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What is a Safety Plan?
When you come into Green Haven Shelter for Women or reach out to us, we will want to develop a safety plan with you. So, what exactly does it mean to create a safety plan?
A safety plan is your personal plan to stay safe while living in or leaving an abusive relationship.
As abusive relationships tend to escalate, it is important to know what steps you can take to minimize danger. However, there is no one-size-fits-all safety plan. Each plan is unique to the woman escaping violence. It consists of a list of steps, precautions, or actions prepared in advance by the survivor to ensure a safe exit from an escalating situation.
You know your situation best and you are the expert on your safety. However, if you are looking for some support with developing your safety plan, please contact our Crisis Support Team:
Creating a Safety Plan
In this section, we put together a list of considerations for you related to monitoring escalating violence and escaping an abusive home. However, reading through this can be extremely overwhelming. Remember that although it is a thorough list of tips, not all of them apply to you. If you find that you’re not sure where to begin, please reach out to us.
There are Additional Resources provided at the end of this article for more considerations for safety plans.
While Residing with an Abuser
If you are currently living in an abusive environment:
- Have friends and family stop by or check in from time to time.
- Know that abuse escalates during pregnancy. Take extra precautions to prevent getting pregnant if your partner is abusive or you believe that he may become abusive.
- You my need to make phone calls discreetly:
- Call a neutral number after making any calls to make sure that your partner cannot discover who you have contact via redial
- Dial *67 before making a call to keep your number hidden. This ensures that you cannot be called back unexpectedly and potentially put in danger
Preparing to Leave an Abusive Home
“Many survivors report taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to the abuse, saying that if the abuse gets worse, it will lessen their feelings towards their abuser and cause them to want to leave.
However, this can be a dangerous trap. The longer a survivor stays, the more power and control the abuser may gain, the more dangerous the situation can become, and the harder it may be to leave.”
- It is generally unsafe to tell your abuser that you are planning to leave.
- Open a bank account in your name or in the name of a person you trust. Make sure bank statements are not mailed to the address you share with an abuser.
- Learn about digital footprints and how abusers may track your online history to monitor your plans or locations.
- Have a bag packed and hidden for quick exits.
- You might decide to keep it at a trusted friend’s or family member’s house.
- We have provided you with a checklist on what you might want to put in the bag.
- Take any children or pets in the house with you when you leave.
Avoiding Interactions with an Abuser
This section aims to assist those who are no longer staying in the same household as their abuser, or who are actively avoiding all interactions with him.
- Keeping your address confidential:
- Register for a post office mailing address for paperwork
- Motion sensors and alarm systems:
- Install motion activated lights around your house
- If you cannot afford an alarm system, consider placing glass bottles in front of doors and windows
- Dogs may also act as alarm systems
Your Place of Work/School
- Options for getting to and from work or school safely:
- Change travel route
- Adjust work hours
- Carpool with a trusted colleague
- Inform work supervisor or school administration about safety concerns
- Provide your work supervisor or school administration with a photo of the abuser
Your Personal Contact Information
- Change your phone number, email address, social media handles, etc.
- Consider screening calls
- Use an anonymous voicemail message (ex. Sorry, the user with the number 123-456-7890 is not available at the moment. Please leave a message)
- Instruct companies that have information about you to use a code word as a means of restricting access to your accounts to only people who know the code word. (Ex. utilities, banking, phone companies, etc.)
- Switch up frequented locations (ex. Grocery stores, walking routes)
- If you have a restraining order, keep it with you at all times
- Avoid wearing clothing that will easily identify you to someone who knows you well (ex. your favourite sweater, the same rain jacket that you’ve had for years)
Before Meeting with an Abuser
There may be instances when you know that you are going to have to see your abuser face-to-face. These considerations help you to prepare for the meeting.
- Determine Current Level of Risk: Did you have an argument recently? Is the meeting under circumstances that may trigger the abuser? Do you know if something happened in their day that may have triggered them? For example, you may have received a text from the abuser saying that he was having a terrible day at work.
- Connect with a Trusted Friend/Family Member/Agency:
- Tell them that you will be in close contact with the abuser
- Provide them with the location or address
- Create a check in time with them
- Be clear about the steps to take if you do not meet the check in time.
Plan an Escape
- Have believable reasons prepared in advance for why you need to leave the house or cannot meet.
- If you are including someone else in this reason, be sure to inform them in advance in case the abuser follows up on your reason. (Ex. They may call the doctor to confirm you have an appointment)
- Make sure your car is ready for a quick getaway:
- Back your car into the parking space
- Ensure you have a full tank of gas
- Keep the driver’s door unlocked, but all other doors locked
- Keep a spare set of keys in the car
- Schedule a taxi for quick pick up
- Check which neighbours are home
In Case of Violence
- If you believe you are in danger, ask someone to come with you as a witness or to call for help if need be.
- Avoid wearing jewellery or scarfs around your neck
- If there is a risk of the abuser coming to your house or a previously shared house, consider moving the furniture around. The intention is to confuse the abuser and to cause him to bump into things. This will make it easier for you to know if and where he is in the house.
While Meeting with an Abuser
This section covers some considerations for your plan once you are physically near an abuser, but before escalation occurs.
- Monitor for known patterns, triggers, and/or behaviours that might indicate a potential for escalation.
- Avoid topics of contention as much as possible until you are in a safe space to have those discussions.
- Do your best to avoid being coaxed into an argument with your abuser. They may try to insult or manipulate you into retaliation.
- Do what you need to do to buy time, keep the situation calm, and to protect yourself and your children.
- Understand how technology can be used to monitor your plans, location, or online activities. See our Digital Abuse resource for more information.
During an Escalating Situation
If you start noticing the warning signs of potential violence, there are some steps that you can take to keep yourself safe. However, remember that these are simply suggestions. You are the expert of your safety and you will know if these acts may cause you more harm than good. Please trust yourself and your instincts in these situations.
- Relocate to a place where you are at lower risk of getting hurt:
- Note: Kitchens, bathrooms, and garages are more dangerous than living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms. This is because there are more objects available to be used as weapons in these spaces.
- Move closer to exits
- Position yourself in a room with access to two exits, if possible.
- Move closer to windows where you can be seen and heard from outside
- Keep your phone on you, even if it is out of sight
- Use code words to alert children/family/friends to call for help
During a Violent Situation
Once your partner becomes violent, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself and to get to safety.
- Make yourself into a small target by curling into a ball with your face and and head protected by your arms.
- Make as much noise as possible (ex. set off the fire alarms, break things, scream), so that the neighbours might call the police.
- Call 9-1-1 if you can.
- Tell them that you have been assaulted by a man (avoid telling them it is your husband or partner)
Once You Return to Safety
After you have escaped, the police have arrived, or the abuser has left the scene, consider these next steps for your safety plan.
- Get to a safe location: Have the location decided on in advance for a quick escape
- Go to the hospital: Have the doctor document your visit as a means of compiling evidence of physical abuse.
- Keep your own record of violence:
- Dates, times, locations, witnesses.
- Take photos of any evidence of abuse.
- If officers are involved, get their badge numbers/business cards.
- Reach out: Get in touch with your support person/trusted person/trusted agency. Remember that if you feel like you don’t have anyone to call, that you always have us. We believe you and we want to help you live free from violence.
- Prioritize your wellness: Take time to check in with yourself and your children. Eat something nutritious, get some much needed rest, schedule time to connect with doctors or mental health professionals, etc.
Safety Planning with Children
Safety planning with children can be complicated and anxiety-inducing. We have provided you with a variety of options and ideas to help you find the best way to keep your children safe while you are living in or transitioning out of an abusive environment.
- Create signals or codes. These should let your children know that they need to get out and meet at a prearranged place of safety.
- Teach your children how to use the phone to call for help. If they are using your smartphone, make sure they know any pass codes to unlock it quickly.
- Instruct your children not to get involved. Make sure that they don’t interfere with any arguments or violence between you and your partner.
- Instruct them to stay near exits. Teach your children to stand between any indicators of violence and an exit in case of escalation.
- Create distance between yourself and your children. If violence is escalating, move away from any children or pets to ensure that the abuser does not hurt them, as well.
- Avoid giving specific details for leaving to your children. The abuser may easily extract information from them, such as any plans to leave or where you are staying.
- Keep schools and day cares up to date. Inform them of who specifically has access to the children and provide them with photos of the abuser to ensure that the children are not pick up without your permission.
Checklist: Preparing to Leave
You may wish to keep this bag hidden in your car or outside of the home with a trusted friend or family member.
- Spare cash for taxis, hotels, etc. (Especially useful if you share accounts with your abuser or if they control your finances).
- Spare keys to the house, car, garage, mailboxes, etc. (Make copies in case they are taken from you or left behind during a quick exit).
- Valuable documents: passports, birth certificates, marriage certificates, immigration papers, health cards, SIN cards, bank cards
- Legal documents: divorce papers, order of protection orders, restraining orders, custody papers
- Prescription medications and health supplies
- Proof of cohabitation documents: Proof that you have been residing at the same address as the abuser (bills, lease, mortgage)
- Precious items (photographs, family heirlooms)
- Necessary technology (laptop, phone, charging cords)
- Any evidence of physical abuse (photographs, medical records, threatening letters, etc.)
Next Steps: I’ve created my safety plan. Now what?
Once you have a clear idea of what your plan is, it is time for you to rehearse. Make sure that this plan is familiar to you so that once you enter a high-anxiety environment, you will have this plan easily accessible in your mind. Depending on your situation, you may tweak the plan before each encounter.
You may need to rehearse several times with children and create an easy-to-remember system for them. For example, “Door. Peace. Jane.” This might mean to stay near the door and when you see the peace sign, go straight to the neighbour, Jane‘s, house. Repeating this regularly and having them repeat it back to you can solidify the plan in your child’s mind.
Please know that not all of these plans will be useful for you. Some of them might even put you at higher risk of danger.
We encourage you to contact a trusted professional when it is safe for you to help you make an effective safety plan.
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Text Message: 705-345-1302