Domestic Violence Safety Planning: How Victims Can Prepare
Over the last several months, the world went into lockdown to prevent further spread of COVID-19, a pandemic that has changed our present and future. For many, stay-at-home orders were an inconvenience at most, but for domestic violence victims, it was a dangerous and sometimes fatal new reality. Now that orders are being lifted and victims have the opportunity to remove themselves from violent situations, itâ€™s important that they know the safest ways to do so.
As defined by the National Domestic Violence Hotline, a safety plan is a personalized, practical plan that includes ways to remain safe while in a relationship, planning to leave, or after a victim leaves. Every victimâ€™s plan will be different, but the outline can be translated across different circumstances. Below are a few important safety pillars for victims to consider or include specifically if they are planning to leave the relationship.
Keeping photo evidence of injuries, a journal documenting incidents of abuse and recordings of verbal arguments can be helpful for a victim when seeking aid from police enforcement and the legal system because these records are crucial when getting a restraining order or filing charges. As with the safety plan in general, it is very important the victim keep this documentation safeguarded very well. Oftentimes, if an abuser uncovers the items, they can become agitated and choose to retaliate in several different forms, including battery and limiting access to financial funds.
Inform a Trusted Individual
One of the signs that someone is in a domestic violence relationship is isolation. Many abusers impose control by restricting who their victims can communicate with, stranding the victim from their support system. When planning to leave, victims are encouraged to reach out to a trusted friend or loved one who can aid them in getting out. During the physical act of leaving, this person can be the transport to a safe place, whether it is their house or a shelter. They can also help provide monetary support in case the abuser decides to lock any funds. Those reasons aside, having a confidant during an incredibly stressful, traumatic time is crucial for the victimâ€™s emotional and mental health and can make the situation more bearable.
When a victim decides it is the right time to leave, ideally they will be able to take with them important identification documents like their birth certificate, driverâ€™s license, passport and social security card, as well as legal papers like lease agreements, bank statements, medical records and school records if children are involved. Victims should also note important phone numbers of the local police, domestic violence shelters, friends and family members, doctorâ€™s office and the county District Attorneyâ€™s office. Other things to have prepared include medications, valuable jewelry, a pay-as-you-go cell phone, several changes of clothes for them and their children and emergency money. All of these things will be useful for survivorâ€™s establishing independence after leaving.
What Comes Next
A victimâ€™s hardship does not end after leaving the relationship, and in fact, the time after leaving can be just as, or even more dangerous, as when they were isolated. Because of this, victims can take extra safety precautions to ensure their independence. Those precautions include:
â€¢ Changing locks and installing a strong security system.
â€¢ Changing their phone number and requesting caller ID.
â€¢ Informing their employer of the situation and updating their work schedule.
â€¢ If children are involved, alerting the school officials or potentially moving schools.
â€¢ Frequenting different shops and social institutions.
â€¢ Talk to friends, neighbors and family about the
situation. Strengthening or establishing a support system can prevent any future incidents with the abuser.
These are all elements that should be covered in a victimâ€™s safety plan but are not the only important things to consider. All safety plans are individualized for the person depending on their specific situation. The survivor is the expert of their own life, so shelters, therapists and advocates should look to them to decide the steps that make the most sense, versus telling them how they should proceed.
Survivors can call the New Life Center Hotline at 623.932.4404, the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.7233, the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.4673 or the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Hotline at 602.279.2900. Through these resources, they can begin to build a plan, access resources and receive guidance from experts.
By Devin DeFendis, Community Development Director at New Life Center