On average, it takes seven attempts before an abused woman leaves her partner. Not everyone will need to stay at a shelter. And not everyone will need to or should leave-at least not right away. The victim/survivor is the expert and the best judge of what she can and cannot do safely. So while a woman is deciding what the best course of action is, she needs to create a safety plan which is a plan for staying as well as leaving. Even before a woman has decided to leave an abusive relationship, there are protective measures she can take.
Here are some options a victim might evaluate in creating a safety plan to fit her own particular needs.
Protecting Yourself At Home
You cannot always avoid a violent situation so create a safety plan.
- During conflicts stay out of kitchens (where there are knives) and bathrooms (where you can be trapped and a fall can be fatal)
- Assemble a bag with important items you would need if you had to make a quick escape (passport and other ID, extra keys, cash, medication, birth certificates and other important papers). It is best to keep this with a friend or in another safe place outside your home.
- During a conflict, get to a room with a door that will allow you to escape. Alternatively, go to a room with a door you can lock from the inside and call 911.
- Teach your children not to get into the middle of a fight even if they want to help.
- Devise a code word to use with your children, family, and friends when you need the police.
- Document signs of physical abuse. Take photographs of injuries or bruises.
- Determine who you could call in a violent situation.
- Memorize emergency numbers
- If the abuser has a key to your home, change or add locks to doors and windows as soon as possible.
- Practice getting out of your home safely
Contacting An Agency Safely
- Take care in contacting an agency for help. When calling a hotline number, shelter or agency from home, dial a 1-800 number immediately afterward to protect yourself in the event that your abuser dials a callback code like *69.
- When using the internet, do not use your home computer. Go to a library, internet café, etc.
Protecting Yourself Once You Have Left
- Change your phone number. Block caller ID.
- If your partner has moved out or if you do not live together, alert your neighbors to call the police if they see him nearby. Create a signal that will tell them they should call.
- Change the locks.
- Provide a photo of your abuser to co-workers and security at your place of employment and to your children’s teachers and school administrators. Advise them not to allow the abuser on the premises.
- Make sure your child’s school and your employer know not to give your address or phone number to anyone.
- Change your habits. Shop at different stores. Shop at different times. Vary your schedule as much as possible.
- At work, have a security guard accompany you to your car.
- If you have left without the help of authorities, a domestic violence hotline, or other domestic violence agency, contact them now for help and advice on staying safe.
Technology Tools You Cannot Do Without Could Put You at Risk
Safety planning is a process that takes into account a victim/survivor’s current situation and encourages the development of strategies that help to reduce harm, minimize risks, and create a safe environment.
Technology, including everyday items such as computers and cell phones, is a crucial area to consider in safety planning. Below is a summary of a number of technology precautions to consider as outlined by Safety Net: The National Safe and Strategic Technology Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence (www.nnedv.org)
Information is power. You may call or consult with an advocate at a domestic violence hotline to make sure your safety plan is comprehensive.
- Trust your instincts. If the abuser knows too much regarding your whereabouts, it is possible that your phone, computer, emails, and other activities are being tracked.
- Use a safe computer. When you look for help, a new place to live, etc, it may be safest to use a computer at the public library, an internet café, or community center.
- Create a new email account with a new password from a safe computer. Use an anonymous name and password that the abuser will not be able to guess.
- Change passwords and PIN numbers. Some abusers access victims’ accounts fraudulently to track them, to impersonate them, and to cause harm. Thank about any password protected accounts you may have, including: online banking, medical records, voicemail, etc. If anyone abusive knows or could guess your passwords, change them quickly and frequently.
- Use a donated or new cell phone. A family cell phone plan produces billing records and phone logs that might reveal your plans. Local domestic violence programs have information about new cell phones and prepaid phone cards.
- Check your cell phone settings. If you are using a cell phone provided by the abuser, turn it off when not in use. Phones can be set to automatically answer without your knowing, in effect becoming a speaker. Most newer phones have GPS which makes them capable of tracking you.
- Minimize use of cordless phones and baby monitors. These act like speakers and can be monitored. A traditional corded phone is more secure.
- Ask about your records and data. Many court systems and government records are published online. Ask agencies how your records can be protected, restricted, or sealed.
- Get a private mailbox and do not give your real physical address. When asked by businesses, doctors and others for your address, have a private mailbox or PO box. Try to keep your residential address out of national databases. Many states, including Massachusetts, have the Address Confidentiality Program that can help you protect your actual address and is valid for legal documents.
- Search for your name and your phone number online. Major search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and switchboard.com have links to your contact information including satellite photos of your address. Search your name in quotation marks: “Full Name.” Do the same with your telephone number. Also, check phone directory pages because unlisted numbers may have been published if the number has been given to anyone.
- Consider taking down your social networking pages such as MySpace, Facebook, etc. Information posted on these sites can compromise your safety through photos that reveal your local and through friends your abuser knows who link to your social site.
- Consider closing your chain store, auto repair, oil change, or other service discount cards. The information they track is put on searchable databases which a tech savvy abuser may be able to hack into. Often a clerk will allow you to use their card so you can still get the savings.
For more information regarding any of the above suggestions or other technology concerns, go to www.ncvc.org/src.