Safety Plan: If You do NOT Live With the Person Abusing You

If you do NOT live in the same place with someone who is abusing you:

Safety before you can leave:

Getting help and support from others:

  • Think about who you know in your life you can trust: People who don't condone abuse of any kind, and who'd want to help you if and when you needed help. Make a list -- in your head, phone, somewhere you can always get at it -- of those people.
  • Find local help and resources: Use a search engine or phone book to look up the domestic violence, interpersonal violence or rape⁠ crisis centers or shelters closest to you. (The Pixel Project keeps an international list here.) Write down the hotlines or phone numbers somewhere you can easily get at them, or put them in your phone. Do not write what it is by name, to avoid the abusive person or people in your life finding it: call them something else where you'll know what it is, but they won't.
  • Tell someone: Take a first step by telling just one of those trusted people what is really going on in your relationship⁠ or family. Even though abuse isn't your fault, you might feel ashamed, but tell someone anyway. Then start telling other trusted people: silence and secrecy about abuse keep you less safe and more stuck. You can pick a code word to use with people you tell so if and when you are calling them and asking for help or intervention, you can do that without the person or people abusing you knowing.
  • Find an expert helper: If possible, get connected with a counselor through an abuse victims advocacy organization or someone else educated and trained in giving this kind of help. Be honest about what is going on, ask for help, and utlize their expertise to plan to leave the relationship soon. If you are enrolled in school, a school counselor or student health service is also a good place to start; if you have access to healthcare, a general clinic or doctor can be someone to give you a referral. You can also always start by going to any police station or hospital for help.

Staying as safe as possible before you leave or break up:

  • Limit alone time with the person or people who are abusing you: When you must spend time with them, try to do it in public, or only with a friend or family member(s) you know you can trust to help keep you safe. If the person or people abusing you like/want to come over your house, try to only have them over when safe people are present or nearby. 
  • Get (too) busy: Since you do not live with this person or people, you can probably come up with other things to do and commit to besides seeing them. Pack your schedule so that them finding time you're even available is hard. This can be a great time especially to get or stay involved with things that involve you being in groups, like team sports, group volunteering jobs or community groups: there really is safety in numbers.
  • Don't fly solo: Make sure someone always knows when you are seeing this person, where you will be, and how long you anticipate being gone for.
  • Follow their "rules": What do you know triggers abuse from this person? Try to avoid doing those things. If you know there are things you can safely say or do to subdue or calm the abusive person, use them as needed. This isn't the time to stand up for yourself with them, you will be doing that by leaving. You want to keep them as calm as possible so you are able to get gone safely.
  • Find the safer places: Try to stay in physical places that are as safe as possible, especially when the other person is agitated; avoid rooms without exits or with weapons (like knives). Try to stick to, or lead an agitated person to, rooms where you know you can get out easily and avoid being cornered; rooms with a phone in them so you can call for help if you need to.
  • Stay calm: Do your best to stay as emotionally detached as possible when the other person or people become angry or agitated: if you stay calm, it's easier to think clearly so you can keep yourself safe. When we stay subdued, it's also harder for other people to stay agitated and they are usually less likely to escalate.
  • Learn how to protect yourself: If you have never taken any self-defense training and you have the ability to do so, do that.  That training can help you learn how to defend yourself as needed, and how to protect your body if and when someone is physically or sexually attacking you so that even if you cannot stop the abuse at the time, you can be less likely to sustain serious injuries. It can also help you feel more empowered and able.
  • Use your phone: If you have a cell phone, keep it within reach. Have some numbers you can find and call quickly for help: friends or family members you know can and will get you help fast, shelter or hotline numbers, and general emergency numbers like the number for the police. If you can't keep a phone on your person or do not have one, memorize a couple emergency numbers. If and when the person or people abusing you are becoming agitated or escalating, place a call to someone trusted and keep the call connected (even if you are not talking and have the phone hidden, like under a chair or bed, or in a backpack, so an abusive person cannot see someone is listening in). That way, they can bring or call for help more quickly and easily if you need it, and you can feel more secure. Asking them in advance if you can do this is a good idea so they will know what's up and why you are not talking directly to them.
  • Have your own money and transit: Keep some money or a public transit card with you at all times, so you have the ability to physically leave and stay gone if and when you need to. Learn your public transit system if you have one, so you know how to use it. If you have a car, keep your keys on you and within easy reach (if you have a key with a panic button, that can also be a very useful tool to try and get help if and when you need it). Don't be reliant on someone who is abusing you for transportation if you can avoid it.
  • Keep thoughts or plans to leave private: If the person or people abusing may have any access to your phone or computer, when you're looking online at pages like this, clear your history afterwards. If you're talking to anyone about the abuse happening to you in private messaging, or text conversations on your phone, delete those conversations after you are finished having them.
  • Are you being spied on? Is there a possibility the person may have installed spyware on your computer or your phone so that they could track your activity or conversations? If so, try to use only devices that they have not had access to for researching anything about abuse and leaving abuse. You might ask a trusted friend or family member to borrow theirs, use a computer in a public library or internet cafe, or use a public telephone. You might also use the facilities in your place of work or study if you have secure access there.

Assume the worst: Leaving is often hard. Once you finally feel able to, you might feel strong, energized and ready to run right out of something so awful. However, leaving, or after leaving, is often when someone being abused is the LEAST safe. So, as much as you can, plan to leave carefully, and make your after-leaving plans well, with your safety made an absolute priority. Being left is likely to trigger⁠ an escalation in the abuser's dangerous behaviors, and they may do (or attempt) things that you thought they never would. Figure things just might get momentarily worse than they ever have been, and plan for that. It's better to be prepared for the worst case scenario rather than only for the best.

Safety preparing to leave, while leaving and after you leave:

Preparing to leave and leaving:

  • Don't worry about your stuff: If you have given or left anything with the person or people abusing you, figure it's probably best to just let those things go.  They are not likely vital to your survival, but getting away from someone abusive is. In the event they do have something necessary or of great value to you -- like your birth certificate, or a family heirloom, you can do what you can to try and get it back without their notice when you know you are leaving the relationship and staying away or will be doing so very shortly. Alternately, after you have left the relationship, you can send someone else over to safely get the item for you.
  • Plan to leave during the honeymoon: Observe the phases of abuse in the relationship: it is usually safest to leave (or end the relationship) during "honeymoon" phases, not at times when someone abusive is beginning to escalate or has escalated.
  • It's okay to break up from far away: Because you're not leaving a shared home -- where it would be obvious you've left -- some kind of clear split or breakup still needs to happen.  You can do so passively -- like by leaving an email or phone message, something where that you are done is clear, but where your physical safety is at no risk, which is ideal -- or actively, but more safely, like in a public place, or with a friend. This isn't the time to think about what way of breaking up or separating is the most or least polite: your aim is to do it in a way which is simply the most safe for you.
  • Do what you can to avoid creating more conflict: Be as clear, dry and firm as possible when communicating -- however you do it -- you are leaving the relationship and getting and staying away from this person or people. You are done, you need to go away and stay away, and they are not to contact you anymore. Now is not a sound time to go into why, talk about how you love them so much, nor to get into fights if you can avoid them: you want to try not to agitate someone abusive for your safety, and you also do not want to give them the opportunity to emotionally manipulate you and suck you back in.
  • Plan in advance for limiting and cutting off contact: Plan in advance how you'll stay away from this person and limit their ability to contact you. If you don't work or go to school in the same place, hang out with the same people, or live in the same neighborhood, this may obviously be easier. If you work or study in the same place, figure out now who you can notify about the non-contact you are setting as a limit if you need help keeping it enforced, or if you plan to get and have an order of protection you want to make sure is enforced.  If you hang out with the same people, separate yourself from that group or choose who in it you will see who you know can be trusted and will help you get away and stay away.  If you live in the same area, pick which neighbors, family members or friends you will tell to help keep this person from reaching you. If there are places you see them or hang out in the same spaces, online or off, find some alternate spaces for yourself so you can stop going to those, at least for a little while.
  • Make yourself a safe space: Plan in advance where you can be for at least a few days where you can be as sure as possible this person cannot contact you or, if they can, where someone else can run interference for you. Learn how to and plan to change settings or visibility on social media, block email addresses and phone numbers. If you'll want or need to change classes, dorm rooms, work shifts, a locker -- anything you may need to in order to help keep them away from you -- research what you need to do to do that in advance.
  • Change up your routines: Prepare to shake up your routines for at least a few days after leaving, since the person or people abusing you probably know them. If you are a student or have a job, if you can get a few days off, great. If not, make plans to travel to those places differently than you usually do, or with an escort. Don't go to the same gym, coffee shop or market you usually do. Try not to be alone when you are in a space that this person can access.
  • You can change your relationship status later: Ideally, do not talk anywhere that is public or quasi-public (like online, outside private spaces like email) about the person who abused you right after you split. Again, you want to try not to agitate them, especially since if you have left, they will already be agitated and more likely to try and do you harm. Until some space and time have passed, when possible, you want to do what you can to avoid their attention, not keep or get more of it.

Getting help from others when and after you leave:

  • You need help and support, so ask for it: Talk to the people you told about the abuse. Tell them you need to make a safe plan to leave (or break up), and ask if, and how, they would be willing to help you. Create a support team for yourself, so you have multiple people to call on for any help you will need leaving and once you've left. Those people can connect as a group to work together to help you. Some people may be able to help with one thing, but not another, so make a list of all the kinds of help you need you can share with those supporting you: that way, they can see what you need and identify what they can help you with.
  • Get help screening: Let anyone you live with know that once you break up/leave, they are not to take calls or visits from this person or people, or interact with them other than telling them to go away. If you live alone, ask someone you trust and feel safe with to stay with you for a little while, or frequently check in on you.
  • Look into help from justice and advocacy systems: If you know or suspect that this person or people may come and find you and try to harm you once you split with them, consider getting an order of protection first. That way, they will get legal notification officially and quickly that makes it a violation of the law for them to contact you or be within a certain proximity to you. (Having a cop show up at their house, job or school also sends them a very strong message they are going to be in serious hot water if they contact you.) If you don't know what is available in your area per orders of protection, contact a local police department or domestic violence shelter/organization.
  • Tell people in charge: If you have a job, tell your employer or co-workers you are about to leave abuse and tell them not to allow the person or people abusing you any access with you; let them know you should be alerted should they show up at work or to call police. Same goes for school, if you are a student; for your apartment and housemates or neighbors (especially if you will be living alone), or any places you are going to be in every day, particularly if they are places the abusive person or people know about.
  • It's okay for things to be a little one-sided: Don't worry right now about being a burden on people or asking for help when you are not giving any yet yourself. Right now, you are in crisis, and not in a position to help others. You can always pay things forward once that changes, or give back in small ways, like helping to tidy up at the friend's place you're staying at or making thank-you-you-helped-save-my-life mix CDs.

Safety after you leave:

  • You still need help and support, so ask for it: Once you've left, ask your support people for additional help you need, to do and arrange the things you will need to do to stay safe from there on out.  That can be things like helping you change your social media settings or your phone number, helping you keep from contacting the person or people who abused you, going shopping for or with you to get you essentials, accompanying you to counseling appointments, the police or any court appearances, or just being an emotional support for you while you process, heal and restart your life.
  • Make sure your home is secure: Would it be possible for someone to gain access via doors or windows, outside stairs, balconies or roofs? Ask someone to help you make sure where you live is safe, and if not, to make it safer. Has the abusive person ever had access to keys to where you live? If so, get new locks if you can. (That may mean telling parents you gave someone a key or access without their permission: if so, better to tell them so you can be safe, even if that means some strife with them for a while.)
  • Time for new passwords: If there is any possibility, at all, that the person could ever have found or guessed any of your passwords, change your passwords for your email addresses, your social media accounts, any online banking or shopping accounts.
  • Make yourself hard to reach or find: Do things that make it difficult for the person or people who abused you to contact you or find you. Change your telephone numbers, if possible, and only give the new number to people you trust not to share it. Filter your email address so that any emails from the abusive person are saved in a separate folder where you do not have to read them. Block the person or people on social media and make sure that your security settings strictly limit who can see your activity to trusted people. If you are in any doubt about the safety of those accounts, disable them or do not use them: do not announce where you are staying or going on social media, and disable any apps or modules on social media which use your phone to automatically announce where you are in any way. Check your phone for tracking software or apps.
  • Don't go back, and do not contact the person or people who abused you anytime soon.  It often takes people leaving abuse a few tries before they get out and stay gone, and abusive people draw us in and dismantle our esteem so much that even when living with abuse is awful, it can be hard to let go of those relationships. But ideally, once you go, you want to do all you can to stay gone.  That way you only take the safety risks involved in leaving once, and you don't have to drum up all the energy and time involved in leaving abuse over and over. Know that if given the chance, many abusive people will try to convince you they will change if you stay.  But they won't.
  • Hold up on new intimate relationships: Being in abuse can make it feel normal in a lot of ways, so it can be tougher for people who have recently been in abuse to really see abuse, or someone abusive, coming.  After you've left abuse, hold off on establishing new relationships for a while (and that includes making any support relationships into romantic⁠ or sexual⁠ ones, which you may want to do, and is often an exceptionally bad idea).  If you can get some counseling first, so you can get help in healing and unlearning the dynamics abuse taught you before forging into anything new, you'll be way more likely not to leave one abusive situation only to find yourself in another.
  • Give yourself some real time to heal and regroup: Give yourself serious time to adjust and become safe, rather than trying to rush into total independence. You may feel hungry to finally be a free agent after leaving abuse, but you want to be sure to be careful and cautious after leaving to get clear of the risks that may still exist and give yourself time to heal, just like you would after an injury to your body.  You have emotional wounds: they need care. And don't beat yourself up about being needy or dependent in ways you have to be to get and stay safe: if you left abuse, you already did a strong, courageous thing. It's okay to still need some help for a while.

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