Experiencing Emotional Trauma Caused by Domestic Abuse? Components of a Safety Plan & Why You Need One
The terms “domestic violence” and “emotional abuse” refer to destructive behaviors that are used by one person in a relationship to control another person. For the purposes of this article, I will use the phrase “domestic abuse” to encompass both.Domestic abuse can take many forms, including but not limited to physical, sexual, emotional, financial, and spiritual abuse. The abuse may occur once in a while, frequently, or all the time. Any type of domestic relationship can become abusive. Even though abuse may have never crossed over into physical violence before, it can become violent at any time. Therefore, if you and any children are living with an abusive partner, you are in need of a safety plan.
What is a Safety Plan for Domestic Abuse?
A safety plan is a well thought-out preparation for escaping an abusive partner, either in a moment of danger or at a pre-determined time in the future.
Many times, victims of domestic abuse are ambivalent about leaving their partners. Victims may leave and return to their abusers over and over. No matter where you are in the decision-making process, having a safety plan is smart. Having a safety plan does not commit you to leaving, but it does increase the likelihood that you and any children will escape successfully and have resources, should the day come when you simply must get out.
Start With the “Go-Bag” Your Go-Bag is absolutely essential for the sudden, unplanned bolt from a bad situation, but is useful also for the more planned-out breakaway. Here are items that should be included in your Go-Bag:
- Extra set of house and car keys
- Change of clothes for you and any children
- Jacket, hat, and gloves for chilly weather
- Several days’ worth of medications
- Over-the-counter pain reliever
- Over-the-counter sleep aid such as Tylenol PM
- Non-perishable snacks such as dried fruits, trail mix, and granola bars
- Blanket, 2-3 diapers, travel wipes, and small toys if you have a young child
- Cash and a credit card or photocopy of one
- Address book
- Important phone numbers, including for crisis lines, a local shelter, family, and friends.
- Account numbers, usernames, and passwords
- Photocopies or put copies on a thumb drive of important documents, such as your driver’s license, school ID, ATM & credit cards, visa, work permit or green card, social security card and birth certificates for you and any children, divorce or separation papers, restraining or protection orders, custody paperwork, car registration, lease, rental agreement or house deed, and medical records. It will be important to have these copies should you be separated from the originals. Seal these in an unmarked large manila envelope.
Ideally, your Go-Bag should be stored at a neighbor’s house or a secure location that you can get to easily on foot. This will be critical in the event that, without notice, you wind up separated from your purse, phone, and/or car keys. Think about who you might be able to confide in and trust that would be willing to store your Go-Bag for you. Who could be your first point of contact if ever you are prevented from re-entering your home (i.e. locked out or barricaded), or you flee suddenly during an altercation with your abusive partner?
Plan Escape Routes
Maybe you admit your situation is chaotic, maybe even dangerous, but you can’t seem to make up your mind whether to leave. This article isn’t about persuading you one way or another, but it is about readiness and helping you plan for safety.
Plan routes of escape from every room in the house or apartment. If you have children, practice with them also. When arguments occur, attempt to move to those areas that are easiest to get out of the house from and where there are no weapons. If your partner becomes violent or even just threatening or scary, you need to have thought ahead of time about how to get out of the building successfully.
In addition, if you have children, teach them how to get help. Instruct them not to get involved in the violence between you and the abuser. Come up with a signal that indicates they should leave the home immediately, out of harm’s way. Designate which neighbors they can go to and teach them how to dial 911. Let them know the best thing they can do is to be safe, not to protect you.
Document the Abuse
If your partner has ever physically abused you, take pictures of your injuries no matter how slight and put them in your Go-Bag. Create a journal documenting violent or abusive incidents, including dates, events, and threats made. Keep records of domestic violence calls to police and any medical records of visits to the doctor or ER.
Put treasured photos, keepsakes, sentimental items, and other valuables into storage or keep at a family member’s or friend’s house.
Victims of domestic abuse are often very adept at concealing injuries and signs of emotional trauma. People around them may have no clue or be unable to put their finger on what is wrong. Strongly consider letting trusted friends and neighbors know about the abuse and develop a plan and signal for when you need help.
Other Readiness Strategies
Make a habit of backing the car into the driveway and keeping the gas tank full.
Try to have a phone accessible at all times. Have the number for a local shelter in your phone and in your wallet. Know where the nearest public pay phone is. If you ever feel in danger, call 911.
Get into the habit of keeping your purse, keys, and phone, when not in use, near the exit you would most likely take in the heat of an abusive episode.
Remember, Domestic Abuse Can Escalate Without Warning!
Emotional abuse may not leave bodily wounds, but it damages the soul. It tends to increase in severity over time and can rocket to physical assault in the blink of an eye. Be wise! Any abusive person should be considered potentially dangerous to your health and physical safety.
How Can Christian Counseling Help You Stay Safe?
Being mistreated by an intimate partner is emotionally traumatizing. Victims often report feeling rattled and have difficulty making decisions. In addition to helping you create your own personalized safety plan, a Christian counselor can provide a safe and confidential space to talk about what is happening without pressure to do something about it. If and when you are ready for change, your counselor will be an important part of your support system.
“What’s in My Bag?” courtesy of Rooey202, Flickr Creative Commons; “Run,” courtesy of Georgie Pauwels, Flickr Creative Commons