Safety planning is the process of evaluating the risks and benefits of different options and identifying ways to reduce the risks. Whether you are currently with your partner or not, a safety plan can reduce your risk of being harmed.
Use what you already know
You probably know more about safety planning and risk assessment than you might realize. Being in a relationship with an abusive partner – and surviving – requires considerable skill and resourcefulness. Any time you do or say something as a way to protect yourself or your children, you are assessing risk and enacting a safety plan. You do it all the time. It's just not always a conscious process.
There are risks attached to every decision you make. Risks can come from behaviors or actions of your partner or from other aspects of your life. For instance if you are unemployed or just started a job, a risk may be that you may not be financially able to support yourself and your children on your own right now. Another example of a risk may be if you are dealing with a physical or mental health problem that is compromised by your partner’s abusive behavior or mean you need to find a way to get the health care you need on your own if you separate. There may be many other things in your life that can be affected by remaining together or splitting up with your partner. Assessing risk includes weighing the pros and cons of staying in or leaving the relationship on your physical safety as well as other important aspects of your life.
A special note about leaving
This can be an especially risky time as sometimes abusive partners increase their physical violence as a way of keeping you from leaving or to get back at you. Keeping this possibility in mind as you are planning will allow you to consider what you need to do in the event your partner’s violence continues or worsens around your leaving. You will need to decide how much, if anything, you feel is safe for your partner to know about your plans. Other potential risks or concerns to think about when leaving are any threats your partner may have made to take the children or your worries that he or she would take them and whether your partner might show up at your job or other places that you go. You will want to be sure to include theses risk in your safety planning.
Safety planning for every situation
Safety plans can be made for a variety of different situations – for dealing with an emergency, such as when you are threatened with a physical assault or an assault has occurred; for continuing to live with or to date your partner; or for protecting yourself after you have ended the relationship. The questions below will help you safely plan for any of these situations.
Dealing with an emergency or crisis:
- Plan ahead how you would get out during an assault.
- Where would you go or who could you stay with even for a short time?
- What transportation would you need – your car, a ride?
- What would you most need or want to take with you?
- What arrangements would you need to make ahead of time?
- What do you need to tell your children?
- How do you want to prepare your children?
Continuing to live with or date your partner:
- What supports do you need to help you hold up during the difficult times?
- Who can you talk to that believes you and understands that you may care about your partner and also want the abuse to stop?
- What have you tried in the past that has helped minimize the risks to you? What has worked? What didn’t work? What have you learned to help you try new strategies?
- Is there anyone whose presence makes it less likely your partner will be abusive or violent? Is there anyone who he or she would listen to?
- Would talking to or involving family/friends/coworkers help you or make matters worse?
Ending your relationship:
- How do you think your partner will react to you leaving?
- Does your partner know of your plans? If so, what has been his or her reaction?
- Will keeping your partner from knowing your plans help you leave more safely?
- What arrangements do you need to make ahead of time – place to stay, transportation, child care, school, money?
- Who can help you make the arrangements you need?
After you have ended a relationship with an abusive partner:
- If you have left, do you want your partner to know where you are staying or want to keep the location unknown to him or her?
- If you remained in your residence, do you think your partner will show up at your home? If so, how do you expect him or her to act? Would you feel safe calling the police if necessary?
- Does your partner have a key to your home? Who could help you get your locks changed if needed?
- What do your children need to know if your partner calls or comes to your home?
- Do people at your children’s school or day care center need to know who can and cannot pick up your children?
- How do you feel about the children visiting with your partner? What conditions or situations would worry you or make you feel safer about visitation?
- What about going to and from places? Any concerns your partner will stalk or attempt to find you while you are away from home? Would changing places you go, routes to and from places, or having someone go with you make you safer?
Identify and evaluate your options
Seeking help, getting an order of protection or deciding to leave only makes sense when it reduces the overall risks that you and your children have to deal with. The value of any safety plan depends on having options that are meaningful and workable for you. Help may be available from domestic violence programs and the police and court systems, services that are designed to help victims of domestic violence. But equally important is the help and information you may get through other systems, including your own family and social supports. You may find people you can trust in a variety of places. Here are a few suggestions but you may know of others that would work for you:
- Employee assistance, supervisor, union, coworker
- Counselor, social worker, therapist
- Health care provider
- Friends, family, neighbors
- Religious congregation member, minister, rabbi, priest
- Teachers, school counselors
Only you can judge who it's safe to tell about your situation and who to ask for help. Sometimes people who don't have good information about domestic violence respond in ways that aren't helpful, even when they mean well. On the other hand, you may feel more comfortable asking for help from someone you know. It's your call. The important thing is for you to identify all the people who might be willing and able to help you.
No matter who you decide to reach out to – a domestic violence advocate, employee assistance professional, counselor, friend or self-help group member – if you are uncomfortable with the response that you get, don't give up. With any service provider or helper, you may have to ask more than once, or in a different way, in order for them to understand what you need. If that doesn't work, find someone else to tell. Then keep telling until you get the help that you need and deserve.