Your safety is dependent upon your ability to recognize potentially dangerous trends and situations. Good planning on your part is critical. By reviewing this safety information, you can find out some of the various precautions you can take to protect yourself.
SAFETY WITH AN ABUSER
- Protect and Prepare
- Keep Evidence of Abuse
- What to Take With You
- Develop Plans
- Child Safety
- Pet Safety
- Court & Restraining Orders
- After You Leave
The time leading up to when you leave an abuser can become the most dangerous. Prepare yourself and your children for when it becomes violent.
- Abusers tend to have patterns, levels of force or violence, and signs that they are about to become violent. Start to assess their behavior so that you can identify when it is going to become dangerous for you and your children.
- Look around your house and identify all the items they can use as a weapon. Identify an area that is safe where they have little to no access to those objects that you can flee to during an altercation. Do not run to your children as your abuser may try to hurt them as well.
- Strangulation is very dangerous and can be deadly. Do not wear scarves, jewelry, or items close to your neck that can be used against you.
- If you can lock up any guns or knives or make them inaccessible.
- If there’s no way to escape violence, make yourself a small target. Dive into a corner and curl up into a ball. Protect your face and put your arms around each side of your head, wrapping your fingers together.
- If possible have access to a phone at all times. Know the numbers to a DV shelter and do not hesitate to dial 911 if you are in danger. In case you flee from the home find out where the closest public phone is located.
- Let friends and neighbors you trust know what is going on. Make a plan with them for when you need help. Have a signal, like flashing the lights on and off or hanging something out the window, to tell them you need help.
- Teach your children how to get help. Instruct them not to get involved in the violence between you and your partner. Plan a code word to signal to them that they should get help or leave the house. Practice how to get out safely with them.
- Prepare a back up plan in case your abuser finds out or your child tells them the plan.
- Make a habit of keeping your car fully gassed and back into the parking spot for a fast exit. If possible keep the driver side unlocked and the other doors locked.
- Have several reasons for leaving during all parts of the day that the abuser will believe.
- Call a domestic violence hotline from time to time to talk about your options and to talk to someone who understands you.
Evidence of abuse is helpful to obtain a restraining order, seek help from law enforcement, during custody and divorce proceedings, and in other legal matters. This is especially true if the police have never been called to an incident.
- Keep any evidence of physical abuse that you can. Take pictures of injuries to your body and destruction to the home. If possible keep items or objects the they have destroyed.
- Save all emails, text messages, snaps, or phone messages left for you or sent to another person about you that shows abuse.
- Keep a journal of all violent incidents, noting dates, events and threats made, if possible. Keep your journal in a safe place and possibly outside the home.
- 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.
- Make copies of any evidence place it in an envelope and give it to an advocate at a DV agency, a trusted family member, or safe deposit box.
If you have to leave in a hurry, use the following list of items as a guide to what you need to bring with you. Our advocates can help you come up with a personalized safety plan for leaving.
- Put aside as much money as you can in a safe place.
- Make a copy of your car and house keys and hide them in an easy to reach place.
- Put together a bag with the following items and store it in spare wheel area of the trunk, a home of someone that is not a mutual acquaintance, or somewhere the abuser won’t find it:
- Phone numbers for friends relatives, doctors, schools, taxi services, and your local domestic violence organization
- Change of clothing for you and your children
- Medication that you or your children usually take
- Copies of your children’s birth certificates, social security cards, school records and immunizations, your driver’s license
- Copies of legal documents for you and your abuser. This may include social security cards, passports, greencards, medical records, insurance information, birth certificates, marriage license, wills, welfare identification information, and mortgage or rental agreement
- Copies of financial documents for you and your abuser. This may include pay stubs, bank account information, a list of credit cards you hold by yourself or together with your abuser
- Any evidence you have been collecting about the abuse.
- Pay as you go cell phone.
- Pictures or sentimental items.
If you are in danger and need to get out right away, DO NOT worry about gathering these items. While they are helpful to have, your safety is the number one priority.
Make a plan for how you are going to leave and where you’re going to go.
- Try to have 4 separate places that you can go to when it is time to leave. These places should not be somewhere you have gone to in a previous attempt to leave.
- Contact a DV agency and speak with an advocate to go over your plans or to set up a plan to enter a confidential emergency shelter.
- Find ways to leave the house for periods of time: taking out the garbage, walking the dog, or going to a grocery store. Figure out a time that is a safe to take your children with you. Practice leaving so that it feels familiar when it is time to go.
- Turn off cell phone, ipad, or any electronics you are taking with you that the abuser could have accessed. Do this before you arrive at your destination in case of any tracking apps or devices. Write down the directions to where you are going so that you don’t need to input an address in your phone or car gps device.
- Create a false trail. Call motels, real estate agencies, schools in a town at least six hours away from where you plan to go. Ask them questions that will need to be answered by them calling you back. Give them your old phone number.
- You can ask the police to escort you out of the house as you’re leaving. You can also ask them to be “on call” while you’re leaving
How to prepare your children for leaving and keeping them safe.
- Teach your children when and how to call 911.
- Create a code word for when a situation comes up and they need to leave the house to safety.
- Identify a friends house or somewhere they can run to outside the home. If they are unable to leave the home decide what room or area of the house is the safest. Bathrooms and kitchens are typically not safe and have many items that can be used as weapons.
- Make sure that they know it is not safe to intervene during a fight. Help them make a list of people they feel comfortable with talking to if they need help.
Safety During Visitation
- Talk to your children about ways to stay safe if an incident happens during a visitation. What room is a safe place to be? Is there someone close by that they can ask for help if they need it?
- If possible send them with a cell phone to be used in case of an emergency.
- Tell them to call 911 in serious situations.
- Do not exchange the children at the abuser’s home. Find a neutral location, possible cameras, well lit and popular with people.
- Take a friend or family member with you and have them make the exchange.
- To help calm your nerves and the children do an activity together before and after the visitation that allows you to focus on each other as a family.
Statistics show that up to 65% of domestic violence victims are unable to escape their abusive partners because they are concerned about what will happen to their pets when they leave.
- Establish ownership of your pet by creating a paper trail (e.g. obtain a license, have veterinarian records put in your name)
- Pack a bag for your pet that includes:food, medicine, documents, leash, carrier, toys, and bedding.
- Obtain safe emergency shelter for pet, somewhere that won’t be disclosed to your abuser (e.g. veterinarian, friend, family, or shelter)
- Once you have left don’t leave pets outside, pick safe time and route to walk pets, try not to walk them alone, and change your veterinarian.
Resources for Pet Shelter
Devices, computers, cell phones, social media collect, store, and share a wealth of personal information. Some abusive people may try to limit access or break these devices as a way to control, monitor, or limit the user’s activity. They may also use these devices to gather personal information about the user without his or her knowledge or consent.
- Put a passcode on your phone and devices to make it harder for someone to get into it.
- If you’re not using Bluetooth or wireless consider turning it off. You can turn it back on when you need to use it.
- Try not to store sensitive information on your phone. The less information on there, the less information someone will get if they get into your phone.
- For many smartphone, the iCloud or Google account associated with the phone may contain a lot of information about the phone, including backups of the phone data. Use strong passwords for these accounts.
- Call your wireless carrier to make sure that there are no additional authorized managers or users on your account. Ask for additional security, such as a second password on your account, so if anyone calls to request a change to your account, she or he must have that second password.
- If the abusive person has administrative access to your wireless phone account, remove his or her access. If that’s not possible, consider removing your phone line from that account.
- Turn off the location setting on your phone, ipad, laptop.
- Change password to your app account. This will prevent a person from logging into your account from another device or web browser.
- Remember some things done on your apps like purchasing items can be seen in other places like credit card statement.
- If you suspect that monitoring software is on your tablet or cell phone consider resetting your tablet to factory settings. Do not re-install data from the tablet back up. Manually re-enter your contacts, download new apps, etc.
- All the major browsers have a “private” view so your online activity isn’t recorded in the web browser history. Depending on the browser, it is called Incognito, private browser, private window, or InPrivate.
- Google Chrome has a feature that will keep track of your browser history across all your devices. This means that if you look up something on your smartphone with the Chrome browser, it will also show up on your computer in the Chrome browser history. Turn off this feature or don’t log into your account when using Google Chrome.
- Delete your website browser history. Some browsers give you the option of deleting specific links or sites and not the entire history.
- Go through your browser’s privacy settings to see what other options are available to increase your privacy.
- You can opt out and not allow your browser to store cookies. However, be aware that some websites may not work properly if you don’t allow cookies. When possible, use “https” in the URL so that your connection is secure and encrypted.
- SOCIAL MEDIA: Only post things you want the public to see or know. Once it’s online, it’s no longer under your control. Be protective of your personal information. Your phone numbers and addresses enable people to contact you directly, and things like your birth date, the schools you attended, your employer and photos with landmarks may make it easier for someone to find where you live, hang out or go to school. Set boundaries and limits. Tell people not to post personal information, negative comments or check-ins about you on social media. Ask people not to post or tag pictures if you’re not comfortable with it.
A protective order can help protect you immediately by legally keeping your partner from physically coming near you, harming you or harassing you, your children or your family members. This legal documentation to keep your abusive partner away from you can often contain provisions related to custody, finance and more.
- Plan on getting to court an hour or more before your hearing. That way, you may get to court before your abuser does. This can make it safer for you to get into the building.
- Have a friend drive you. It’s best to get someone whose car your abuser doesn’t know. Ask your friend to drop you off at the courthouse entrance, instead of having you walk in from the parking lot.
- Ask an advocate from a DV agency to accompany you.
- Let the bailiff or courthouse security know if your abuser sits next to you or tries to harass you. Ask the bailiff to keep your abuser away from you.
- At the end of your hearing, ask the judge to “detain” your abuser – to hold him until you can leave.
- If the judge doesn’t detain your abuser, think about letting your abuser leave first. Then wait a long time before leaving.
- Have a police officer or sheriff walk out with you
- Have a friend pick you up at the exit.
Your safety plan should include ways to ensure your continued safety after leaving an abusive relationship.
- If you are staying in the home change all your locks, place a deadbolt on doors, and fix any broken or loose window and door hinges, and install motion lights.
- Install a security system or webcam.
- Inform the schools, friends, family, neighbors that you are separated and the abuser should not be around the house. If they see them to please call the cops.
- Make copies of restraining order and give to work, children’s school, inform local law enforcement, and keep a copy with you at all times.
- Ask your work to screen calls for you and if possible change your work hours or transfer to a new location.
- Change your phone number. Tell the phone company to not list your new phone number.
- Reschedule all appointments that the abuser is aware of, change stores you regularly go to, and take different routes to all the places you go.
- Consider renting a post office box or using the address of a friend for your mail. You can apply for a Safe At Home P.O Box through WRC.