Domestic Violence:  Safety Plan Guidelines

These safety suggestions have been compiled from safety plans distributed by state domestic violence coalitions from around the country. Following these suggestions is not a guarantee of safety, but could help to improve your safety situation.


Personal Safety with an Abuser

  • Identify your partner’s use and level of force so that you can assess danger to you and your children before it occurs.
  • Try to avoid an abusive situation by leaving.
  • Identify safe areas of the house where there are no weapons and where there are always ways to escape. If arguments occur, try to move to those areas.
  • Don’t run to where the children are as your partner may hurt them as well.
  • If violence is unavoidable, make yourself a small target; dive into a corner and curl up into a ball with your face protected and arms around each side of your head, fingers entwined.
  • If possible, have a phone accessible at all times and know the numbers to call for help. Know where the nearest pay phone is located. Know your local battered women’s shelter number. Don’t be afraid to call the police.
  • Let trusted friends and neighbors know of your situation and develop a plan and visual signal for when you need help.
  • Teach your children how to get help. Instruct them not to get involved in the violence between you and your partner. Plan a code word to signal to them that they should get help or leave the house.
  • Tell your children that violence is never right, even when someone they love is being violent. Tell them that neither you nor they are at fault or cause the violence, and that when anyone is being violent, it is important to keep safe.
  • Practice how to get out safely. Practice with your children.
  • Plan for what you will do if your children tell your partner of your plan or if your partner otherwise finds out about your plan.
  • Keep weapons like guns and knives locked up and as inaccessible as possible.
  • Make a habit of backing the car into the driveway and keeping it fueled. Keep the driver’s door unlocked and others locked — for a quick escape.
  • Try not to wear scarves or long jewelry that could be used to strangle you.
  • Create several plausible reasons for leaving the house at different times of the day or night. Call a domestic violence hotline periodically to assess your options and get a supportive understanding ear.

Getting Ready to Leave

  • Keep any evidence of physical abuse, such as pictures, etc.
  • Know where you can go to get help; tell someone what is happening to you.
  • If you are injured, go to a doctor or an emergency room and report what happened to you. Ask that they document your visit.
  • Plan with your children and identify a safe place for them (for example, a room with a lock or a friend’s house where they can go for help). Reassure them that their job is to stay safe, not to protect you.
  • Contact your local battered women’s shelter and find out about laws and other resources available to you before you have to use them during a crisis.
  • Keep a journal of all violent incidences, noting dates, events and threats made if possible.
  • Acquire job skills as you can, such as learning to type or taking courses at a community college.
  • Try to set money aside or ask friends or family members to hold money for you.

General Guidelines for Leaving an Abusive Relationship

  • You may request a police stand-by or escort while you leave;
  • If you need to sneak away, be prepared;
  • Make a plan for how and where you will escape;
  • Plan for a quick escape;
  • Put aside emergency money as you can;
  • Hide an extra set of car keys;
  • Pack an extra set of clothes for yourself and your children and store them at a trusted friend or neighbor’s house. Try to avoid using next-door neighbors, close family members and mutual friends;
  • Take with you important phone numbers of friends, relatives, doctors, schools, etc., as well as other important items, including:
  • Driver’s license;
  • Regularly needed medicatio
  • List of credit cards held by self or jointly or the credit cards themselves if you have access to them;
  • Pay stubs;
  • and checkbooks and information about bank accounts and other assets.


  • Citizenship documents (such as your passport, green card, etc.);
  • Titles, deeds, and other property information;
  • Medical records;
  • Children’s school and immunization records;
  • Insurance information;
  • Copy of marriage license, birth certificates, will, and other legal documents;
  • Verification of social security numbers;
  • Welfare identification; and
  • Valued pictures, jewelry, or personal possessions.
  • Create a false trail. Call motels, real estate agencies, and schools in a town at least six hours away from where you plan to relocate. Ask questions that require a call back to your house in order to leave phone numbers on record.

After Leaving the Abusive Relationship


  • Change locks and phone number;
  • Change work hours and route taken to work;
  • Change route taken to transport children to school;
  • Keep a certified copy of your victim protection order with you at all times;
  • Inform friends, neighbors and employers that you have a victim protection order in effect;
  • Give copies of your victim protection order to employers, neighbors, and schools along with a picture of the offender.
  • Call law enforcement to enforce the order.


  • Consider renting a post office box or using the address of a friend for your mail ;
  • Be aware that addresses are on victim protection orders and police reports;
  • Be careful to whom you give your new address and phone number;
  • Change your work hours if possible;
  • Alert school authorities of situation;
  • Consider changing your children’s schools;
  • Reschedule appointments that offender is aware of;
  • Use different stores and frequent different social spots;
  • Alert neighbors and request that they call the police if they feel you may be in danger;
  • Talk to trusted people about the violence;
  • Replace wooden doors with steel or metal doors. Install security systems if possible;
  • Install a lighting system that lights up when a person is coming close to the house (motion sensitive lights);
  • Tell people you work with about the situation and have your calls screened by one receptionist if possible;
  • Tell people who take care of your children which individuals are allowed to pick up your children.  Explain your situation to them and provide them with a copy of the victim protection order;
  • Call the telephone company to request caller ID. Ask that your phone be blocked so that if you call, neither your partner nor anyone else will be able to get your new, unlisted phone number.

Effects of Domestic Violence on Children


  • Developmental delay
  • Failure to thrive – due to chaotic, loud and harmful environment
  • Emotional withdrawal/low frustration tolerance
  • Physical problems – frequent colds, ear infections, diarrhea


  • Developmental delay – especially in language development. The child may be afraid to speak, afraid of becoming the target of anger. This is due in part to not being spoken to by adults or experiencing meaningful discussions with adults.
  • Low frustration tolerance – Child cries easily and often. His/her world is so chaotic that she cannot handle ordinary stress. Usually has not witnessed appropriate ways of dealing with stress.
  • Act out aggressively toward peers and adults – modeling the aggressive behaviors observed at home
  • Emotional withdrawal – excessive thumb sucking, rocking, infant-like behaviors. The child is seeking safety and security by reverting to behaviors characteristic of a time when he/she felt insecure.
  • Inability to play constructively – lots of throwing or kicking, possible even destruction of playthings. Many children have not been shown how to play. Children are working out their frustration and worry in play.
  • Inconsistent or inappropriate display of emotions – the result of the child not learning appropriate emotional responses, as well as not being in touch with their true feelings.


  • Scholastically delayed/poor school performance – child finds studying and learning difficult when he/she can’t keep from worrying about what happened at home last night or who is going to get hurt, maybe killed, later tonight
  • Behavior problems with peers and adults – because of a lack of observable appropriate interpersonal relationships, child has not learned appropriate ways to interact with others. Child may be crying out for help the only way they can and still keep the “family secret.”
  • Aggressive acting out becomes more severe and purposeful – modeling the violent behavior witnessed at home
  • Severe behavioral difficulties – culmination of low frustration tolerance.
  • Fearful/nightmares/night terrors – child reliving fears in his/her sleep. May be afraid to sleep because of incidents of physical and/or sexual abuse occur at night. May have history of being awakened by screams and yelling.
  • Withdrawn/depressed/hopeless/despondent – life offers little other than physical and/or emotional pain. Joy is lost.
  • Chronic physical complaints – headaches, stomachaches. Child knows no other way to realize or describe emotional distress. Stress level too high for child to cope.
  • Beginning to mimic adult roles – girls adopting the role of the victim; boys becoming aggressive, abusive.
  • Chronic low self-esteem – child blames him/herself for situation at home. Child’s good feelings about him/herself have not been nurtured.


  • Depression – loss of hope, joy. Child is full of sadness.
  • Emotional neglect – by this time, the child has learned there is no one to listen or care, especially parents. Many children have abandoned efforts to reach parents.
  • Signs of physical injuries – maiming, crippling, scarring
  • Aggressions/delinquency/running away – realizing no one will take care of their needs except themselves, adolescents will use the only coping skills they have learned… violence and self-destruction.
  • Poor school judgment – academically and socially unable to perform
  • Proficient at mimicking adult roles – teenager carries role of victim or aggressor into interpersonal relationships outside the family
  • Early sexual activity/marriage – provides a means of escape or acting out
  • Death by suicide or murder – taking one’s own life to end the pain, or intervening to protect parent results in harm or death of child, or child killing abuser


*  Expansion of violence into the community – criminal activity sometimes through gang involvement where teen finds surrogate family. Anger and frustration spills over into community.