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Leaving Abuse: The Importance of a Safety Plan

Woman looking out train windowThis post was originally published on the Interval House blog.

As soon as a woman calls Interval House asking for a space, safety planning begins. Being on the other end of the phone, it’s always heartbreaking to hear the stories. But the best way to help a woman who is fleeing a violent home is to equip her with the tools she needs to get herself and her kids to safety.

Timing is a very important consideration when preparing to leave. If there is time to plan (some women call months before leaving an abuser), it’s a good idea to keep the essentials hidden away including important paperwork she needs for things like custody and immigration. If a woman plans to leave right away, she’ll have to plan how to get safely to Interval House. Sometimes that’s by taxi or asking for a police escort, but it’s also about planning to grab the things she will need. Certain objects take on greater meaning when lives are in flux.

When children arrive at the shelter, their lives have been turned upside down overnight. Comfort objects suddenly mean everything to them. Right away they will receive a little package that includes a quilt that has come from a caring Interval House donor. And there is always at least one other special item, something Mom brought from home, an object that takes on Super Powers. It may not change the devastating circumstances, but it does remind children that feelings of calm, comfort and safety are possible.

And that is the key to moving forward.

The Safety Plan Overview

Everyone’s safety plan will look different and Interval House can help women create a plan that works for them. If you are creating a plan for yourself or helping a friend, here are four important things to consider:

1) Moment

  • Figure out when would be the best time to leave.
  • Leave when there is enough time and space, while an abuser is out of the house.
  • Pack the essentials (keys, ID, cheque book, immigration papers) and make sure to collect a few items that bring comfort to the children
  • Have an escape route planned for each floor of the building

2) Children

  • Teach children “a secret safe word” and how to call for help.
  • Children should memorize phone numbers and safe routes they can take if they ever need it.
  • Children must understand that whatever violence they have witnessed is wrong; this is not how you should ever be treated
  • Let the school know about the situation. Tell them you will contact them once the children are settled in the new shelter.
  • Change schools immediately.

3) Job

  • Tell the boss, co-worker or HR about the situation.
  • Block unwanted emails.
  • Use voicemail to screen all calls.
  • Let someone else know when you are leaving work or always walk with someone to your car, bus, subway.

4) Technology

  • Turn off location services on the cell phone
  • Never use the check-in option if you are logged into Facebook or Twitter
  • Never Tweet about a location where you are.
  • Remember that computers can be tracked using their IP address.

Packing Checklist

What a woman must pack when she’s getting ready to leave an abuser:

  • Essential clothing
  • Items that will be of comfort to the children
  • Extra set of keys for the apartment, house or vehicle
  • Important documents: ID, passport, SIN card, birth certificate, health cards, children’s immunization records, rental leases
  • Money, bank books, cheque books, credit cards, mortgage or loan papers
  • Divorce and custody papers

Safety Planning Checklist

There are several safety steps a woman needs to take before leaving:

  • Phone numbers: landlord, neighbour or friend to call in case of emergency
  • Have an escape route: know which exit doors to take, which windows would work
  • Change to a new dentist and other professional service providers where an ex-partner might be able to track her down.
  • Teach children how to call for emergencies
  • Teach children a code word that means mommy is in danger, call the police.
  • Teach children about not sharing clues about where they live.
  • Turn off cell phone location services; turn off the check-in function on Facebook.

A Child’s Point of View

“When mommy brought me here, I brought my favourite PJs. The arms and the legs are a bit short but I love them –they are my favourite PJs in the whole wide world. I will never stop wearing them because they make me think of when we lived at my old house.”

“I don’t know why everybody keeps asking if I want to put my rabbit in the washing machine. I know he stinks a bit but I like his smell. I got him when I was a baby so he’s been with me for, like forever. My favourite thing to do is rub the super soft part of his ear. It makes me so happy.”

“I’m going to be an artist when I grow up. That’s why I always bring my markers and pencils with me in my special pink case. I even bring it to art group. I got a new art kit for Christmas last year but I still keep my old Barbie one because I love it.”


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