When a victim of domestic violence makes that life-altering choice to leave, it should never be done without a safety plan in place and ready to use.
Because they are so vitally important, I have decided to spend some time, and posts, on what safety plans are all about, how to develop one and then putting one to good use when the time comes. Victims need a safety plan to leave. It is as important as water and air. Why? Because the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence begins the moment they decide to leave the relationship and on through months (even a year or more) after they have severed ties. Your highest risk of physical violence and death come right along with your decision to leave, so . . .
How important is a safety plan for a victim of domestic violence? Vitally important – Don’t leave home without it! The old adage goes something like this: A failure to plan is a plan to fail. Having a safety plan in place on Wednesday may avoid the need for law enforcement to be called out on Friday for a domestic dispute – the most dangerous kind of call they can receive. Look at a safety plan as not only keeping the victim, and most likely her children safe, but the law enforcement out of harm’s way, as well.
Where do you start? It’s as simple as a word – a safety code word. Even if you have no intentions of leaving your abusive environment, take the time to find someone you trust implicitly. Confide in them your concern for potential harm. Create a code word or phrase. Make it understood that if you use this word or phrase in conversation, or text it, that means your confidante is on notice to call for help. It’s a 911 situation. Get that code word in place, even if you think you will never need it. But, while you’re mulling it over, let me remind you of this: Almost without exception, an abusive relationship will only escalate. They ALL start with one word, one bit of verbal abuse. Then it turns to emotional abuse. You are so stupid, fat, ugly, useless, nobody else is ever going to want you. You’re told where you can and cannot go. Then you are told that if you divulge anything about that bruised arm or how you got that black eye (other than running into that proverbial doorknob), there will be hell to pay. And then you hear,”Try to call the cops and I will kill you…” or the dog, or the kids, or themselves, or your family, or the cop who just happens to be called out to the scene in an effort to calm things down.
What is a safety plan? It is an organized chart or list of what you will need to have with you, names and phone numbers of people who will be there to help you (such as that friend who has the code word, or a shelter), extra cash, copies of legal documents (especially if you have an injunction or restraining order), along with a picture of the abuser. It’s a list of the places you can go for help or shelter. It’s the phone number of the division at the courthouse where you can get help after hours (Yes, some judicial circuits actually have domestic violence courts available 24/7!).
For an abundance of information on how to develop your own safety plan, go to the Victim Support Page on this site (tab at top of page) and check out some of the shelters’ links. Most of them have detailed information about formulating a safety plan. You will also find one on the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence website.
And, above all, know the DV HOTLINE for your area. Here in Florida it is 800-500-1119 (Yep, I typed it from memory). Many areas also have the 211 system up and running. Check into that. They are there to help just about anyone with just about anything, including housing, utilities, food, etc. And check with the office of the Attorney General of your state. Ask if there is a Victims Compensation Fund available. Many states have money available to help victims of domestic violence relocate – safely.
But, without a safety plan in place, well, just think about it, will you? It is from personal experience I know the importance of having one. And consider scanning all the copies and saving them to a rather innocuous flash drive on your key chain. There they are, always with you, and nobody has to question why you are carrying that bulky folder, funny big bag, or the like.
It’s called a safety plan because it helps keep you safe!