Safety Planning

Last updated 2019

Women are usually the best judges of the dangers their abusers pose to them. An advocate can help a victim assess the risk the abuser poses to her and develop a practical plan to keep herself safe. While evaluating risks and creating safety plans can help a woman, safety planning is no guarantee that she will not be injured.

A safety plan is a plan a woman makes in which she identifies ways she can protect herself during a violent incident and reduce the risk of serious harm. Safety planning requires a holistic conception of safety: “a victim who is no longer hit by a partner but has no way to feed her children or pay rent is not safe. Nor is she safe if she experiences debilitating effects of trauma or lives in social isolation.”[1] With this broad view of what makes a victim safe, safety plans must be comprehensive. This means that while plans will discuss violence, they will not be focused entirely on violence. The Domestic Violence Resource Center provides a sample set of measures one can take during safety planning during an argument, when preparing to leave, within the home, under a restraining order, in the workplace, in public, with emotional health, and online.

The task of the advocate is to help the woman evaluate these options and, based on this evaluation, create a safety strategy or plan. The woman will follow the plan if she finds herself in immediate danger or if she must leave her home to preserve her safety. When counseling a woman on the issue of safety, an advocate must discuss whether the woman plans to stay in her home or plans to leave her abuser. If the woman wishes to stay in her home, she should plan to protect herself in the case of an incident to avoid injury or death. A woman must make other arrangements if she plans to leave. Does she have money? Is there a safe place she can stay? Has she considered that her husband may look for her? An advocate must discuss different approaches with a victim because she may change her mind before fully implementing any safety plan. She must also be prepared to change and revise her plan if something does not work. The Ohio Domestic Violence Network offers the following key considerations for advocates assisting in the creation of a safety plan:

  1. The survivor is the best expert of her experience.
  2. Always seek to build a partnership assisting her in her safety plan.
  3. Remember safety planning is fluid and changes over time as circumstances change.
  4. Consider the information she brings to the table:
    • Risks she faces.
    • Information about the partner.
    • What has helped her in the past?
    • What hasn’t helped?
    • What she is not willing or able to do.
    • What are her resources?
    • What are her coping mechanisms
    • What are her children’s recourses and coping mechanisms?[2]

Safety plans should be prepared for a number of different situations in which battered women may find themselves. Those situations include during a violent incident, preparing to leave, after leaving, and at her place of employment. Each of these situations is associated with different risks and measures. For example, safety planning at the workplace may involve informing key personnel that she has left the relationship, securing help in screening calls at work, commuting to work with another person, changing routes used to travel to work, and altering the employee’s work schedule or worksite location. The New York Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence provides guidelines on workplace safety planning in domestic violence situations. Advocates can help women assess the risks to their safety and autonomy in each of these contexts, generate options, and evaluate those options. Evaluating options includes anticipating the consequences of each action and determining which option best increases safety and autonomy. Finally, safety planning should be done on an ongoing basis.

There are many safety plans available that may be customized to the specific context where the victim is located. Links to sample safety plans are below:

[1] Jill Davies & Eleanor Lyon, Domestic Violence Advocacy: Complex Lives/Difficult Choices 6 (2014).

[2] Sonia D. Ferencik & Rachel Ramirez-Hammond, Ohio Domestic Violence Network, Trauma-Informed Care: Best Practices and Protocols for Ohio’s Domestic Violence Programs 102 (2013).