Safety Plan: When You Live With the Abuse
If you live with the person or people 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 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 home. Even though abuse isn't your fault, you might feel ashamed, but tell 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, and utilize 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 go to any police station or hospital for help.
• People who've mentioned things not being okay when you talk about them or they happen in front of them
• People who've told you behaviors were abusive when you discussed them
• People you were close to before the abuse
Who's not likely to be safe to tell or ask for help: • People who said you were "overreacting" or tried to minimize or excuse what was happening to you
• People who have been unreliable when you said you needed them in the past
• People who are or have been abusive to you or others in the past, or have condoned any abuse
Staying as safe as possible before you can leave:
- 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 with a friend or family member(s) you know you can trust to help keep you safe, as much as possible. Ask friends or family members to stay over at your house with you when they can.
- Get a job: If possible, and so long as it will not agitate the abusive person or people, see about getting a job, or volunteer work, of some kind that can get and keep you out of the house, limit your time with the abusive person or people, and connect you to more outside people. This can even be things like an elderly relative who needs some care, or helping a friend or family member with housework regularly.
- 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 soon. 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. Rooms with multiple exits and phones are best. Avoid rooms with weapons and avoid being cornered. Lock yourself somewhere safe when possible and call for help.
- Stay calm: Do your best to stay as emotionally detached as possible when the other person or people become 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 can be less likely to escalate.
- Learn how to protect yourself: If you have never taken any self-defense training and have the ability to do so, do.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 be something that helps you to feel more able and empowered.
- Use your phone: If you have a cell phone, keep it within reach. Have some numbers saved that 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, or 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). 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, as much as possible, so you have the ability to physically leave if and when you need to and are able 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 reach (if you have a key with a panic button, that can also be a 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. Too, sometimes an opportunity to leave might sneak up on you or happen sooner than you thought it would: if you get that window, you want to be able to use it.
- Keep thoughts or plans to leave private: If the person or people abusing has 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 plan 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:
- Pack the absolute essentials: If you suddenly had to move far away, and could only pack one small bag, what would you need to put in it? Start preparing (and carefully hiding) a bag like this. It should have the absolute essentials, like:
• all of your official IDs (like a birth certificate, passport, driver's license, green card or visa, insurance or public health or welfare cards, etc.)
• any banking information, checkbooks or credit/debit cards, as well as some cash• your keys, including any car keys, or your public transit card
• your cell phone, if you have one, and/or that list of helpers, resources and emergency numbers
• a copy of your order of protection, if you have one
• a change or two of clothing
• any medications you need
• some essential toiletries and basic first aid items
• anything small but of great sentimental value that would break your heart to lose
If you have a good place at home to hide this where it will absolutely not be found, great. If not, ask a friend or family member to keep it at their place for you. Try not to let an attachment to your stuff stop you from planning to leave or leaving. You are much more important than your stuff. Stuff can be replaced: you can't.
- Plan to leave during the honeymoon and when you are alone: Start observing times when the person/people abusing you go out and are away for a while, and you are left alone: these will always be the best times to leave, rather than trying to leave when that person or people are around and knows you are leaving. Observe too, the phases of abuse dynamics in the relationship: it is usually best to try and leave during "honeymoon" phases, not at times when someone abusive is beginning to escalate. Leaving and splitting up is something to do your best to keep secret from someone abusing you: it is not something to announce to them or to try and do in person with them, both for your safety and to assure, as much as you can, they will not sabotage your efforts to leave.
- Make sure you have a safe place to go: Choose and plan in advance where you will go when you leave. Be sure when you get there you can stay there and will be safe. If this is a shelter, find out what protocols they have for intake ahead of time. If this is with a friend, family member or other individual, make sure they know you may show up at any time, are prepared for that, and talk with them about what all of you can do to ensure everyone's safety. Make sure wherever you choose is somewhere you know you can stay for a while, and where the abusive person or people are either unlikely to know you'd go, or where, even if they did, it would be impossible or hard for them to contact you or see you. It can also be helpful for anyone you are staying with to tell neighbors around them in advance to be on the lookout for the person abusing you and to be sure not to give that person any information about you; they can also be asked to notify you should they see this person around where you are staying.
- Checking for more spies: Is there any possibility that the person may have put tracking software on your phone? If so, get a different phone and keep it private, if you can safely do so. Do not take a tracked phone with you to your new place of safety if you can help it. Copy any telephone numbers and information you might need from your old phone either into your new phone or onto paper, if you can safely do so. If you can, memorize the most important telephone numbers.
- Money matters: Consider your financial arrangements. What shared bank accounts, loans, or other financial obligations or assets do you have with this person? Does this person have any access to your own finances? Find out how you could block their access to your own finances and how you could close, take your name off or their name off any joint arrangements, and how you could disable the overdraft facility on any joint arrangements. Gather and save whatever you need - for example, account names, numbers and passwords - to access all of those finances somewhere away from the person.
- Change up your routines: Prepare to shake up your routines for at least a few days, weeks or months 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 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. Plan not to be alone when you are in a space that this person can access.
- Trust your instincts: If you have a plan to leave, but something happens that day to make it seem much less safe, or you just have a very bad feeling that time is not a safe time to go, honor those feelings. leaving is really important, but only if you can leave as safely as possible.
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, 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 from justice and advocacy systems: Consider getting an order of protection right after you have left. That way, the abusive person or people 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 (that notification is also a firm way to make clear you have left the relationship and are not coming back). 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 for information.
- Don't escape alone: Ideally, rather than leaving in a car or on public transit alone, find a friend to be with you. If you are planning to go to a shelter, shelter staff can often arrange an escorted pickup for you.
- Keep your new location private: Do NOT tell many people where you are staying right away, unless you are 300% sure they will not tell the person or people abusing you, or people that person or people know.
- Get help screening: Let anyone you will live with know that once you leave, they are not to take calls or visits from this person or people, let them in, or interact with them other than telling them to go away. You can also instruct them to call the police if the person or people show up. If you will live alone, ask someone you trust and feel safe with to stay with you for a little while, or frequently check in on you. If you have a job, tell your employer or co-workers you are leaving abuse and tell them not to allow the person or people abusing you any access to 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 neighbors, or any places you are going to be in every day, especially if they are places the abusive person or people already 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 mixes.
- Ask for help and keep asking, trying different people and organizations if necessary, until you get the help you need. Domestic violence services now often include information and assistance for people with different disabilities and needs, and many disability-specific organizations also have guidance on accessing services and support that are particularly relevant to you.
- Identify and specifically address any barriers to implementing a safety plan, for before, during and after you leave. For example, you may have particular communication, mobility or personal care needs due to your disabilities.
- Identify ways that you could access any care or assistance that you need in an emergency -- of any kind -- or at short notice. Make a plan for this: you can likely easily cover the real need for that plan by just making that plan about general emergency preparedness around your disability.
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.
- Tell even more people: Now that you are gone, it's time to tell as many people you interact with as you can muster that you have left abuse, that the person or people abusing you was abusing you and should not be allowed contact with you, and that you should be alerted if they try. If you have an order of protection/restraining order, make sure people know you have one, and know the legal restrictions it puts on the person or people who abused you.
- Make sure your new home or residence 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 or are temporarily staying is safe, and if not, for their help to make it safer.
- 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.
- Secure your money and resources: After you leave, as soon as possible, block any access to your finances that the person had, and close, take your name or their name off any joint arrangements that you can, or disable any overdraft facility on any joint arrangements that you cannot close by yourself. If you have shared finances or other resources, a lawyer or legal advocacy group (free legal help is often available for those leaving abuse: for information on that, contact a local domestic or interpersonal violence shelter or group) can help you do what you need to to secure and separate those. Legal advocacy groups can also help those leaving abuse with children keep children safe and make safe custody arrangements.
- Be extra cautious, probably for longer than you think you need to be: Abusive people like to be in control, and get very upset when they are not. Leaving abuse is a big sign that they are no longer in control of you. They can be agitated and angry for a while after you leave, and will likely make efforts to try and get back in control of you or to harm you in some way; they also may make efforts to give you the message that no matter what you do, you cannot get away from them. So, it's best to err on the side of caution for a while. You may soon feel much more comfortable than you have in a while, but do try and keep your guard up and always keep your safety in mind, particularly right after leaving.
- Do NOT go back, and do not contact the person or people who abused you if it can be avoided. It often takes people leaving abuse a few tries before they truly 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. If we are also letting go of places we called home and our stuff, it can be even tougher to detach. 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. If you need to contact the person or people who abused you, do so through other channels or people, like through a lawyer or a trusted and safe friend or family member, rather than contacting them yourself. If you must contact them yourself, only do so in public, or if doing so via phone or email, be brief and calm, and let them know someone else is listening in or reading.
- Hold up on new intimate relationships: Being in abuse can make it feel normal, 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.