A domestic violence safety plan is essential for anyone in an abusive or unsafe relationship. We’ve put together a detailed guide on how to create your safety plan whether you’re planning to leave, have recently left or are still in an abusive relationship.
Separating from an abusive partner in cases of domestic violence usually takes place when women and children are most at risk of harm. It often requires multiple attempts before you’re finally able to leave. Many women don’t want the relationship to end – they just want the violence to stop.
Following our guidance on how to establish a domestic violence safety plan can help protect you and your family, enabling you to act on the plan quickly if the situation becomes urgent.
Pack an emergency suitcase
In situations where violence has become common, you – and your children, if you’re a parent – may need to leave in a hurry.
Know the best way to get out of the house quickly and have an emergency suitcase packed with essentials ready to go. Keep the bag hidden, or store this with a trusted family member or friend.
Your emergency suitcase should include:
- Cash, debit and credit cards
- Forms of identification (or certified copies) for you and children
- Lease, rental agreement, mortgage documents for your house
- Bank account details
- Insurance documents
- Any medication for you and your children
- Medical records, immunisation details and your Medicare card
- Centrelink information
- Clothing and personal hygiene items for you and your children
- A recent photograph of your abuser, either printed or saved to your phone
- A spare key to your house and car
- Jewellery and sentimental keepsakes
If you’ve left your suitcase with someone else, agree on a safe word so that you can give them over the phone without arousing suspicion from your abuser. This will let them know if you feel unsafe and need assistance. You can also ask neighbours to call the police if they hear a commotion from your house.
Keep technology secure
When it comes to technology and safety, trust your instincts. If you suspect an abusive person knows too much, it’s possible your phone, computer, email or other activities are being monitored. Abusers and stalkers can act in incredibly persistent and creative ways to maintain power and control, but there are ways to reduce the risk.
If anyone who is abusive has access to your computer, they might be monitoring your activities. Spyware and keylogging programs are commonly available and can track what you do on your computer without you knowing.
To reduce this risk, use a ‘safe computer’ when looking for help or a new place to live. This could be a device at a library, community centre or at a friend’s house.
You can use this safe computer to create an additional email account if you’re worried someone has access to your email. Be sure not to create or check this email account from a computer your abuser could access and use an anonymous name when making the account.
Some abusers use their victim’s email and other accounts to impersonate them and cause harm. If anyone abusive knows or could guess your passwords, change them quickly and frequently. Think about changing the passwords for any protected accounts, including online banking, and use a safe computer to access these.
If your mobile phone was given to you by the abusive person, it’s best to turn it off whenever possible. When turned on, check the phone settings. If your phone has an optional location service, you may want to switch this feature off.
Include your children in your domestic violence safety plan
Discuss your safety plan with your kids if they’re at an age where it’s appropriate. Help them choose a room in the house where they feel protected but can escape from, if necessary. Tell them to go to this room if there’s a fight, and advise them not to get involved.
It is also useful to:
- Choose a code word that lets your children know they need to leave now
- Teach your children how to contact family, friends or neighbours they’ll be safe with
- Teach your children how to call 000 for the police, fire and ambulance services. Tell them not to hang up. This helps the services to monitor what’s happening and find you if necessary
- Have each child practise what they should say if they have to report violence
- Consider giving your children their own mobile phone so they can discreetly call for help if necessary
Seek legal advice
It’s also important that you seek good legal advice to protect your rights and the safety of your children. You can start this process with the Legal Aid office, Women’s Legal Service NSW, or a community legal service.
Getting legal advice doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll enter a court battle, but you’ll most likely need to find a lawyer experienced in family law.
Apply for an Apprehended Domestic Violence Order
Once you or your partner has moved out of the family home, you can apply for an Apprehended Domestic Violence Order (ADVO).
In NSW, an ADVO can be made by the Magistrates’ Court to protect you and your children from future violence or threats. Orders can be made that specifically relate to you and your situation. For example, your ex-partner could be ordered not to:
- Commit any acts of family violence against you or your children
- Go to your home or place of work
- Go to your children’s school or childcare centre
- Contact you in any way
To get an ADVO, you’ll need to make an application at your local Magistrates’ Court. This is a legal hearing. You may have to tell the magistrate what’s happened, and sometimes present any evidence you have.
Once the Order is made and given to your ex-partner, the police have the power to arrest or detain him if he breaks its conditions. He may then be charged with the criminal offence of breaching an Apprehended Domestic Violence Order. Always keep your Order with you.
Ensure your home is as secure and safe as possible
Once you and your partner are no longer living together, there are a few steps you can take to ensure you, and your children if you have them, are as safe as possible while at home.
- If you remain in the family home, change the door locks, fit window locks and install outside lighting
- Arrange to have a silent telephone number
- Set up a voicemail for your number. Voicemails can be used as evidence of harassing phone calls
- Tell your neighbours or landlord that your ex-partner no longer lives with you. Show them a photograph and ask them to let you know if they’re seen near the property
- If you’ve moved to a new neighbourhood, get your new neighbours’ phone numbers in case of emergency
- If your ex-partner breaks an Apprehended Domestic Violence Order, ring the police and report him
Consider workplace arrangements as part of your domestic violence safety plan
After a separation, you’ll want to get on with your life, while making sure you’re safe when out and about or travelling to and from work.
These tips can help you feel more comfortable returning to your normal routine:
- If you feel comfortable enough, tell your employer, colleagues and building security that you’ve separated and that the relationship was violent. Provide them with a photograph of your ex-partner.
- You can include your workplace address on your Apprehended Domestic Violence Order. Provide a copy to reception, security and other relevant people.
- If you don’t want to communicate with your ex-partner, ask co-workers to screen your calls. Save any abusive emails or voicemail messages as they may provide future evidence of violence and harassment.
- Consider changing your daily travel route.
- Park close to your building and consider asking someone to accompany you to and from your car.
- Let work colleagues and family members know your expected arrival times at work.
Protect your personal information
Ask government agencies about their privacy policies for how they protect or publish your records. Request that courts, government, post offices and other agencies and organisations restrict access to your files to protect your safety.
Businesses, doctors and other agencies and organisations may ask for your address. For these situations, have a private post office box address or a safer address to give them. Don’t give out your real address.
Be aware of what information is posted on your social media profiles as well and consider making your accounts private or deleting it from the site altogether. Another good way to see if your private contact information can be found online is by Googling yourself to see what comes up.
Collect evidence and report abuse or stalking
Texts, messages, or voicemail messages can be saved as evidence of stalking or abuse. Keep a record of all suspicious incidents. You can report abuse, violence, threats, stalking or cyber-stalking to the police and the abuser can be charged with a criminal offence.
Document all experiences. Even if you don’t use these as evidence, it may help you to update your safety plan. The Arc app can help with this – the app stores evidence of violence, allowing you to document the times you feel scared or in danger.
Focus on your emotional wellbeing
Even when domestic and family violence is involved, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed by the realities of leaving a relationship. In any separation, it’s important to acknowledge and express your feelings. Know that low moods and doubts will pass and that if you’re feeling sad, it’s okay to cry.
Do exercise you enjoy when you can, record your feelings in a journal, play music that makes you happy, set small and simple goals, look to your community for support, and acknowledge your achievements. Celebrate each step you take on the path to personal safety and empowerment. And be kind to yourself – right now, kindness is vital.
Getting help with a domestic violence safety plan
If you’re at risk of family or domestic violence but are unsure what to do, reach out as soon as you can. There are experts who can talk you through the next steps and the safest way to move forward and protect yourself.
When it’s safe to do so, call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732). This is a confidential, national sexual assault, domestic family violence counselling service for people experiencing – or at risk of – sexual or family violence.
Making changes can be difficult. For more information, download our free E-book: ‘Safe from Violence: A guide for women’. It contains further advice and printable worksheets to help you work through your domestic violence safety plan and includes input from women who have experienced violence in relationships.