What is Safety Planning?
A safety plan is a personalized, practical plan to stay safe. Safety plans are important, whether someone is in a relationship with, preparing to leave, is leaving, or has left an abuser. A plan specifically tailored to your unique circumstances/situation can help prepare you and your family to respond during a high-stress, crisis situation.
Your safety and the safety of your loved ones are a priority. Creating a plan with a set of actions can help lower your risk of being hurt by your partner. A safety plan includes information specific to you and your life that will increase your safety at school, home, and other places that you go on a daily basis.
In-depth safety planning resources can be found on the National Hotline Website. Here anyone concerned about their safety or the safety of someone else will find guidance regarding important considerations when creating a safety plan, and other information that may be useful for survivors, friends, family members, or others. For a safety plan for young adults and teens please refer to One Love Foundation’s website. Their safety planning resources are available HERE.
Safety Plan Checklist
Gather these items and documents, or copies of them, and keep them at the home of a trusted friend, family member or other safe place:
☐ Driver License or State ID
☐ Birth Certificate(s)
☐ Social Security Card(s)
☐ Money – cash and any credit cards in your name
☐ Checking and savings account information
☐ Loan/investment information
☐ Protective order
☐ Car title, registration and insurance
☐ House deed or lease/rental agreement
☐ Health/life insurance information
☐ Medical records
☐ School records
☐ Work permit/Permanent Resident Card/Visa/Passport/ITIN/Matricula Consular
☐ Divorce and/or custody papers
☐ Marriage license
☐ Tax return from previous year
☐ Medications, glasses, hearing aids and any other medically necessary items
☐ Additional house and car keys
☐ Safety deposit box key
☐ Valuable jewelry
☐ Address book
☐ Change of clothes
☐ Current pictures of you, your abuser and your children
☐ Vaccination/immunization information
☐ Appointment book/calendar
Download: Safety Planning Checklist
Ways to get help
- If you need help in a public place, yell “Fire!” People respond more quickly to someone yelling “fire” than to any other cry for help.
- If you can, always have a phone that is accessible to you. Know the numbers to call for help, such as 911 or the LINKLINE.
- Let friends and/or neighbors you trust know what is going on in your home. Make a plan with them so that they know when you need help and so they know what to do (such as calling the police or banging on your door).
- Establish with a trusted neighbor a mechanism to alert them that you need help. This could be a signal such as flashing the lights on and off or hanging something out the window, or it could be a code word or phrase. Ensure that this neighbor understands the nature of the assistance you may need and is prepared to respond in the event that they are alerted.
- Keep a copy of important papers with you or locked in your car, such as your and your children’s birth certificates, passports, immigration papers, and Social Security cards, in case you have to leave in a hurry.
If you can, call the LINKLine 1-800-897-LINK (5465) domestic violence hotline from time to time to discuss your options and to talk to someone who understands you, even if you feel that you are not ready to leave.
What to tell your children about safety planning
- Create a plan with your children for when violence occurs. Tell them in an age-appropriate manner not to get involved if the abuser is hurting you, as it is not their job to keep you safe and because you do not want them to be at risk.
- Decide on a code word with your child(ren) to let them know that they should leave the house and get help. If they are unable to leave the house safely, make a backup plan for a place in the home that would be a safe place for them to go, and ideally where they can call for help (such as a room with a lock and a phone). Make sure they know that their first priority is to stay safe, not to physically protect you.
- Practice different ways to get out of your house safely. Practice with your children as well.
- Plan for what you will do if your children tell your partner about your plan or if your partner finds out about your plan some other way.
- Talk with your children about their experiences and feelings regarding conflict and violence. Validate how confusing it is when someone they love is being violent and frightening, and that violence is never right or ok. Reassure them that the violence is not their fault or your fault. Tell them that when anyone is being violent, it is important to keep safe.
Safety Plan for During the Violence
- The abuser may have patterns to their abuse. Try to be aware of any signs that show they are about to become violent so that you can assess how dangerous the situation may be for you and your children.
- If you recognize that conflict or tensions are increasing, whenever possible, remove yourself and your children from the situation before the violence begins.
- Be aware of anything the abuser can use as a weapon. If you can, try and keep any sharp or heavy objects that they may use to hurt you out of the way.
- Know where guns, knives, and other weapons are. If you can, lock them up or make them as hard to get to as you can.
- Figure out where the “safer places” are in your home – the places where there are not weapons within arm’s reach. If it looks like the abuser is about to hurt you, try to get to a safer place. Stay out of the kitchen, garage, workshop or other room where items that can be used as weapons are kept. Try to avoid rooms with tile or hardwood floors if possible.
- If the abuser does start to harm you, do not run to where the children are; the abuser may hurt them too.
- If there is no way to escape the violence at that moment, make yourself a small target. Dive into a corner and curl up into a ball. Protect your face and put your arms around each side of your head, wrapping your fingers together.
- Try not to wear scarves or long jewelry. The abuser could use these things to strangle you.
Safety Plan for Getting Ready to Leave
- Make a plan for how you are going to leave, including where you will go and how to cover your tracks. Establish more than one option: make one plan for if you have time to prepare to leave the home, and another plan for if you have to leave the home in a hurry.
- If you can, keep any evidence of the physical abuse and take it with you when you leave. Make sure to keep this evidence in a safe place that the abuser will not find – this may mean that you have to keep it in a locked drawer at work or with a trusted family member. If the abuser finds it, you could be in more danger. Such evidence of physical abuse might include:
- Pictures you have of bruises or other injuries. If possible, try to have these pictures dated.
- Torn or bloody clothing.
- Household objects that the abuser damaged or broke during a violent episode.
- Pictures that show your home destroyed or messed up after violence happened.
- Any records you have from doctors or the police that document the abuse.
- Whenever you are hurt, go to a doctor or to an emergency room as soon as possible if you can. Tell them what happened. Ask them to make a record of your visit and of what happened to you. Be sure to get a copy of the record.
- A journal with details about the abuse, which could help prove the abuse in court.
- Anything else you think could help show that you have been abused.
- If you have evidence of other types of abuse (threatening voicemails, text messages, emails, etc.), maintain copies of those, as well.
- Pack a bag that you can easily grab when you leave. Some things to include in the bag are:
- Spare car keys
- Your driver’s license
- A list of your credit cards so that you can track any activity on them
- Your checkbook
- Phone numbers for friends, relatives, doctors, schools, taxi services, and your local domestic violence organization
- A change of clothing for you and your children
- Any medication that you or your children usually take
- Copies of your children’s birth certificates, Social Security cards, school records and immunizations
- Copies of legal documents for you and the abuser, such as Social Security cards, passports, green cards, medical records, insurance information, birth certificates, marriage license, wills, welfare identification information and copies of any court orders (such as your protection order or custody order)
- Copies of financial documents for you and the abuser, such as pay stubs, bank account information, a list of credit cards you hold by yourself or together with the abuser
- Any evidence you’ve been collecting to show that you’ve been abused
- A few things you want to keep, like photographs, jewelry or other personal items
- Hide this bag somewhere the abuser will not find it. Try to keep it at the home of a trusted friend or neighbor. Avoid using next-door neighbors, close family members, or mutual friends, as the abuser might be more likely to find it there. If you’re in an emergency and need to get out right away, don’t worry about gathering these things. While they are helpful to have, getting out safely is the priority.
- Hide an extra set of car keys in a place you can easily access, in case the abuser takes the car keys to prevent you from leaving.
- Try to set money aside. If the abuser controls the household money, this might mean that you can only save a few dollars per week. The most important thing is that you save whatever amount you can without attracting the attention of the abuser and put you in further danger. You can ask trusted friends or family members to hold money for you so that the abuser cannot find it and/or use it.
- If you have not worked outside of the home and worry about your ability to support yourself, try to get job skills by taking classes at a community college or a vocational school if possible. This may help you to get a job either before or after you leave so that you will not need to be financially dependent on the abuser.
- If you have time to call the police before leaving, you can ask the police to escort you out of the house as you leave. You can also ask them to be “on call” while you’re leaving, in case you need help. Not all police precincts will help you in these ways but you may want to ask your local police station if they will.
- If you have pets and you are worried about their safety and welfare if they were left behind, consider reading through the Animals & Family Violence section in the Animal Welfare Institute webpage. They provide information about this topic including safety planning for pets and including pets in protection orders.
Safety Plan with a Protective Order
- Getting a protective order can be an important part of a safety plan when preparing to leave. Even if you get a protective order, you should still take other safety planning steps to keep yourself and your children safe. A legal protective order is not always enough to keep you safe.
- Leave when the abuser will least expect it. This will give you more time to get away before the abuser realizes that you are gone
- Protective orders are intended to protect victims of abuse, but they do not guarantee safety. These tips are designed to keep you safe if you have a protective order:
- Keep a copy of your protective order with you at all times.
- Make copies of your protective order and give them to your employer, coworkers, family, friends, neighbors, teachers, church officials, and others involved in your life.
- Keep a copy of your protective order in your car.
- If possible, immediately contact law enforcement if the protective order is violated.
- Identify alternative ways to stay safe if law enforcement does not respond immediately.
- Document any violations of the protective order – include names of anyone involved, the time, place, if law enforcement responded and any other information you feel might be important.