Domestic Violence escape & safety plan
How to minimise risk when escaping from DV
Mark Gallagher | Relationship Therapist and Psychotherapist | 04 September 2014
Keep your safety plan a secret from the abuser
Caseworkers for domestic violence services recommend that women (or men) in abusive relationships develop a safety plan if they are still living with an abuser and are planning to leave, or if they have already done so. Keep your safety plan a secret from the abuser. The plan should cover all areas of your life where the potential for abuse exists – home, work, school & in transit.
Reasons to Leave
Let’s summarise the good reasons to leave an abusive relationship.
- Most abusers choose not to change. Even if they are living on easy street with great jobs & great partners, abusers still choose to abuse (so don’t wait & kid yourself that he will change. He chooses to make everything a drama. The drama was never yours).
- It’s impossible to change a toad into prince charming.
- You deserve to have a peaceful and happy life. Get your life back by leaving.
- You have a duty to your children to keep them safe.
- You have a duty to your children to model a good family home-life. This can’t happen in a toxic relationship.
- Children learn from our actions. Do you want your son to learn his father’s abusive habits? By staying you are teaching your daughter that abusive men are the ones to partner with.
- If you don’t advocate for your children’s rights – who will?
Expect an increase in the abuser’s attempts to intimidate and control you once the abuser finds out you have finished the relationship or have left the house, or if the abuser guesses you are planning to do so. If the abuse has usually been verbal, the abuser may resort to pushing and shoving, etc, to try to control and stop you.
- Make a list of names & numbers: Support people like: friends, neighbours, relatives, community centre and health centre, Telephone help-lines, Domestic Violence Service, Women’s Refuge. Memorise important numbers. Get your support person’s permission to come/stay with them at night/ in an emergency.
- Change the locks: on your house (if you have separated and your partner has a key).
- Extra keys: Give the extra set of your house and car keys to your support person/neighbour. Park your car where the abuser will not look for it.
- Relocate: maybe you need to relocate to a residence the abuser does not know.
- Neighbour alarm: give your neighbour permission to call the police if they hear abuse or if they see the abuser near you after you have obtained a Protection Order (DVO).
- Danger Signals: agree on a password with your support person/your child that indicates you are in danger and that they should call the police. For example: flicking your lights on and off or knocking on the common wall means danger.
- Phone safety: have a phone that the abuser cannot call or text, and cannot track your calls. This might mean changing the number and keep it unlisted.
- Emergency money: put aside some money for your escape day. Set up a new bank account/credit card that the abuser cannot get to. Have all bank mail sent to your support person.
- Document bag: have all important documents/photos/jewellery in a travel bag ready to go. Or have these with your support person.
- Protect your children: If you have not left yet then tell your children the barest minimum. When you have left explain to your children what is happening. Keep your explanation brief and simple. Even small children are affected by abuse and need to know what’s going on and what they should do if the abuse starts. If the protection order covers the children then you need to inform your babysitter, schools, medical facilities and your child’s friend’s parents that the child should not leave with the abuser.
- Escape bags: have travel bags ready and hidden. Kit them full for you and your children; clothes, toiletries, snack food, water, medicine and favourite teddy bear.
- Escape Day: In violent partnerships its best just to escape. Violence includes: breaking your belongings, threatening to hurt you, the kids, the pets, etc., slamming doors, punching walls, holding you down, pushing, squeezing your neck, as well as punching you, etc..
Before you escape, if possible, set your safety plan up well ahead of your escape day. Leave behind a note, email or text for the abuser that clearly and simply states that you have chosen to end the relationship. Don’t explain or justify your decision. State that all contact from now on will be in writing via your contact person or lawyer.
- Announcement Day: Sometimes in verbally abusive relationships (where physical violence is unlikely) clients want to tell the abuser the relationship is over in the company of a caseworker or marriage counsellor. Do so only after you have a safety plan set up. Do not reply to any calls or abusive texts. If the abuser rings you hang up immediately.Remember you are no longer in a relationship with this person so stop all relating. Have a support person with you on your return home. (Better still, stay at your support person’s house for a night or two.) Be prepared to involve the police if the abuse escalates outside your house, workplace or school. Ask for a protection order or allow the police to set one up if this arises. (Protection orders can be written with different levels of restrictions on the abuser. Levels start with; be civil in the same home – through to – keep 100 metres away at all times and do not contact the protected person/s)
- Firm boundaries: even with a verbal abuser it is best to have clearly stated boundaries. Have the child change-over set up on neutral ground, e.g. McDonald’s car park. Never let the abuser past the front door of your house. Even better, insist the abuser wait in their car for the child to come out of your house.
- Keep your power by keeping silent. In any relationship, even ex-partnerships, the noisy person is the one with the least power. Remember you are no longer in a relationship with this person so stop all relating (School bullies and workplace bullies are the same here). No responding at all, no texting, no calls, no explaining why. Don’t take the bait. Staying silent means you keep your power.
- Access change-overs. Child contact with each parent is usually best for the child’s development. In most cases you should encourage it and welcome the time off. Sometimes a child does not want to visit with the other parent. At change-over, or child access, you are only required to bring the child to the change-over location. Then you are expected to support the access by inviting the child to get into the other parent’s car. Make sure the other parent sees you supporting the change-over.
Helpful Book: Joanna V. Hunter. 2010. But He’ll Change: End the thinking that keeps you in an abusive relationship. Minnesota. US. Hazelden.
Grad Dip Psych, B Soc Sc, Dip Coun, Cert Couple Coun, Cert Mediation
Relationship Therapist and Psychotherapist, North Lakes, Queensland.
Mark specialises in family therapy and couples counselling. With 30 years experience he offers a high standard of service. Couples and family counselling is a specialised field. Not many counsellors and psychologists are formally trained in couples counselling. And even fewer of those trained are male counsellors. Mark was trained in couples counselling 20 years ago and currently use the latest developments in the field.
How to contact Mark:
Phone: 0434 611 494
Mark is also listed on The Divorce and Family Lawyers Directory here
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