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Safety Planning

Safety While Living with an Abuser

Updated: 
Updated: August 2, 2023

No one deserves to be abused. Our hope is that if you are being abused, you will be able to find a way to safely get out of the abusive relationship. If you’re at risk of being seriously injured, please consider contacting a local domestic violence organization that could help support you during this time. If you’re unable to leave the abusive relationship, please consider the following tips to help try to keep you and your children safe until the time comes when you are able to leave.

Following these suggestions can’t guarantee your safety, but it could help make you safer. 

Before violence happens
During a violent episode
After a violent episode is over

Before violence happens

Prepare yourself 

  • Practice different ways to get out of your house safely. If you have children, practice with them as well.
  • Knowing basic self-defense and disengagement techniques can help you avoid violence and feel more confident in a violent situation. Practice what you will do and say if your partner finds out that you are planning to leave.
  • If you can, always have a phone where you know you can get to it. Know the numbers to call for help such as 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). It might also be useful to have a local domestic violence shelter’s number handy.
  • Let friends and neighbors who you trust know what is going on in your home. Make a plan with them so that they know when you need help and so they know what to do, such as calling the police or banging on your door. Make up a signal with a trusted neighbor, like flashing the lights on and off or hanging something out the window, which will alert him/her that you need help.
  • Keep a copy of important papers with you or in your car, such as your and your children’s birth certificates, passports, immigration papers, and Social Security cards, in case you have to leave in a hurry.
  • If you can, call a domestic violence hotline from time to time to discuss your options and to talk to someone who understands you, even if you feel that you are not ready to leave. One number you can call is the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). 
  • Think of several reasons for leaving the house at different times of the day or night that the abuser will believe, in case you feel that the violence is about to erupt and you need an excuse to get out.
  • The abuser may have patterns to his/her abuse. Try to be aware of any signs that show s/he is about to become violent so that you can assess how dangerous the situation may be for you and your children.

Prepare your surroundings  

  • Be aware of anything the abuser can use as a weapon. If you can, try and keep any sharp or heavy objects that s/he may use to hurt you, like a hammer or an ice pick, out of the way.
  • Know where guns, knives, and other weapons are. If you can, lock them up or make them as hard to get to as you can.
  • Figure out where the “safer places” are in your home – the places where there aren’t weapons within arm’s reach. If it looks like the abuser is about to hurt you, try to get to a safer place. Stay out of the kitchen, garage, workshop or other room where items that can be used as weapons are kept. 
  • Try not to wear scarves or long jewelry as these could be used for strangulation.
  • Make a habit of backing the car into the driveway so you can quickly pull out, and having a full tank of gas. Keep your car keys in the same place so you can easily grab them.

Prepare your children 

  • Create a plan with your children for when violence happens. Tell them not to get involved if the abuser is hurting you since that may get them hurt. Decide on a code word to let them know that they should leave the house and get help. 
  • If your children are too young to leave the house or if the abuser won’t let them leave the house safely, figure out with them where would be a safe place for them to go within the house where they can call for help, such as a room with a lock and a phone. 
  • Make sure they know that their first priority is to stay safe, not to physically protect you.
  • You can tell your children that violence is never right, even when someone they love is being violent. You can reinforce that what’s happening isn’t their fault or your fault and that when anyone is being violent, it is important to keep safe.

During a violent episode

  • Trust yourself. If you feel like the violence is escalating, try to remove yourself and your children from the situation if you can.
  • Try to maintain distance from the abuser and avoid getting backed up against a wall. It might be useful to keep something between you and the abuser, like a table.
  • If the abuser does start to harm you, don’t run to where the children are; the abuser may hurt them too.
  • If there’s no way to escape the violence at that moment, make yourself a small target. Dive into a corner and curl up into a ball. Protect your face and put your arms around each side of your head, wrapping your fingers together.

After a violent episode is over

Once you feel it’s safe to do so, consider: 

  • seeking medical attention for you and your children, if needed, and saving any documentation provided as part of your treatment; 
  • calling the police if it’s safe for you to do so;
  • making a police report or filing for a restraining order if you think this could be useful in your specific situation;
  • contacting a local domestic violence organization to seek support, shelter, counseling or other services. For a list of domestic violence organizations and shelters, go to our Advocates and Shelters page; and
  • taking pictures and other evidence of any injuries, destroyed property or clothing, etc., and saving it safely where the abuser can’t find it.