Safety planning is thinking about how to increase safety now and in the future. Anyone concerned about violence or controlling behaviour from a partner, ex-partner or other relationship should consider safety planning.
Safety plans need to include children and pets and it is ideal to work with a support service to prepare a safety plan.
Some people also make safety plans for their friends and family members.
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A safety plan is a choice
There are many actions that can make it safer to live with violence or the threat of violence.
Safety planning involves understanding the risk of violence happening, and identifying steps to improve the safety of everyone at risk.
It can be helpful to do this with a professional such as a counsellor, health professional or support worker.
It is something that can and will change as circumstances change.
Things to consider in a safety plan
A safety plan should reflect the realities of life, relationships and each person's own feelings about what is safe and unsafe for them.
Working with a support person or counsellor to develop a safety plan should help to understand the risk of further violence. A safety plan also helps put precautions in place to improve safety.
These options are broad and may not all reflect all circumstances.
There are lots of different ways to improve safety when someone is using violence. Each person and their support network will know best what that might look like.
Identify safe people and safe places
Think about who would be a good person to talk to about the violence. This might be a friend, neighbour, colleague, helping professional or family member. Letting someone know about the danger means they might notice if something's not quite right and can seek help if needed.
When thinking about who might be a safe person, it can be helpful to ask these questions:
Would this person:
- Respect my privacy?
- Listen and not blame me?
- Let me decide what to do?
- Be prepared to support me during this difficult time?
It is important that the people who regularly care for any children and/or pets are aware of any violence. A child's school might be able to provide them with extra support if they are coping with violence or fear at home.
It is important that the children know there is someone they can talk to as well. Let children and anyone else who might be in danger know the safe safe people to talk to.
It might be useful to ask these questions:
- Is there somewhere I can go to make private calls or meet a trusted friend or helping professional?
- Is there a place I can visit when my partner/family member is using violence or if I feel worried that they might?
- Is there a place that I can go without my abusive partner/ family member that they don't interfere in or stop me visiting (eg. the vet, the dentist, my GP, a relative's house, school)?
- Are there places in my home that are safer when I am worried about my safety? For example, are there any rooms that have locks on windows or doors that I can safely leave from?
Identify a code word or phrase
This might be a word children are aware of that lets them know they should remove themselves from a situation and to a safe place or person.
It might be a word to also share with the safe person/ people so that they know to get help.
Agree with all the safe people and children what action they should take when they hear this word or phrase.
Consider preparing some excuses to leave the home or situation when it may be becoming unsafe. Have several of these to make sure one can be remembered when needed.
Have a second phone and email address
Some people experiencing domestic or family violence keep a second phone. It is ideal not to share this phone with anyone that may pose a danger and to keep it in a location you can easily access in an emergency.
Ensure 000 is saved speed dial along with contacts for safe people. Maintain a second phone and email address if possible.
Store important documents safely
It is ideal to make copies of all important documents and store these in a location not known to the abusive person. This might be scanned to a separate email account, with a friend, or at a place of work. Put all paper documents together in an easily accessed location in case they are needed urgently.
There are a number of apps available on phones that can assist with storing documents, such as Daisy and Sunny.
Find out more about technology safety:
Create an escape plan
Establish a plan to use if circumstances change or if the violence gets worse. Different might be needed for different circumstances.
For example, a temporary plan might be needed if an abuser's violence gets worse at a certain time of year, or if there has been a recent stressor that might trigger violence. This might mean making some temporary changes like staying with a friend or relative, taking a holiday, asking them to leave the home temporarily, or engaging a helping professional. A different plan might be needed for leaving urgently at short notice.
Things to include might be:
- A safe person to contact who can assist when needed (eg. someone to contact the school or pick up the kids, someone who might notify police or offer accommodation);
- Identifying the safest room in the home;
- Identifying places to go in an emergency (this might be a friend or relative, a women's accommodation service or a local hospital);
- Maintaining contact lists of safe people;S
- Keeping a separate savings account or cash for emergencies.
Violence against women and children is unfortunately something the police deal with every day. The police respond to domestic and family violence more than any other crime in NSW.
Many people have fears about talking to the police. They may hold fears that they won't be believed, that they will be seen as a 'victim' and not as an individual, that they don't want to get their loved one in trouble, or that they don't feel able to go through legal or court processes. They may fear the unknown, or fear that their children might be taken away from them.
Many people who are experiencing violence have had contact with police because of their own difficulties, and are worried the police won't take them seriously because of other aspects of their life like mental health issues, drug or alcohol use, criminal activity or sex work.
Apprehended violence orders
Options in the criminal justice system include criminal charges as well as Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders (ADVOs). ADVOs can be applied for by police or directly requested in court.
It could be helpful to speak to a specialist police officer, called a Domestic Violence Liaison Officer at any police station. These officers can provide advice and support about engaging police and what to expect. They can also continue to provide support for the person experiencing the violence and the officer managing the case if needed.
There are many impartial, free and confidential legal services available to people experiencing violence who need to consider their options. Some of these services are set up for use in the criminal justice system, and others in the family court.
The NSW Police website has more information about the police's role in responding and preventing domestic and family violence.
The Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service (WDVCAS) can give more information about options for seeking confidential, free and impartial legal advice. Another service offering free legal advice is Women's Legal Service NSW.
Legal Aid operate a service called the Family Advocacy and Support Service (FASS) who provide assistance to people who have experienced domestic and family violence and who need advice regarding family law matters such as child care arrangements and legal separation. Information is available on the FASS and Legal Aid websites.
Safety plans after ending relationships
Those who have ended violent relationships often continue to experience violence and harassment and it might still be necessary to have an ongoing safety plan.
For some, contact must continue due to family custody orders, and for others it might be that the harassment and violence continues regardless of the relationship's ending being final.
When an ex- partner continues to use violence and harassment after the end of a relationship, it can be particularly dangerous. It is a good idea to inform police and to report any instances of harassment and/ or violence.
Safety plans at this stage might include any and all of the above options, with additional changes of phone number, email and other contacts. After the end of a relationship a safety plan might involve changing all passwords and ensuring no access to any accounts remains available.
Changes to locks on doors and cars may be necessary, along with windows and other access points. It might be advisable to notify a workplace that there is ongoing violence, and to have a plan in place should the offender visit or contact work. It might also be necessary to change routines or routes travelled regularly.
Staying at home
A safety plan does not necessarily mean leaving home.
In NSW, the law recognises that no one should have to leave their home because someone else is making them or their children unsafe.
An ADVO might be able to prevent the person using violence from returning to the home and other services might be able to make the home safer.
Staying Home Leaving Violence services can help with safety planning and make safety upgrades to homes, such as changes to locks and windows, CCTV, panic alarms and other options. For further information about safety planning resources, see the links below.
NSW law also recognises that victims of domestic and family violence should not be penalized for leaving a rental home because of violence.
Read more: rights of rental property tenants experiencing violence.
Find a local support service
There are many support services that can assist with preparing a safety plan.
Talk to us at 1800 FULL STOP (1800 385 578).
Our counsellors can help you talk through your safety planning and find the plan that's right for you.