Safety Planning

Safety While Living With An Abusive Partner

  • Identify the risk of physical danger to you and your children before it occurs. How does your partner use force and how often?
  • Identify safe areas of the house where there are no weapons and there are ways to escape. If arguments occur, try to move to those areas. 
  • In a fight, don’t run to where the children are; your partner may hurt them as well.
  • If violence is unavoidable, make yourself a small target. Dive into a corner and curl up into a ball. Protect your face and wrap your arms around each side of your head, fingers entwined in the back.
  • If possible, have a phone with you at all times and know what numbers to call for help. Put our 24/7 crisis line in your phone under a secret name. Know where the nearest public phone is. If your life is in danger, call 911.
  • Let trusted friends and neighbors know of your situation. Develop a plan/signal/code for when you need help. 
  • Teach your children how to get help. Instruct them not to get involved in the violence between you and your partner. Plan a code word to signal to them that they should get help or leave the house.
  • Tell your children that violence is never right, even when someone they love is being violent. Tell them that neither you nor they are causing the violence. Above all else, teach them to stay safe when violence occurs.
  • Practice how to get out safely. Practice with your children.
  • Plan for what you will do if your partner finds out about your plan.
  • Keep weapons like guns and knives locked away and as inaccessible as possible.
  • Make a habit of backing the car into the driveway and keeping it fueled. Keep the driver’s door unlocked and others locked — for a quick escape.
  • Try not to wear scarves or long jewelry that could be used to strangle you.
  • Create several believable reasons you can leave the house at different times of the day or night. (For example, doctor's appointments, trip to the gas station/store, doing a favor for a friend.)

Safety Planning With Children

If you are in an abusive relationship, a safety plan should include ways to keep your children safe at home. Always remember: if the violence is escalating, don't run to the children. Your partner is more likely to hurt them as well if you are beside them.

Planning for Violence in the Home
  • Teach your children when and how to call 911.
  • Instruct them to leave the home (if possible) when things begin to escalate, and where they can go.
  • Come up with a code word you can say when they need to leave the home  — make sure they know not to tell others what the secret word means.
  • In the house: identify a room they can go to when they’re afraid and something they can think about when they’re scared.
  • Instruct them to stay out of the kitchen, bathroom, and other areas where things might be used as weapons.
  • Teach them not to intervene even if they want to protect you.
  • Help them make a list of people that they are comfortable talking with. Encourage them to talk about their thoughts, feelings, and fears.
  • Enroll them in a counseling program. Local service providers often have free support for children. Call us for resources in your area.
Planning for Unsupervised Visits
If you have separated from an abusive partner, your children may visit your ex. If those visits concern you, you may want to develop a safety plan.
  • Use the same model as above to come up with ways to keep safe in your ex's home. Have them identify where they can get to a phone, how they can leave the house, and who they can go to.
  • If it’s safe to do, send a cell phone with the children. Remind them it is to be used in emergency situations — to call 911, a neighbor, or you if they need help.
Planning for Safe Custody Exchanges
  • Avoid exchanging custody at you or your partner’s home.
  • Meet in a safe, public place such as a restaurant, a bank/other areas with lots of cameras, or even near a police station.
  • Bring a friend or relative with you to the exchanges, or have them make the exchange.
  • If it seems best to avoid seeing your ex, have your partner pick the children up from school or drop them off in the morning.
  • Safety plan for your emotions – figure out something to do before the exchange to calm any nerves you’re feeling, and something after to focus on yourself or the kids (go to a park or do a fun activity.)
How to Have These Conversations
Let your child know that what’s happening is not their fault and that they didn’t cause it. Let them know how much you love them and that you support them no matter what. Tell them that you want to protect them and keep everyone safe, so you have to come up with a plan to use in case of emergencies.
When you’re safety planning with a child, remember they might tell the abusive partner what you say. (For example, “Mom said to do this if you get angry.”) This could make the situation more dangerous. So be careful with the words you use when safety planning. Use phrases like “We’re practicing what to do in an emergency,” instead of “We’re planning what you can do when dad/mom becomes violent.”

Safety Planning With Pets

Up to 65% of domestic violence victims don't escape their abusive partners for fear of what will happen to their pets when they leave.

, there are many resources to assist with this difficult situation.
  • As you’re creating a safety plan of your own, create one for your pets as well. Bring whatever supplies they may need, as well as copies of their medical records.
  • If possible, don’t leave pets alone with an abusive partner*. Talk to friends, family, or your veterinarian about temporary care for your pet. If that is not an option, please feel free to call us.  We can help you find local resources that will accommodate you and your pet(s).
  • *If you already left your pet behind with your abuser, check to see if law enforcement or animal control can intervene.
  • Take steps to prove ownership of your pet. Have them vaccinated, license them with your town, and make sure registrations are in your name (change them if they aren’t).
  • If you’re thinking about getting a protective order, know that Iowa allows pets to be a part of these.
  • If you’ve left your partner, keep your pet safe by changing veterinarians. Also, avoid leaving pets outside alone.
  • Additional resources:
    • The Animal Welfare Institute offers more tips for safety planning with pets.
    • Red Rover offers grants to help victims to leave their abusers without abandoning their pets. The grants must be submitted by a shelter worker.

Safety Planning During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a time of change. It can be full of excitement, but it also creates an added need for support. You'll want emotional support from a partner to prepare for the baby and maybe financial help as well.
If your partner is emotionally or physically abusive, pregnancy can be especially difficult. But don't worry! There are resources available to help women get the support they need for a safe, healthy pregnancy.
According to the CDC, intimate partner violence affects about 1.5 million women each year. As many as 324,000 of those women are pregnant. Pregnancy can be an especially dangerous time for women in abusive relationships. Abuse often begins or escalates during pregnancy.
How can you get help?
  • If you’re pregnant, there is always a greater risk during violent situations. If you’re in a home with stairs, try to stay on the first floor.  If you're being attacked, get into the fetal position to protect your stomach.
  • Use visits to the doctor to discuss what is going on in your relationship. If your partner goes to these appointments with you, try to find a moment alone with your doctor. Ask questions when your partner is out of the room or come up with an excuse to talk to the doctor one-on-one.
  • If you’ve decided to leave your relationship, a doctor can be an active participant in your plan to leave.
  • If possible, see if you can take a women-only prenatal class. This can be a comfortable atmosphere for discussing pregnancy concerns. See if you can speak to the class instructor one-on-one.
  • An advocate from your local domestic violence program can help you safety plan and find more resources.

Emotional Safety Planning

Often, we emphasize physical safety, but your emotional safety is just as important. Emotional safety looks different for each person, but ultimately it’s feeling free to be yourself. In abuse, it's accepting your emotions and decisions when dealing with the abuse. Below are some ideas for how to create and maintain an emotional safety plan that works for you.

  • Seek Out Supportive People:
    • A trusted friend or family member can help you think through difficult situations. Loved ones bring a calm atmosphere to allow you to discuss potential options.
  • Identify and Work Towards Achievable Goals:
    • Call a local resource to see what services are available or talk to one of our advocates at The Call Center. Remember, you don’t have to do anything you aren’t comfortable with right now, but small steps can help you in huge ways.
  • Create a Peaceful Space for Yourself:
    • Find a physical place where your mind can relax and feel safe. Being in that safe space can help you work through difficult emotions that arise. Ideas include a room in your house, a spot under your favorite tree, a comfy chair by a window or any other place you find comfort and safety.
  • Remind Yourself of Your Great Value:
    • You are important and special! Recognizing that and reminding yourself is so beneficial for your emotional health. It is never your fault when someone chooses to abuse you, and it has no reflection on the great value you have as a person.
  • Remember That You Deserve to Be Kind to Yourself:
    • Take time to practice self-care every day, even if it is only for a few minutes. Self-care creates space for peace and emotional safety. Give yourself emotional breaks and step back from your situation when you can. In the end, this will help you make the decisions that are best for you.