Abusive environments are, at their very core, dangerous. Living in them is frightening. And leaving them can be even riskier. That’s why every survivor needs a safety plan.
Read on to learn more about safety plans: what they are, who needs them, and how to make one.
What Is a Safety Plan?
A safety plan is a detailed strategy designed to protect and improve a victim’s physical and emotional safety. The plan dictates what to do while living in an abusive situation, when preparing to leave, and after you escape the abuse.
Having a safety plan is incredibly important for both you and your children. These plans allow survivors to think through potentially dangerous situations before they happen and determine how to handle them.
All safety plans are uniquely molded to your specific situation. But most will contain some form of the following:
- Telling trusted family and friends about your situation
- How to cope with common emotions like anxiety, fear, and anger
- Ways to escape physical or emotional abuse, including specific escape avenues
- Creating a code word and sharing it with family or friends, so they know if you’re in trouble
- Where you will go should you have to leave home suddenly
- Removing or copying essential documents from the home
- Identifying people who could help with housing, financial assistance, and other resources should you leave
- Installing or replacing security features at your new location
- Notifying childcare centers and schools about potential harm and/or protective orders
- Where to keep protective orders and whom to contact if the abuser breaks the order
- What to do if you feel lonely and want to return to the abusive situation
- Resources and groups to help you maintain independence and thrive in a non-abusive environment
Creating a Safety Plan
There are many online resources designed to help abuse victims create and execute safety plans.
First, remember that an abuser can access the search history on your phone or computer. Some survivor advocate organizations have safeguards in place that erase this history, but many do not. With that in mind, always create a safety plan from a non-traceable computer.
Any reputable domestic violence shelter or helping organization can help you create a thorough safety plan. You can also access the National Domestic Violence Hotline from a safe computer and fill out the safety planning worksheet. You can also call the Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text START to 88788.
Your safety plan will include detailed information about keeping yourself and your children physically safe. These considerations could include:
- Identifying when the abuser tends to be abusive and avoiding those situations whenever possible
- Identifying safe areas of the home or potential escape routes
- Creating plausible reasons to leave the home
- Having emergency contact numbers on hand
- Making sure you have access to a phone in case of emergency
- Sharing your situation and concerns with neighbors, family, and friends
- Be mindful of weapons in the home and keep them locked away
- Back your car into the driveway and keep it fueled up for a quick escape
- How to protect yourself in a violent attack
Preparing to leave or actively leaving a relationship is the most volatile time. A safety plan can help you avoid physical violence and know what to do if abuse becomes unavoidable.
Your physical safety – and that of your children, pets, and other family members – is priority number one. But your emotional health should also be a consideration when creating your safety plan. Protecting your emotional and psychological well-being will not only help you find the strength to leave, but will also help as you navigate your new life outside the abusive relationship.
Emotional safety considerations include:
- Identifying and searching out supportive people and groups
- Setting personal and professional goals
- Making time for self-care
- Practicing positive self-talk
- Identifying empowering and positive resources
Safety Planning with Children
A safety plan for your children is vital. This plan might include teaching them how to call for help, knowing how to escape an abusive episode, codewords to indicate they’re in trouble, and whom they can contact for help.
After you leave an abuser, your children may be court-ordered to spend visitation time with the abusive adult. As a parent, this can be incredibly frightening, but your safety plan can account for these instances.
Work with your case worker, local domestic violence advocate, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline to create a safety plan that protects and empowers your children.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, do not wait. Call 911 immediately.