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The Why & How of Safety Planning

In this Hopeful Horizons blog, Hopeful Horizons’ staff talk about safety plans – who needs one and why is it so important to have one – and share from their experience working with women who have been in abusive relationships.

Maryana Kleyn was previously a Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Therapist at Hopeful Horizons’ Bluffton office. Susie Kearney is a Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Therapist at our emergency shelter.

A safety plan is a personalized plan of action. Typically, individuals benefit from a safety plan when they are in dangerous and abusive relationships. Safety plans are important because not only do they keep people safe, but they are crucial for those who plan on leaving their abusive relationship.

Leaving an abusive relationship is not easy and it takes time and careful preparation. The most dangerous time for a woman is when she leaves her abusive partner. Each situation is different, so sometimes it’s best for multiple people to know about the safety plan, and sometimes less is better.

Additionally, if you have a restraining order or any kind of order of protection, it is important to provide a copy to the children’s schools and day care.

Each safety plan is different. Depending on the relationship, some women might need a more detailed and structured safety plan, while others can come up with a more generalized one. Some examples of what might be in a safety plan include:

  • Call the police if things get bad.

  • File for a restraining order.

  • Get copies of important documents ready.

  • Have a packed bag in the car or with a trusted person.

  • Leave when the abuser is not home.

  • Find a shelter.

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has good resources and offers this advice on safety plans:

Hopeful Horizons will help each client come up with a safety plan that is best suited for her. Whether it be a domestic violence counselor or a case manager at the Safe House, it’s important that each woman that Hopeful Horizons sees has a safety plan in place that is best tailored to her safety needs.

When Children Are Involved

When it comes to children, one suggestion I always share with my clients is to have a “code word” with your children, a word that only you and your kids know. This way, when mom says the code word, the children know to either call the police, go to their rooms, run-out-of-the house, etc.

Exchanging children can also become extremely dangerous for the woman. One of the forms of abuse is controlling the woman through their children. Abusers use this time as an opportunity to harass, intimidate or sometimes even physically hurt the woman. I always recommend for pick-up and drop-off to be in a public place, preferably a police station. This deters the abuser from hurting the woman. A lot of women aren’t comfortable with meeting at the police station, so a public place like a parking lot of a grocery store or gas station is also a good meet-up spot.

When transportation is an issue, it can also be beneficial for a third party to be present. This again should limit the interaction the abuser has with the woman, and there is a witness in case something happens. and Custody Xchange offer this advice when children are involved: