Safety plans should be prepared for
a number of different situations in which battered women may find themselves.
Those situations include during a violent incident, preparing to leave, after
leaving, and at her place of employment. Each of these situations is associated
with different risks. Advocates can help women assess the risks to their safety
and autonomy in each of these contexts, generate options, and evaluate those
options. Evaluating options includes anticipating the consequences of each
action and determining which option best increases safety and autonomy.
Advocates can help women conduct safety planning and can
other advocates and professionals to assist women in with safety
Planning for safety during a violent
incident involves determining how best to exit the home or finding lower-risk
places to go if an argument occurs. Places with no exits, such as bathrooms
or closets, or that provide access to weapons, such as kitchens or garages,
are unlikely to be safe places. Women should also develop a list of people
they might contact in an emergency, or places they might go if they leave.
They should memorize these emergency numbers and have a phone card or money
for phone calls at all times. It can also be useful to establish a code word
or sign so that co-workers, family, friends or neighbors will know when to
call for help.
Planning for safety when preparing
to leave can involve gathering important documents and keeping them in a safe
place. When a battered woman leaves a relationship, her batterer may retaliate
by destroying her personal property and documents. Because of the danger of
retaliation, it may be useful to leave a copy of important documents as well
as extra clothes, money or keys with a third party.
Documents that she might want to keep
safe include identification cards, marriage and birth certificates, marriage
licenses, deeds or leases, a checkbook, credit cards, and bank statements.
Any documents that can be used to establish the existence of abuse should
also be kept safe. The Women’s Rural Advocacy Programs offers an emergency
checklist of documents
and other items to take when leaving.
Women are at the greatest risk after
leaving an abuser, and may be stalked or killed by their former partner. It is therefore critical for a woman who
has left her abuser and has obtained alternative housing to plan for her
in that residence. This planning may involve thinking about safe places or
escape routes in that residence; it may be useful to change the telephone
number or to keep it a secret, and to change the locks if the batterer has
a key. If it is necessary to meet the batterer, women should do so in public
in the presence of others.
Planning for safety at the workplace
may involve informing employers and co-workers that she has left the relationship;
they can help screen her calls at work and inform her if he appears or
attempts to find or contact her. Other strategies include traveling to work
with another person, changing routes used to travel to work, informing
security, and parking close to the entrance. The Family Violence Prevention
Fund provides a detailed overview of workplace
If the victim has obtained an order
of protection, she should keep it with her at all times. If the children are
also protected by the order, she may want to forward the order to the administrators
her children’s school, to reduce the risk of abduction.
Once created, safety plans should be reviewed periodically
to ensure that they still meet the victim’s needs and are consistent with
any changed circumstances. Reviewing the safety plans also helps keep the
strategies fresh in the victim’s mind.
Safety plans that can be personalized
to fit specific needs and situations are available through Chances &
Changes, and the
Women’s Rural Advocacy Programs, in downloadable and web formats. Comprehensive information about the safety planning process
is available from Safe Horizon, the Family
Violence Prevention Fund, the American
Bar Association, and
Coos County Women’s Crisis Service.
Jill Davies, Safety
Planning (1997), provides
a comprehensive overview of the different kinds of risks battered women might
face in different contexts. The article explains that safety planning must
take into account more than physical risks; rather, such planning must
account for other kinds of risk factors. As she emphasizes, for safety plans
to be effective, they “must be comprehensive, meeting basic human needs and
providing a life plan, not just strategies to respond to physical violence.”
For example, because a woman’s economic dependence can be used by a batterer
to further his power and control, her safety plan could focus on ways in which
she could become more economically independent. In the CEE/CIS region, a lack
of alternative housing may be a primary obstacle to leaving an abusive relationship.
A safety plan might take this factor into consideration in two ways. First,
a woman may reject certain options if these options would require her to leave
to protect herself. Second, she may want to focus her safety plan on what
she would do if she needed emergency housing, or ways she might be able to
obtain alternative housing.
Finally, individuals who provide services
to battered women must ensure that their actions do not jeopardize their client’s
safety. Service providers can work to ensure that they do not endanger their
clients by following the guidelines for advocates,
particularly those regarding confidentiality.