A personal safety plan is a way of helping you to protect yourself and your children. It helps you plan in advance for the possibility of future violence and abuse. It also helps you to think about how you can increase your safety either within the relationship, or if you decide to leave.
You can’t stop your partner’s violence and abuse – only he can do that. But there are things you can do to increase your own and your children’s safety. You’re probably already doing some things to protect yourself and your children – for example, there may be a pattern to the violence which may enable you to plan ahead to increase your safety.
- Plan in advance how you might respond in different situations, including crisis situations.
- Think about the different options that may be available to you.
- Keep with you any important and emergency telephone numbers (for example, the police domestic violence unit; your GP; your social worker, if you have one; your children’s school; your solicitor; and the Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge: 0808 2000 247).
- Teach your children to call 999 in an emergency, and what they would need to say (for example, their full name, address and telephone number).
- Create code words or a phrase for friends and children so that they know when to call for help and/or leave danger areas.
- Are there neighbours you could trust, and where you could go in an emergency? If so, tell them what is going on, and ask them to call the police if they hear sounds of a violent attack.
- Rehearse an escape plan, so in an emergency you and the children can get away safely.
- Pack an emergency bag for yourself and your children, and hide it somewhere safe (for example, at a neighbour’s or friend’s house). Try to avoid mutual friends or family. See the suggestions below on What to pack if you are planning to leave your partner.
- Try to keep a small amount of money on you at all times – including change for the phone and for bus fares.
- Know where the nearest phone is, and if you have a mobile phone, try to keep it with you.
- If you suspect that your partner is about to attack you, try to go to a lower risk area
of the house – for example where there is a way out and access to a telephone. Avoid the kitchen or garage where there are likely to be knives or other weapons; and avoid rooms where you might be trapped, such as the bathroom, or where you might be shut into a cupboard or other small space.
- Be prepared to leave the house in an emergency.
Planning to leave
Whatever coping strategies you have used – with more or less success – there may come a time when you feel the only option is to leave your partner.
If you do decide to leave your partner, it is best if you can plan this carefully. Sometimes abusers will increase their abuse if they suspect you are thinking of leaving, and will continue to do so after you have left, so this can be a particularly dangerous time for you. It’s important to remember that ending the relationship will not necessarily end the abuse.
Plan to leave at a time you know your partner will not be around. Try to take everything you will need with you, including any important documents relating to yourself and your children, as you may not be able to return later.
Take your children with you, otherwise it may be difficult or impossible to have them living with you in future. If they are at school, make sure that the head and all your children’s teachers know what the situation is, and who will be collecting the children in future. (See below, Protecting yourself after you have left).
Thinking about leaving and making the decision to leave can be a long process.
Planning it doesn’t mean you have to carry it through immediately – or at all. But it may help to be able to consider all the options and think about how you could overcome the difficulties involved.
If at all possible, try to set aside a small amount of money each week, or even open a separate bank account.
What to pack if you are planning to leave your partner
Ideally, you need to take all the following items with you if you leave. Some of these items you can try to keep with you at all times; others you may be able to pack in your “emergency bag”.
- Some form of identification
- Birth certificates for you and your children.
- Passports (including passports for all your children), visas and work permits.
- Money, bankbooks, cheque book and credit and debit cards.
- Keys for house, car, and place of work. (You could get an extra set of keys cut, and put them in your emergency bag.)
- Cards for payment of Child Benefit and any other welfare benefits you are entitled to.
- Driving licence (if you have one) and car registration documents, if applicable.
- Prescribed medication.
- Copies of documents relating to your housing tenure (for example, mortgage details or lease and rental agreements).
- Insurance documents, including national insurance number.
- Address book.
- Family photographs, your diary, jewellery, small items of sentimental value.
- Clothing and toiletries for you and your children.
- Your children’s favourite small toys.
- You should also take any documentation relating to the abuse – e.g. police reports, court orders such as injunctions and restraining orders, and copies of medical records if you have them.
Protecting yourself after you have left
If you leave your partner because of abuse, you may not want people to know the reason you left.
It is your decision whether or not you tell people that you have suffered domestic abuse; but if you believe you may still be at risk, it might increase your safety if you tell your family and friends, your children’s school, and your employer or college what is happening, so that they do not inadvertently give out any information to your ex-partner. They will also be more prepared and better able to help you in an emergency.
If you have left home, but are staying in the same town or area, these are some of the ways in which you might be able to increase your safety:
- Try not to place yourself in a vulnerable position or isolate yourself.
- Try to avoid any places, such as shops, banks, cafes, that you used to use when you were together.
- Try to alter your routines as much as you can.
- If you have any regular appointments that your partner knows about (for example, with a counsellor or health practitioner) try to change your appointment time and/or the location of the appointment.
- Try to choose a safe route, or alter the route you take or the form of transport you use, when approaching or leaving places you cannot avoid – such as your place of work, the children’s school, or your GP’s surgery.
- Tell your children’s school, nursery or childminder what has happened, and let them know who will pick them up. Make sure they do not release the children to anyone else, or give your new address or telephone number to anyone. (You may want to establish a password with them, and give them copies of any court orders, if you have them.)
- Consider telling your employer or others at your place of work – particularly if you think your partner may try to contact you there.
If you have moved away from your area, and don’t want your abuser to know where you are, then you need to take particular care with anything that may indicate your location; for example:
- Your mobile phone could be ‘tracked’; this is only supposed to happen if you have given your permission, but if your partner has had access to your mobile phone, he could have sent a consenting message purporting to come from you. If you think this could be the case, you should contact the company providing the tracking facility and withdraw your permission; or if you are in any doubt, change your phone.
- Try to avoid using shared credit or debit cards or joint bank accounts: if the statement is sent to your ex-partner, he will see the transactions you have made.
- Make sure that your address does not appear on any court papers. (If you are staying in a refuge, they will advise you on this.)
- If you need to phone your abuser (or anyone with whom he is in contact), make sure your telephone number is untraceable by dialling 141 before ringing.
- Talk to your children about the need to keep your address and location confidential.
- Victims of stalking and domestic abuse are now allowed to join the electoral register anonymously, so ensure they are not put at risk, and do not lose the right to vote.
Anyone wanting to register their details anonymously must provide evidence such as an order under the Family Law Act 1996 or the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. If an application is granted, the details that appear on the register only have a person’s electoral number and the letter N.
If you stay or return to your home
If you stay or return to your home after your partner has left, then you will probably have an occupation order or a protection order.
If the injunction has powers of arrest attached, then do make sure that your local police station has a copy, and that the police know that they need to respond quickly in an emergency.
In some areas, there are special schemes to ensure a rapid response by the police (for example, the Community Alarm scheme in the London Borough of Haringey); and in other areas there may be projects (such as Staying Put in Bradford, and the Sanctuary Projects in Barnet and Bromley) that provide advice and additional security measures to make your home safe.
However, it is important to know that you do not have to stay at home – with or without an injunction – if you do not feel safe there.
You could also consider the following:
- Changing the locks on all doors.
- Putting locks on all windows if you don’t have them already.
- Installing smoke detectors on each floor, and providing fire extinguishers.
- Installing an outside light (back and front) which comes on automatically when someone approaches.
- Informing the neighbours that your partner no longer lives there, and asking them to tell you – or call the police – if they see him nearby.
- Changing your telephone number and making it ex-directory.
- Using an answering machine to screen calls.
- Keeping copies of all court orders together with dates and times of previous incidents and call-outs for reference if you need to call the police again. If your ex-partner continues the abuse.
If your ex-partner continues to harass, threaten or abuse you, make sure you keep detailed records of each incident, including the date and time it occurred, what was said or done, and, if possible, photographs of damage to your property or injuries to yourself or others.
If your partner or ex-partner injures you, see your GP or go to hospital for treatment and ask them to document your visit.
If you have an injunction with a power of arrest, or there is a restraining order in place, you should ask the police to enforce this; and if your ex-partner is in breach of any court order, you should also tell your solicitor.
In an emergency, always call the police on 999.