Perhaps you are making plans to leave a domestic violence situation. Or maybe you suspect that a quick escape will be necessary in the future. In the heat of the moment, your number one priority is your safety and the safety of your children. You won’t be thinking as you rush out the door, “What legal documents will I need if I report this to the police?” It’s not uncommon for people leaving a domestic violence situation to have few, if any, personal belongings with them when they arrive at a safe house or refuge.
Making a safety plan is incredibly important. Planning ahead can ease the level of stress and will likely increase your safety during and after your departure.
Basic things which could increase your safety (and the safety of your children) while you are still living in a violent environment include*:
- Identify your partner’s use and level of force so that you can assess danger to you and your children before it occurs.
- Identify safe areas of the house where there are no weapons and there are ways to escape. If arguments occur, try to move to those areas.
- Don’t run to where the children are, as your partner may hurt them as well.
- If violence is unavoidable, make yourself a small target; dive into a corner and curl up into a ball with your face protected and arms around each side of your head, fingers entwined.
- If possible, have a phone accessible at all times and know what numbers to call for help. Know where the nearest pay phone is located. Know the phone number to your local battered women’s shelter. Don’t be afraid to call the police.
- Let trusted friends and neighbors know of your situation and develop a plan and visual signal for when you need help.
- Teach your children how to get help. Plan a code word to signal to them that they should get help or leave the house.
- Practice how to get out safely. Practice with your children.
- Plan for what you will do if your children tell your partner of your plan or if your partner otherwise finds out about your plan.
- Make a habit of backing the car into the driveway and keeping it fueled. Keep the driver’s door unlocked and others locked — for a quick escape.
- Create several plausible reasons for leaving the house at different times of the day or night.
- Call a domestic violence hotline periodically to assess your options and get a supportive understanding ear.
Some things to bear in mind as you prepare to leave (and actually make an exit) include*:
- Keep any evidence of physical abuse, such as pictures.
- Know where you can go to get help; tell someone what is happening to you.
- If you are injured, go to a doctor or an emergency room and report what happened to you. Ask that they document your visit. [Note: you should be able to file a report with the police from the emergency room if need be.]
- Plan with your children and identify a safe place for them, like a room with a lock or a friend’s house where they can go for help. Reassure them that their job is to stay safe, not to protect you.
- Contact your local battered women’s shelter and find out about laws and other resources available to you before you have to use them during a crisis.
- Keep a journal of all violent incidences, noting dates, events and threats made, if possible.
- You may request a police stand-by or escort while you leave.
- If you need to sneak away, be prepared.
- Make a plan for how and where you will escape.
- Plan for a quick escape.
- Put aside emergency money as you can.
- Hide an extra set of car keys.
- Pack an extra set of clothes for yourself and your children and store them at a trusted friend or neighbor’s house. Try to avoid using the homes of next-door neighbors, close family members and mutual friends.
- You may also create a false trail. Call motels, real estate agencies and schools in a town at least six hours away from where you plan to relocate. Ask questions that require a call back to your house in order to leave phone numbers on record.
Finally, here are some options to keep in mind after you have left*:
- Consider renting a post office box or using the address of a friend for your mail.
- Be aware that addresses are on restraining orders and police reports.
- Be careful to whom you give your new address and phone number.
- Change your work hours, if possible.
- Alert school authorities of the situation.
- Consider changing your children’s schools.
- Reschedule appointments that the offender is aware of.
- Use different stores and frequent different social spots.
- Alert neighbors and request that they call the police if they feel you may be in danger.
- Talk to trusted people about the violence.
- Replace wooden doors with steel or metal doors. Install security systems if possible.
- Install a motion sensitive lighting system.
- Tell trusted people at work about the situation and have your calls screened by one receptionist if possible.
- Tell people who take care of your children who is allowed to pick up your children. Explain your situation to them and provide them with a copy of the restraining order, as necessary.
- Call the telephone company to request caller ID. Ask that your phone number be blocked so that if you call anyone, neither your partner nor anyone else will be able to get your new, unlisted phone number.
*From the National Domestic Violence Hotline (US), linked above.
It is not only wise to plan ahead but you can also pack ahead. Having an emergency bag hidden (either where you are or at a trusted friends’ home) will allow you to access important things after you have left, without having to risk contact with your abuser.
Things you might want to have in your emergency bag include**:
- House keys
- Car keys
- Order of Protection
- ATM card
- Money/cab fare
- Credit card
- Green card
- Work permit
- Public Assistance ID
- Mobile phone/coins to use in a payphone
- Driver’s license & registration
- Social security card
- Your partner’s social security number
- Medical records
- Address book, including important phone numbers
- Insurance policies
- Important legal documents
- Police records/Record of violence
- Baby’s things (diapers, formula, medication)
- Children’s school and immunization records
- Birth certificates
- A small toy or special possession for each child, for comfort and familiarity
- Non-perishable snacks/a water bottle for you and your children
- Anything which might give your abuser an idea of where you have gone (erase browsing history, phone messages, etc. as you can)
**From Safe Horizon, linked below.
You are not alone. You deserve to be safe!
**If you are under threat of domestic violence, contact your local emergency services or a helpline.