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 domestic violence safety plan, including steps to take whether you’re still in an abusive relationship, are planning to leave, or have recently left.
Separating from an abusive partner in cases of domestic violence can be an incredibly difficult experience. Separating is often when women and children are most at risk of harm, and it often takes 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.
By having a domestic violence safety plan in place, you can help protect yourself, and act on the plan when you need to.
Be prepared to leave at any time by packing 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 fast, and have an emergency suitcase packed with essentials ready to go. Hide 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 papers for your house
- Bank account details
- Insurance papers
- 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 ex-partner
- A recent photograph of your house
- A spare key to your house and car
- You may also need to include jewellery and personal treasures.
If you’ve left your suitcase with someone else, agree on a safe word that you can call and tell them over the phone. 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 you can 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 it. To reduce this risk, use a ‘safer computer’ when looking for help or a new place to live etc. This could be a device at a library, community centre or at a friend’s house.
You can use this safer computer to create an additional email account if you’re worried someone has access to your email. Do not create or check this new email 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 safer 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.
Children and 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 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.
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. Legal advice doesn’t necessarily mean 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 have 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 child care centre
- Contact you in anyway.
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
- Use caller ID, an answering machine or message bank service so you know who’s calling before you answer the phone. Voicemails can also 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.
Include workplace arrangements in 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.
- 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 most or all of your information 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 at times by the realities of leaving a relationship. In any separation, there are ways to stay positive – and these mainly involve acknowledging and expressing your feelings.
Know that low moods and doubts will pass, and that if you’re feeling sad, it’s okay to cry. Exercise when you can, record your feelings in a journal, play music that makes you happy, set small and simple goals, look to your community, 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.
For more information, you can also download our free e-book, ‘Safe from violence: A guide for women’. It contains further advice and printable worksheets to help you work through and draft your domestic violence safety plan.
Relationships Australia offers a range of domestic violence support services for both female, male and child victims of domestic violence, as well as men’s behaviour change programs for perpetrators. Contact us for a confidential discussion about how we can support you.