Safety Planning

Safety planning is important for persons who have experienced violence or who are at risk of violence. Safety planning is a process in which a person and a trusted helper work together to ensure their safety. It is recommended even if the person has sought some form of protection through the justice system.

In this tool we will look at ways to help people be safer and prepare in advance for the possibility of (further) violence. There is also a Safety Planning Tool that can be filled out by the individual experiencing violence and kept in a safe place. We conclude with suggestions for how helpers can protect themselves in situations of risk or danger.

Five strategies for safety planning

Perpetrators often isolate their victims and do not allow them to make their own decisions. Safety planning restores power and control to the individual as they make decisions about how to enhance their own safety. A good safety planning process provides information and an array of options to choose from.

Know the status of the relationship between the individual and the person who is causing harm or making threats. The individual may:

  • want to stay with the other person;
  • be in the process of leaving or going back to the other person; or
  • have already ended the relationship.

In each of the previous situations, the following five strategies for safety planning are crucial: prevention, protection, notification, referral and emotional support.

Strategy Description Examples

1. Prevention

Preventing future violence
  • Going to a shelter.
  • Moving to another residence.
  • Getting a peace bond.
  • Hiding or disarming weapons.
  • Changing schedules and routes to avoid being found.

2. Protection

Looking at ways the person can protect themselves during a violent incident
  • Having an escape route.
  • Having the person seek shelter in a room where a door can be locked from inside, with a working phone available.

3. Notification

Arranging ways to get help in a crisis
  • Cell phone.
  • Emergency numbers on hand.
  • Life-lines (personal security devices).
  • Security system.
  • Waving a towel in a window.
  • Having secret code words with trusted family, neighbours or friends.

4. Referral

Finding services that can help
  • Regional Health Authority.
  • Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre.
  • Mental Health Crisis Line.
  • Justice system.
  • Victim Services.
  • Transition houses/shelters.
  • Faith or spiritual community.

5. Emotional support

Finding emotional support and ways to become less isolated
  • Exercise/yoga group.
  • Hobby, art, music classes.
  • Trusted friends and family.
  • Peer support; support groups.
  • Community groups.

What You Can Do as a Helper

A good safety plan is victim-driven and victim-centered. It is based on the goals of the individual who is experiencing violence, and not the helper’s opinions. As a helper, you can:

  • Build rapport and help the person feel safe through active listening.
  • Learn what the person fears about the perpetrator and what might happen if harmful actions or threats are carried out.
  • Ask what the person wants to do and why. Learning about the motivation behind the person’s decisions can help you understand her or his goals. You may be able to suggest other options for reaching the same goal.
  • Brainstorm creative options and ideas together.

What NOT to Do as a Helper

  • Tell the person what to do (“I think you should live with your son.”)
  • Simply refer the person to local agencies (“Here’s a list of agencies you can call. Let me know how it goes.”)
  • Impose your cultural, spiritual or generational values that may impact the person’s choices. (“I think your only choice is to divorce him.”)
  • Talk to the perpetrator on your own.
  • Recommend strategies that could increase risk for the person (such as recommending the purchase of a gun or other weapon; attending couples counselling; saying “just stand up to him”.)
  • Blame the person if she or he does not follow the safety plan and experiences further violence.

Checklist for Creating Safety Plans

Safety planning involves problem-solving in advance. This helps a person know what to do, both during and after a crisis situation. Below is a list of questions to consider and discuss with the person when preparing a safety plan.1

  • What experience has the person had with safety planning and protection strategies? Which strategies worked? Which were ineffective?
  • How has the perpetrator behaved in the past? Is the perpetrator likely to re-offend?
  • Does the perpetrator have access to weapons? Have weapons been used in the past?
  • Is there a peace bond or protection order in effect? If so, what is the status?
  • Where does the person keep important phone numbers, personal documents, photographs, bank books?
  • What/who are the person’s community supports?
  • Does the person have information on counselling and other therapeutic or support services?
  • Is there a process to review and update the safety plan on a regular basis?
  • Has the person practiced giving precise information on where she or he is and if there is danger?
  • What are the person’s cultural or religious values about independence and the right to unrestricted movement?
  • Is the person willing to move to a safe place (shelter or transition house)?
  • What are the person’s experiences with the justice system and other service providers?
  • What is the person’s first language and country of origin? Is language a potential barrier to getting help?
  • What is the person’s legal status (refugee, landed immigrant)?
  • What is the person’s physical and health status?
  • If the person is living with a disability, are there physical barriers in the person’s environment that may prevent a safe exit or access to safety?
  • What challenges might affect the person’s safety or ability to follow through with a safety plan? This could include things such as substance abuse, mental health issues, or dementia.
  • Is the person comfortable with the safety plan and willing to live life within its constraints, at least in the short term?
  • Is the person aware of other potential risks, such as:
    • Cyber-stalking on the internet?
    • Identity theft (credit cards, passport, other ID)?
    • Seeking help from people or organizations that have little experience with violence?

Some Suggestions for Advance Safety Planning

  • Do not discuss any part of your safety plan with the perpetrator.
  • Avoid areas where weapons are in easy reach, such as in the kitchen or garage.
  • Pack a change of clothes, house and car keys, money and important papers. Hide them in a safe place that is easily accessed (for example, in a grocery bag near the front door, or with a neighbour or friend).
  • Open a savings or chequing account in your own name to increase your independence. If possible, open your account at a different bank than the one used by the perpetrator.
  • Keep a two-to-three-day supply of medication on hand at all times.

SAFETY PLANNING TOOL: My Personal Safety Plan

Instructions: Complete the following chart with information to help you stay safe. Keep copies of both documents in a safe place.

The following steps are my plan for preparing to protect myself in case of further violence. I do not have control over the other person’s violence. I do have a choice as to how I respond and get to safety. I will decide for myself if and when I tell others that I have been harmed, or am still at risk. Friends, family and other helpers can help protect me, if they know what is happening and what to do.

  • I will leave money, a change of clothes, important papers, and an extra set of keys with this person (enter name and phone number):
  • I will keep my purse or wallet, emergency cash and medications hidden in this safe place so that I can leave quickly:
  • I will keep my cell phone, phone calling card or coins for pay phones with me at all times. I will call any of the following people for help if I sense I am in danger (enter names and phone numbers below):
    • Police:
    • Friend:
    • Relative:
    • Neighbour:
    • Co-worker:
    • Therapist/counsellor:
    • Shelter:
    • Other:

    I realize that if I use my cell phone, and the bill goes to my home, it may show the phone numbers I called after I left. To keep my calls confidential, I may purchase and use a telephone calling card instead of my cell phone.

  • If I sense danger, I will use the following “code word” or signal (i.e., flashing porch light, knocking on wall of apartment) to tell my family, helpers or friends to call the police:
  • When I sense a fight coming on, I will avoid areas such as the kitchen or garage where weapons are within reach. I will try to move to the following place:
  • If I sense danger, I will grab the travel bag I prepared, if it is safe enough to do so. I will leave at once, and go to (for example: a friend, neighbour or the lobby of the apartment building):
  • I will use my judgment and intuition. If the situation is very serious, I can give the perpetrator what she or he wants. I have to protect myself until I am out of danger.
  • If I decide to leave, I have a plan. I will practice getting out safely. If possible, I will move to a room with an exit. I can use the following doors, windows, elevators, stairwells or fire escapes to get out quickly and safely:
  • If I have a disability, and my abuser is also my caregiver, I will set up an emergency care plan. I will contact the following people to plan for an emergency care provider or a shelter that can accommodate my disability:

    Emergency care provider:

    Accessible shelter:

  • When I have to talk in person with the perpetrator who has hurt me, I can:
  • When I talk on the phone to the person who has hurt me, I can:
  • When leaving work/volunteer site/social activities, I can:
  • If problems occur when walking, riding or driving home, I can:
  • I feel safe telling these people about my situation:
  • I can take part in workshops or a support group for victims of violence. In my community, these are the resources that are available and their phone numbers are:
  • If I have pets and have to leave quickly, I can leave my pet(s) at this place, at least for the short term (name, phone number):
  • I will sit down and review this plan every [week/month/year] in order to plan the safest way to leave.
  • This person (name, phone number) has agreed to help me review this plan:
  • In an emergency, I will ask trusted friends/family members to call 911 or police at the following number:

Important Items to Keep in a Safe Place if the Need to Leave Arises

  • Bank books;
  • Bank cards (credit cards, debit cards);
  • Cheque books;
  • Credit card numbers;
  • Birth certificate;
  • Passport;
  • Driver’s license and car registration;
  • Social Insurance Number;
  • Health card;
  • Medications;
  • List of medications;
  • Medical records;
  • Lease/mortgage documents/house deed;
  • House insurance;
  • Keys to house, car, office;
  • Keys to mail box and safety deposit boxes;
  • Immigration papers;
  • Landed immigrant documents including work permits;
  • Divorce documents;
  • Personal address book; and
  • Items of special or sentimental value.

Planning for Your Own Safety if You Work with or Care for a Person Experiencing Violence

Everyone who cares for others has the right to feel and be safe. However, your safety may be at risk in the presence of:

  • People with a history of violent or unpredictable behaviour;
  • Firearms or other weapons; and
  • Dangerous animals such as guard dogs.

The guidelines below may help in making decisions about visiting a person who may experience violence at their home.

Ahead of time:

  • Call ahead to assess the situation. Do not enter the home if you suspect or sense danger, either objectively (you receive a report of violence, or hear or witness it occurring) or intuitively (you “just have a feeling”);
  • Have a cell phone with you, especially if the person has no phone;
  • Let someone know where you will be. You may want that person to call you and confirm your safety while you are at the person’s home;
  • Ask a friend or colleague to go with you on the visit;
  • Bring essential phone numbers such as local police and emergency services;
  • Know the area and region before your visit. Bring a street map or have a GPS (Global Positioning System) tool with you; and
  • Carry only what you need (briefcase or notebook). Lock your purse or wallet out of sight in your car. Keep your keys on you at all time.

During the home visit:

  • Do not enter a home if your instinct tells you not to go in;
  • If you arrived by taxi, ask the driver to wait outside. Tell him or her which apartment you are going to. If you are not out in a given time, ask the driver to call your cell phone;
  • When going into a home, note the location of the phone. Try to stay near an exit door at all times. Avoid being cornered or turning your back to anyone;
  • Note any obstacles that may hinder a fast exit. Think up a quick exit plan;
  • Be aware of household objects that could potentially be used as weapons against you. Even a crutch or hot coffee can be used as weapons.
  • Do not stay if you are being threatened. Leave immediately.
  • If you need help immediately, and others may hear you, try shouting “Fire!”