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Safety planning and abusive relationships

A safety plan is a personalized, practical plan that includes ways to keep your family safe. The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers the following safety plan suggestions.

While in an abusive relationship

Consider the following safety plan suggestions.

  • Try to hide guns, ammunition, knives, and any other weapons that are kept in your home, unless hiding the weapons would further jeopardize your safety. If hiding weapons isn’t possible, at least make them inaccessible to children.
  • Identify areas in your home that are easiest to escape from and are free of potential weapons for an abuser. Try to move to those areas during an argument. Avoid going to rooms with possible hazards. This includes the kitchen, which houses knives and other potential weapons, and the bathroom, which has hard surfaces and most likely doesn’t have a second exit.
  • Try to have a phone accessible at all times. Consider hiding a cell phone in a safe place to use in emergencies. Remember that cell phones can contain GPS technology, so you will want to use a cell phone that's prepaid or doesn't have GPS technology in emergencies.
  • Create a code word with friends and family so they can call for help if violence occurs.
  • Trust your judgment when you sense you're in danger. Sometimes it's best to leave; sometimes it's best to placate the abuser.
  • Make a habit of backing your car into the driveway. Try to keep some gas in your tank at all times.
  • Keep the driver’s door unlocked and lock all other doors. Make a copy of your car key and hide it in the car.
  • If you are under attack and leaving is not possible, try to move into safe areas of your home. Make yourself physically smaller by curling into a ball and covering your head and face with your hands.

While preparing to leave an abusive relationship

Consider the following safety plan suggestions.

  • Get a new phone if your current phone has GPS technology that can't be switched off. Consider getting a new service plan when you move to a new home. If this applies to your phone, get a new one without those features and a new service plan when you move to a new home. Leave your original phone behind.
  • Try to set aside money, even in small amounts. Start your own savings or checking account. Use the address of a trusted friend or family member when setting up the account.
  • Keep a written list of important phone numbers with you.
  • Have a packed bag ready. Keep it hidden in your home or leave the bag with friends, family or at work if possible. Take the following items:
    • Birth and marriage certificates
    • Driver’s license or other ID card and Social Security card
    • Keys
    • School and medical records
    • Passports, green cards, work permits
    • Protective orders, divorce papers, custody orders
    • Bank statements and credit cards
    • Medications and medicines
  • Talk to staff members at your local domestic violence agency to learn about help they may be able to offer. In an emergency, call 911 first.

After leaving an abusive relationship

Consider the following safety plan suggestions.

  • If you have a protective order, always carry a copy with you. Make and keep copies for work, your car and your home. Call the police and document when the protective order is broken.
  • Consider letting friends, neighbors and co-workers know about your situation and how they can help you stay safe. Only confide in people you trust — people with your best interests at heart.
  • Try to carry a cell phone with you, and program it to dial 911. (See notes above about GPS technology.)
  • Change your regular travel habits. Try not to frequent the same stores or businesses you did when you were with your abuser.
  • If you are moving:
    • Consider talking to your local shelter program about temporary shelter or other services it could provide.
    • If you need to conceal your new location, consider an address confidentiality program.
  • If you are staying in your home:
    • Consider changing your locks or installing stronger doors.
    • If the exchange of children is necessary, arrange a safe, neutral place to do the exchange.
    • If your abuser comes to your home, you do not have to let that person in. Lock the doors and call the police.

Technology safety

Follow these general safety tips for using technology.

  • Know that your computer activity can be monitored or checked by others without your knowledge. It is not possible to delete or clear all of the “footprints” from your computer or online activities. If you are being monitored, it may be dangerous to change your computer behaviors, such as suddenly deleting your entire internet history, if that is not your regular habit.
  • If you think you are being monitored on your home computer, be careful how you use your computer, since an abuser might become suspicious. You may want to keep using your home computer for non-personal activities, such as looking up the weather or reading the news. Use a safer computer (i.e. one located outside of your home) to research an escape plan, look for new jobs or apartments, buy bus tickets or to ask for help.
  • If you use a cell phone, be aware that even calls that are toll-free will likely show up on your phone bill. If you are on a joint plan or access your phone bill online, others (including your abuser) may have access to it. Consider making calls to shelters, attorneys or other confidential services from a pay phone or prepaid cell phone.

Following these suggestions is not a guarantee of safety, but applying them to your own situation could increase your level of safety in an abusive relationship. You may be able to complete a more detailed, specific safety plan with a local domestic violence advocate. Look in a phone book under domestic violence, women’s shelters, or crisis intervention. You many also call your county social service agency to find a local contact or review the resources available through the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE).

Related resources

What Is Safety Planning?The National Domestic Violence Hotline — Get to know more about safety planning, including ensuring your computer or phone are safe, making plans to leave a relationship, and more.

Minnesota’s Domestic Violence Services and ProgramsMinnesota Coalition for Battered Women — Find the contact information for a domestic violence program near you to get the help you need.

Wendy Rubinyi, instructional design specialist, independent contractor; Minnell L. Tralle, Extension educator in family resiliency; and Heather M. Lee, project manager in family development

Reviewed in 2012

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