Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence Awareness Month – Safety Planning

Safety plans are helpful for victims/survivors at different points of time. Safety plans help victims/survivors to think through ways to stay safe while in a harmful situation or navigate after leaving an abusive relationship. One thing that I have learned from listening to people is that survivors always have to be on the offensive. It’s exhausting and sad that it has to be that way.

What is a safety plan?

A couple of definitions from those in the domestic violence advocacy field:

“….a personalized, practical plan that can help you avoid dangerous situations and know the best way to react when you are in danger.” -The National Domestic Violence Hotline

“….an individualized set of strategies designed to reduce risks generated by a partner’s or assailant’s abuse and control.” -Kris Billhardt, National Alliance for Safe Housing

The important thing to remember is that a safety plan is survivor-focused. Only the survivor knows best her needs and can do a cost analysis of how a plan will change her life. For example, for a survivor who is concerned about the perpetrator knowing her route to work, changing her driving route might be a part of her safety plan. This may sound like a simple change, but she may have a lot to consider. If she changes her route, does she need to leave for work earlier? If so and she has children, does she need to find childcare for them before they go to school? Maybe she carpools to work every day with a co-worker who has become a trusted confidant. Is it worth giving up this time with her friend?

Safety plans are not static. Plans always change based upon any new situations that come up in the survivor’s life. A safety plan for a survivor staying in an abusive relationship will look different for a survivor who has left and divorced her abuser.

I attended a training this week on safety planning and below are some ideas for survivors to consider when safety planning. If you are a survivor who needs to put together a safety plan and you get stuck on how to move forward, reach out to a trusted friend or a domestic violence advocate for help.

For those of you who may be that trusted source, please remember to allow the survivor to lead the way in making a plan. You are there to provide and talk through options. Don’t get offended if a survivor thinks one of your offered options will not work. Instead, acknowledge the survivor’s strength and resiliency to think about her safety. And, don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” if you have run out of options. Know your resources in your area and offer them to the survivor if needed.

Establishing priorities:
What is most important to you right now?
What are your biggest concerns or worries right now?
What would you like to see happen today?
What would be most helpful to you?

Planning For/With Children:
How are your kids doing?
What do you love about them? What do they like to do? Is there anything that worries you about them?

Financial and Economic Security:
How are you making ends meet? Are you able to pay the bills?
Are there things you feel you aren’t getting that you need?-How do you feel at work? Safe or less safe when you’re there?

Social Connectedness and Community:
How’s your support system? Family? Social Circles?
Do you have close relationships with anyone? Have you shared with them what is going on?
Are you close to your partner’s family and/or friends?
Do you have a particular identity, faith, hobby, or anything else that makes you feel like you are a part of a community? Is this something you can share with someone or others in that community?

Experience with Resources:
Have you ever worked with an advocate before? How’d it go?
Have you considered an order of protection? Do you think it would be helpful or not helpful? How do you think the other person would react to getting served with an order of protection
Has DHS ever been involved with your family before? How was that for you?

Emotional Resiliency and Wellness:
Where do you draw your strength from? What keeps you going each day?
What do you do to take care of yourself/fill yourself up?
What do you do when you’re feeling scared or stressed?
What helps you feel calmer?

Health and Wellness:
Are you getting at least the basics of what you need for your health?
Is there anything you need help getting connected to?

Resources for safety planning:
National Domestic Violence Hotline – 800-799-7233
The Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness – Has multiple options for workplace, college, planning with children, and stalking

6 thoughts on “Domestic Violence Awareness Month – Safety Planning”

  1. This is good stuff. I remember my mom walking through this when she filed for divorce, and also helped others do the same with a local safe house. One thing to add is that a lot of lawyers and judges will make a temporary restraining order almost a matter of routine because many people “receiving papers” don’t take it very well.

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  2. Bike Bubba – I’m glad your mom received the help she needed. There’s so much to think about! Protective orders are different for all states, and there are reasons why a victim may not want to take out a protective order. In Oregon, if an arrest is made, there is an immediate no contact order until a judge ends it or the case is resolved in court. A victim/survivor would need to apply for a separate protective order.

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  3. Safety planning has had to be a regular part of my life for the last 6 years….it can become very draining having to always wonder if “today is the day”, and scanning parking lots wherever I go. Where I am, in Tennessee, the order of protection is seen as nothing more than a piece of paper. My county has the second most incidents of domestic violence in the state, yet it is a fairly small county (about 35,000). I never realized the effects of domestic violence until it happened to me. Now I help however I can, to support other women who seek help from our domestic violence center. I really like this post!

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  4. Army of Angels – You make a good point in that a protection order is a piece of paper. If an abuser wants to exert power and control, a piece of paper will not stop him. Protective orders do not provide a magical shield that stops an abuser, however it does give you some leverage in that if the abuser violates it he can be immediately arrested. A victim/survivor needs to weigh out whether or not a protective order would be beneficial or more detrimental.

    I understand how exhausted you must feel at times. Surviving is hard work. You show a lot of strength by helping other women in the same situation. Thank you for supporting victims!

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  5. Kathy, quick question here. With the caveat that “a lot of churches have tried to do this in the past and have really messed things up”, do you think that there is yet a place for churches to come alongside in this regard? Again, learn the nuts & bolts, all that, but Army of Angels is 100% correct that the protection order is really just a piece of paper if local authorities aren’t willing to prosecute their violation.

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  6. Bike Bubba – If a church is educated about domestic violence, understands the power and control dynamics, and is committed to helping victims and survivors, then I think it can be a vital resource. There are survivors who have benefited from the help their church provided. May all churches desire to do the right thing.

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