Domestic violence is a terrifying reality for too many. Whether you are living and surviving in a violent relationship, or ‘enough is enough’ and you’re planning to leave, or you have already made the incredibly brave step and left the relationship, further harm is an ever-present threat. The focus must be how to keep yourself safe and, for some, alive.
Legally, the best form of protection that the law offers victims of domestic violence is a Protection Order. Here at Gaze Burt, we can help you obtain this legal protection. However, in all honesty, although a Protection Order is important, it is not enough on its own. The reality is that too many people have been killed by their violent partners and ex-partners, even when protection orders have been in place.
The best protection to keep you safe and alive is a Safety Plan. This is a plan you put in place ahead of time, to get you to safety if you find yourself in danger of harm. Without it, if the threat is coming for you, you will be caught trying to work out what to do while terrified about what is happening.
A Safety Plan for someone who is still in a violent relationship is different from a Safety Plan for someone who has left. Below are some helpful tips for preparing a Safety Plan for both situations. We also highly recommend reviewing the Safer Homes Booklet that Shine has produced. It can be found on their website 2shine.org.nz.
Safety plan within a violent relationship
Achieving safety isn’t always easy or straightforward when you are in a violent relationship. For many people experiencing domestic violence within a relationship, achieving safety can require giving up other important aspects of wellbeing. For some, it might be that you need to sacrifice social connectedness and remain separated from family and friends, because socialising results in violence: staying away may reduce the violence and keep you safe in the short term. Achieving safety may require you to give up your home, your belongings, and items you hold dear.
Having a Safety Plan while remaining in a relationship means preparing for the violence. What can you do to avoid serious injury to yourself and your children? Where can you go in your house? Some things to consider:
- Ideally, you should go to a room with two exits, i.e., a door and a window that you can exit from, rather than two doors.
- Can the doors and windows be locked?
- Can you be seen or heard from outside? This is ideal if you need to call for help.
- The kitchen, bathroom and garage contain things that can be used as weapons. Stay away from these rooms, and from stairs.
- A good idea is to have a spare mobile phone hidden in this room so you can call for help.
- Find a trusted neighbour and make them aware of what is going on so they can call police if they hear that you need help. Or, have a code or signal with someone you trust who lives close by, so that if they see your signal, they know to call for help. This signal could be a certain light being on, a drawn curtain, a text with an unusual emoji.
- If you need to, and can escape the house, prepare in advance where you will run to – friends/family nearby, a neighbour.
- Think about what essentials (cash/cards, keys, medication, important papers) you will need if you need to escape. Can you safely hide them in the allocated safety room? Can you leave a prepared bag with someone you can trust, and collect it from them when you need it?
- If you need to leave to save your life, then leave fast and take nothing. Go to the safest place you can and call for help.
Safety plan after separation
Leaving a relationship does not always mean the threat is over. A violent ex may still wish to harm if you if they can find you.
- A way to avoid them finding you is to stay in a place they would not expect to find you. If that isn’t possible, then ensure they do not have easy access, i.e., ensure doors and windows are closed and locked and, if they have access to keys, then change the locks.
- Avoid going to places that are familiar and change your routine, including the travel routes you take and the times you do things.
- Safety at work can be ensured by any number of the following:
- Inform your employer and any trusted colleagues of the situation.
- Have your employer issue a trespass notice to your violent ex-partner.
- Ask your employer to provide you with a carpark near the entrance where it is safe.
- Ask if you can have flexible work hours.
- Ask a colleague to escort you to and from your car.
- Change your work location.
- For security at home, if you can, improve your home security with extra locks, window stays, security screens, motion activated lighting, a monitored alarm, or outdoor cameras so you can see someone approaching the property.
- Tell your new neighbours that you are separated from your ex, and why. Give them a description of your ex and their vehicle details so if they see them, they can contact the police.
- Have an escape plan out of your new accommodation. If your ex does locate you and gains entry, you will know ahead of time how you can escape and where you can go for safety.
These suggestions are just a start. There are many incredible organisations who can further assist preparing Safety Plans including:
Shine – 0508 744 633
Women’s Refuge – 0800 733 843
Family Violence information Line – 0800 456 450.
And if we can assist you, please do not hesitate to contact us.