Safety Planning

Are You Safe?

This can be a difficult question to answer.  You may want to believe that the abuse will not occur again or that his behavior will not escalate to violence.  But you may also have some internal sense that tells you to be wary. Unfortunately, once violence has occurred in a relationship, it often happens again and usually increases in severity.  In most cases, the violence begins again once the abused partner returns, but usually not immediately.  For your own safety and the safety of your children you are encouraged to stay somewhere safe, where your partner will not know to look.  Consider friends or family members you can stay with.  Preferably, choose someone whose address your partner does not know.

The Denton County Friends of the Family Shelter - If you do not have a safe place to stay, you may be able to stay at the DCFOF emergency safety shelter.  The shelter provides safe housing to women and children.  The location of the house is kept private in order to ensure the residents’ safety.  For more information about the shelter please call (800) 572-4031.

Regardless of whether you choose to leave or stay with your partner, it is important to spend some time thinking about safety planning.  Sometimes survivors are reluctant to think about safety planning, because they want to believe that their partner will change.  They might feel that safety planning is expecting failure of their partner or is giving up.  This is not the case!  Consider safety planning your relationship insurance.  Just like we purchase car insurance with the hope and intention of not having an accident, it is there just in case.

If your abusive partner has left the shared home:

  • Think about ways you can improve the security of your residence, such as changing locks.
  • Inform neighbors of the possible risk and provide details of the abusers appearance.
  • Create a signal to inform others that you are in danger (a code word, turning off/on a particular light, etc.).
  • Create an exit strategy in case the abuser gains access to your home.
  • Keep your cell phone with you to call 911.

If you are considering leaving:

  • If you leave the house, you do not lose your rights to it or anything within it.  If the home was purchased during the marriage you have legal right to one-half of the value.  This applies to all property acquired during the marriage.  This is true whether the marriage is ceremonial or common-law.
  • Take everything you want with you when you leave.  Remember, at this point, your partner may be exhibiting behavior you have never seen before. Your spouse may dispose of anything you leave behind before you have a chance to take legal action.  Be sure to take personal clothing, jewelry, medicines, and a car.  It does not matter whose name the car is in; you have the legal right to take it.
  • If there are joint bank accounts, withdraw however much you need from them as quickly as possible, or you risk your spouse closing them.  Under Texas law, you are entitled to half of all community income.  Take whatever money you need to care for yourself and your children.

If you are returning home or staying with your abusive partner:

  • Make a list of important phone numbers.  Have a plan on where to go, for example know who to call to go to the shelter
  • Keep copies of all important records (birth certificates, immunization records, insurance policies, car titles, bank account records, blank checks, mortgage information, etc.) with a friend or family member
  • Keep a suitcase packed in case you need to leave in a hurry.  You can leave this with a friend or family member, so that your spouse will not find it
  • Keep a spare set of car keys hidden, preferably outside somewhere
  • Establish an emergency procedure with your children in case you need to clear out quickly.

For more helpful tips on safety planning consider the suggested safety plan below…

The following steps represent some suggestions for increasing your safety and preparing in advance for the possibility of further violence.  You are not responsible for your partner’s violence or the behavior of others, but you can take some steps to increase your and your children’s safety. 

Who to callYou may be able to call on friends and/or family; make sure these contacts are safe, and will not pass on information about your plan and/or whereabouts. Sometimes the safest people may be those who do not know you or your abuser.

Counselor/group contact: ______________________________      Phone: __________________ Advocate:___________________________________________      Phone:__________________

Shelter/crisis support: _________________________________     Phone: __________________

Doctor/health care provider: ___________________________       Phone: __________________ Other:_____________________________________________        Phone:__________________ __________________________________________________        Phone:__________________ __________________________________________________        Phone:__________________

Where to go to be safe: Practice how to get out safely. What doors, windows, elevators, stairwells, or what fire escapes would you use? Practice how you are going to get to the safe places that are listed below.

Safe place #1:______________________________________ Phone: __________________ Address:__________________________________________ Contact:_________________

Safe place #2:______________________________________ Phone: __________________ Address:__________________________________________ Contact:_________________

Safe place #3:______________________________________ Phone: __________________ Address:__________________________________________ Contact:_________________


I can use some or all of the following safety strategies:

I can keep my purse and car keys ready and put them (place) _______________ in order to leave quickly

I can teach my children how to call 911 to contact the police and/or the fire department. 

I will use _______________ as my code word with my children and/or my friends so they can call for help.

I will keep copies of important documents or keys at __________________________.

I will tell people who take care of my children who has permission to pick up my children and that my partner is not permitted to do so. The people I will inform about pick-up permission include:

School ____________________________     Day Care Staff ______________________

Baby-sitter _________________________    Other _______________

I can inform (neighbor) _______________, (friend) _______________, and (other) _______________ that my partner no longer resides with me, and they should call police if he is seen near my residence.

I can also ________________________________________________________________________________.

Other Suggestions:

  • You may want to vary your daily routines so that your abuser can’t easily find you.
  • If you need to communicate with your abuser, consider the safest way of doing it (through a 3rd party? Attorney? Etc.).
  • Impress upon friends and family your need for confidentiality.
  • Consider all possible ways to protect your privacy. Examples of places that may have personal information about you include: utility companies, creditors, banks, schools, daycare centers, fitness centers, churches, tax records, insurance companies, magazine subscriptions, online social media sites.
  • Change passwords to computers and personal accounts. Use passwords that your abuser won’t be able to guess (for instance, don’t use the names of pets or children).
  • Lock your car doors and park in well-lit areas.
  • Put important documents in a safe deposit box at a bank, if you can.

There are also many legal resources to help protect you.  An advocate at a domestic violence agency can explain these options and help you seek out resources that fit your situation.

At work or in public:

I can inform my boss, the security supervisor, and __________________________ at work of my situation.

I can ask _______________________ to screen my phone calls at work.

When leaving work, I can ___________________________________________________________________.

When driving home, if problems occur I can ____________________________________________________.

If I use public transportation, I can ____________________________________________________________.

I can use different grocery stores and shopping malls to conduct my business, and I can shop at different hours than I did when living with my abuser. 

I can also ________________________________________________________________________________.

Other Suggestions:

  • Park close to the entrance of your building, and talk with security, the police, or a manager if you fear an assault at work.
  • Have your calls screened, transfer harassing calls to security, or remove your name and number from automated phone directories.
  • Relocate your workspace to a more secure area.
  • Provide a picture of the perpetrator to reception areas and/or Security.
  • Identify an emergency contact person should the employer be unable to contact you.
  • Ask Security to escort you to and from your car or public transportation.
  • Look into alternate hours or work locations.

Technology and Safety:

  • Abusers often use technology to keep track of and control survivors. Use this information to create a plan around technology usage.
  • Computers can store a lot of private information about websites, emails, instant messages, calls you make, etc… Be very cautious about your computer usage and use a computer your abuser does not have access to when searching or reaching out for assistance, such as the public library, if possible. It is impossible to completely clear all of the sites you have visited.
  • Be cautious on what you use a computer for. Computer monitoring software can easily be placed on a computer, allowing the abuser to view all of your computer activity. Be cautions of accessing bank and email accounts on any computer that you fear may be monitored.
  • Text messages and cell phone calls may be logged into your cell phone bill. Avoid using personal phones for safety planning, if possible.
  • GPS, a location tracking device, is now installed in many cell phones and in cars. Contact your cell phone carrier to see if the GPS in your phone has been activated and can be located.
  • If you think your activities are being monitored or you are being followed, you probably are. Trust your instincts and talk to a legal advocate to create a plan.

Safety with a Protection Order:

Many abusers obey protection orders, but one can never be sure which violent partner will obey and which will violate protection orders. I recognize that I may need to ask the police and the courts to enforce my protection order.

The following are some steps I can take to enforce my protection order.

  • I will keep my protection order ________________________ (location). Always keep it in or near your person. If you change purses, the protection order should be the first thing to go in.
  • I will give my protection order to police departments in the community where I work, in those communities where I usually visit family or friends, and in the community in which I live.
  • I will inform my employer, my closest friend, _______________, and _______________ that I have a protection order in effect.
  • If my partner destroys my protection order, I can get a certified copy from the courthouse by going to __________________________ located at __________________________.
  • If my partner violates the protection order, I can call the police and report a violation, contact my attorney, and/or advise the court of the violation.
  • If the police do not help, I can contact my advocate or attorney and file a complaint with the police.
  • I can also file a criminal complaint with the prosecutor of the jurisdiction where the violation occurred. I can charge my abusive partner with a violation of a protection order and all the crimes committed in violating the order. 
  • I can also _________________________________________________________________________.

Safety Planning When there are Children

Being in an abusive situation can feel incredibly scary and isolating, and if children are involved – even indirectly witnessing the abusive – it can become a lot more complicated and dangerous. A parent’s instinct is to make sure their child is safe – but how can you do this best if your abusive partner is unpredictable, or manipulative? 

Planning for Violence in the Home: 

If you are in an abusive relationship, a safety plan should include ways that your children can stay safe when violence is happening in your home. It’s key to remember that if the violence is escalating, you should avoid running to the children because your partner may hurt them as well

  • Teach your children when and how to call 911.
  • Instruct them to leave the home if possible when things begin to escalate, and where they can go.
  • Come up with a code word that you can say when they need to leave the home in case of an emergency — make sure that they know not to tell others what the secret word means.
  • In the house: Identify a room they can go to when they’re afraid and something they can think about when they’re scared.
  • Instruct them to stay out of the kitchen, bathroom and other areas where there are items that could be used as weapons.
  • Teach them that although they want to protect their parent that they should never intervene.
  • Help them to make a list of people that they are comfortable talking and expressing themselves to.
  • Enroll them in a counseling program.

Planning for Unsupervised Visits: 

If you have separated from an abusive partner and are concerned for your children’s safety when they visit your ex, developing a safety plan for while they are at their home can be beneficial.

  • Brainstorm with your children (if they are old enough) to come up with ways that they can stay safe using the same model as you would for your own home. Have them identify where they can get to a phone, how they can leave the house, and who they can go to.
  • If it’s safe to do, send a cell phone with the children to be used in emergency situations — this can be used to call 911, a neighbor or you if they need aid.

Planning for Safe Custody Exchanges: 

  • Avoid exchanging custody at your home or your partner’s home.
  • Meet in a safe, public place such as a restaurant, a bank/other area with lots of cameras, or even near a police station.
  • Bring a friend or relative with you to the exchanges, or have them make the exchange.
  • Perhaps plan to have your partner pick the children up from school at the end of the day after you drop them off in the morning – this eliminates the chances of seeing each other.
  • Emotional safety plan as well – figure out something to do before the exchange to calm any nerves you’re feelings, and something after to focus on yourself or the kids, such as going to a park or doing a fun activity

Planning for After You Leave: 

  • Alert anyone you can about the situation: school authorities like the counselor, receptionist, teachers and principal, sports instructors, and other caretakers
  • Talk to these people about what’s going on, EX. If you have a protective order or restraining order, who is allowed to pick them up, etc.

How to Have These Conversations: Let your child know that what’s happening is not their fault and that they didn’t cause it. Let them know how much you love them and that you support them no matter what. Tell them that you want to protect them and that you want everyone to be safe, so you have come up with a plan to use in case of emergencies. It’s important to remember that when you’re safety planning with a child, they might tell this information to the abusive partner, which could make the situation more dangerous (ex. “Mom said to do this if you get angry.”) When talking about these plans with your child, use phrases such as “We’re practicing what to do in an emergency,” instead of “We’re planning what you can do when dad/mom becomes violent”

Messages for Your Children:

  • You don’t need to keep secrets when you feel scared or sad.
  • You are not to blame for the violence in your home.
  • Identify escape routes from the house and where to meet outside.
  • Identify an adult you trust and tell them when something is happening in your house.
  • Anger and frustration are okay but violence is not.
  • There are safe places for your mom to take you.
  • It’s okay to feel mixed up about things.
  • It is okay to like your dad and at the same time not like him when he is violent and hurting family members.
  • Focus on keeping yourself safe when your dad hurts your mom.
  • Don’t get in the middle of a fight.
  • There are ways to call for help:
    • Call the police (911).
    • Go to your safe place you have planned about before.
    • Go to a neighbor’s home.