wires or parts that may be disconnected.
If your job requires you to work alone, consider asking your boss or manager to schedule someone to work with you for a few days until the situation is dealt with or has calmed. Also, consider requesting added security such as a panic button or alarm system.
It is important to know that a safety plan has many important parts. It is not restricted to safety from physical violence only, emotional safety is just as important because if you are emotionally aware and ‘safe’ you will be more prepared and have the strength to function on a day to day basis. Here are a few ways to form your emotional safety plan;
- If there is any possibility of returning to your “abuser” consider first discussing that possibility with someone you know and trust.
- Make a plan of who to call when you’re feeling overwhelmed, lonely or in need of support. This should be someone you can count on, someone trustworthy.
- Always remember that you are the MOST important person to take care of right now, without being in a good state of mind, you will be in no shape to be there for anyone else.
- Keep a journal, one that is totally private. Journal all of your feelings, whether your feelings are of loneliness, shame, anger, happiness, joy, accomplishment or independence. This will be an important and useful tool to use in times of reflection.
- Take the time to do things that you enjoy, things that make you feel happy or good about yourself.
- Spend time with friends or family that make you feel good or positive about yourself. Avoid being around people who exhaust you or cause triggers.
- Write something positive about yourself on a daily basis. Be sure to use strong empowering words that you know to be true.
- Put limits on personal appointments in order to not overbook yourself and cause feelings of exhaustion.
- Take care of your body. Sleeping and eating properly are crucial parts of staying healthy and energized.
- Avoid excessive consumption of alcohol, drugs and food. These activities may cause more feelings of depression and worthlessness rather than fulfillment and happiness.
- Consider attending counselling with your local crisis centre. Places such as these often have tools to assist with self-esteem, empowerment, guilt etc., for victims of domestic violence.
- Also consider joining a support group with other women who have been through something similar. This will help to encourage friendships or relationships with people who can be understanding and helpful.
- Update your resume as needed to leave yourself open to a job opportunity that may increase your self-esteem and self-worth.
- Consider getting a part-time job or volunteer position to keep yourself occupied, or to eliminate your feelings of isolation.
- Look into taking up a class or program to increase your skills and prepare you for the work force.
- Be social; join friends for extra-curricular activities like movies, games, walking, dinner, etc.
- Make a plan to prepare yourself emotionally before stressful situations (Court, talking to your ‘abuser’, Doctors or Lawyers appointment etc.), learn what it is that you need to cope with triggers and or your emotions.
- Tell yourself that it’s OK to feel angry or frustrated sometimes but consider constructive ways to express those feelings.
- And last but certainly not least, avoid personal behaviours that will make you feel negative about yourself or something that you’ve done (e.g. excessive or impulsive shopping), instead surround yourself with positivity.
- Create strong, safe passwords
- When using the computer, be aware that your abuser may track the websites you have visited. For information onhiding your tracks
- Do not share personal information.
- Block unwanted people from online social networking
- Take measures to avoid identity theft.