Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence

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Domestic Violence: Finding Safety and Support - Getting Safe

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Safety Planning & Risk Assessment

No abused woman has control over her partner's violence, but women can and do find ways to reduce their risk of harm. Safety planning is a tool to help you to identify options, evaluate those options, and come up with a plan to reduce your risk when faced with the threat of harm or with actual harm.

There's no right or wrong way to develop a safety plan. Use what applies. Change it or add to it to reflect your particular situation. Make it your own, then review it regularly and make changes as needed.

Seeking help, getting an order of protection, or deciding to leave only makes sense to a woman when it reduces the risks to her and her children.

You may want to write down your safety plan, or you may not. If you think it would be safe for you to have a written safety plan and it would be helpful to you, then by all means do it. But if you think there is a chance your abuser might find it, maybe it is better to just think it all through and not write it down. Do what you think is the safest thing for you.

Use What You Already Know

If you have been abused by an intimate partner, you probably know more about safety planning and risk assessment than you might think. Being in a relationship with an abusive partner - and surviving - takes a lot of skill and resourcefulness. Any time you do or say something as a way to protect yourself and/or your children, you are "safety planning." "Risk assessment" is when you decide if taking a specific action will make things better or worse. You do it all the time, without even thinking about it.

Think It Through

Now that you know more about what safety planning is, it can be really helpful to assess risks and make safety plans by thinking through all the issues. There are certain things that are helpful to consider when planning for your future safety:

Whether you are currently with your partner or not, a safety plan may reduce your risk of being harmed.
Safety Planning for Every Situation

Safety plans can be made for a variety of different situations:

If you are planning to leave your partner or have already left, be aware that abusers are often more violent during times of separation. This couldincrease your risk for harm, including stalking and serious or life-threatening injury. Making a separation safety plan can help reduce the risks to you and your children during and after a separation.

Identify Your Options

The value of any safety plan depends on coming up with options that make sense to you and that you can use. This publication will provide information on the help available from local domestic violence programs and the criminal justice system. But just as important is the help and information you may get from other places, including your own family and social supports. Some of the people and places where you might find support include:

The important thing is for you to identify all the possible people who might be willing and able to help you. You don't have to wait for an emergency to ask for help. It's a good idea to talk to people and find out what they're willing and able to do for you. That way, you'll know in advance if you have a place to stay, where to go for help with money, or a safe person who can keep copies of important papers for you.

"Don't doubt yourself!!! If it makes sense to you, it could make you safe."
-Domestic Violence Survivor

If it is safe for you to do so, you may want to make a list with their phone numbers so that you'll have it in case of an emergency. If you don't know where to go in your community, you can call the NYS Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline for information about a program in your community.Most people really do want to help.

The more specific you can be, the more likely it is that you'll get the help you need. Sometimes the people you trust may mean well and offer you suggestions that don't seem right to you. You will have to decide if this information is best for you. It's your call.

Planning for Your Safety

These are some ideas to get you started in planning for your safety. But every situation is different. Only you can decide what's best for you.

Being Ready for a Crisis

You may be living with, dating, or have a child with the abuser. If it is safe for you, you might think about:

  • Moving to a safer space during an argument. Try to avoid arguments in the bathroom, garage, kitchen, near weapons, or in rooms without an exit to the outside.
  • Leaving the house for a short time. Think about how you would get out safely and where you would go. Have your purse and car keys ready.
  • Asking a neighbor or a friend for help. A neighbor can call police if they hear violent noises coming from your home. A friend can take necessary action if you use a code word that you have arranged in advance.
  • Calling for help. Think about who you could call: police, domestic violence hotline, friends, family. Know those numbers or program them into your phone, if you can do so safely. Your local domestic violence program may be able to give you a free cell phone for calling 911.
  • Including your children. Make sure they know their address and phone number and how to get help. Tell children not to get in between fighting adults. Plan a code word to let them know to get help or leave the house.

Planning to Leave or Separate From Your Partner

You may decide that leaving your partner is the best choice for your safety at this time. Leaving can be a temporary or permanent option. Think about:

  • Where you could stay and for how long. Choices could include homes of friends or family, a hotel, or a domestic violence shelter. Have phone numbers ready.
  • How you can get to a safe place. You may be able to use your car, public transportation, or arrange for a ride.
  • Things you might need to take with you:
    • Cash, credit cards, ATM card, and/or checkbook. You may need money for gas, food, lodging, public transportation, medication, phone calls, and other expenses. Make sure you know your passwords and account numbers. Note: check, credit, and ATM card transactions could be used to track you if you share an account with your partner.
    • Identification and documentation for you and your children. This could include your driver's license, birth certificates, social security cards, recent photos, passports, immigration papers, public assistance ID, employee or school ID.
    • Keys to your house, car, office, and safe deposit box.
    • Medications, health insurance cards, Medicaid/Medicare cards, vaccination records, glasses, hearing aids, and other medical needs.
    • Important papers such as orders of protection, divorce or separation agreement, custody/visitation order, child support order, car registration, insurance papers, lease or house deed, and past tax returns.
    • Electronic equipment such as laptops and cell phones.

The list above suggests important items that you may need. You might also think about taking a few things to increase the comfort for you and your children, such as favorite toys, security blanket, electronic devices such as hand-held video games or MP3 players (like iPods), photos, and sentimental items.

  • Where you could safely leave extra clothes, important documents, keys, or money.
  • What to do about your pets. There is a strong connection between domestic violence and animal cruelty. Sometimes abusers threaten or harm pets to scare and control the victim. For many women, concern about pets is an important part of their decision to leave. Consider these options:
    • Your pets may be safe staying at home.
    • The local domestic violence program may be able to help you find a safe place for your pets.
    • You may be able to take your pets with you. Check first to find out.
    • You may be able to board your pets.
    • Talk to your vet for possible care or recommendations for boarding.

Be sure to take any items that could be used as evidence of the abuse. This could include photographs of your injuries, threatening notes or messages, copies of police reports, medical records such as hospital discharge papers or x-rays, or a journal of the abuse.

After Leaving or Separating From Your PartnerLeaving your partner may not end the danger you faced while in the relationship. In fact, abusers can become more dangerous after their partners leave. It is important for you to plan carefully for your safety during this time. Think about:

  • Home Safety
    • Changing the locks on your doors and windows.
    • Replacing wooden doors with steel/metal doors.
    • Installing a security system including additional locks, window bars, poles to wedge against doors, an electronic system, etc. Ask the domestic violence program if your community has a program that gives security devices to abused women.
    • Buying fire ladders to be used for escape from second floor windows.
    • Installing smoke detectors and putting fire extinguishers on each floor of your home.
  • Safety with Children
    • Teaching your child how to use the phone to make a collect call to you if they are concerned about their safety. Or, consider getting your child their own cell phone to be used for emergencies.
    • Telling the people who take care of your children, including their school, which people have permission to pick them up and make sure they know how to recognize those people.
    • Giving the people who take care of your children copies of orders of protection, custody and other court orders, and emergency numbers.
    • If your children use social networking websites like MySpace.com or Facebook.com, talk to them about being very careful with what information they post there. They might give out information that could be used to track your family without meaning to. This could happen if they talk about things like where they work or go to school, or if they say they have moved recently

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At Work and In Public

Your partner knows your routine, including where you work, the times you travel to and from work, places you shop, what time you drop your children off at school, etc. Many people who are abused are harassed by their partners when they are at work. While it is hard to change everything you do, there may be ways you can plan for your safety at your job and while going about your daily routine. Think about:

  • At Work
    • Telling your boss, security staff, and/or Employee Assistance Program about your situation.
    • Seeing if your employer offers flexible work hours or if a transfer to another location is possible.
    • Asking the human resources department to help you work out the best use of your attendance and leave benefits, such as sick time, vacation, personal time, etc.
    • Giving workplace security a picture of the abuser and copies of orders of protection.
    • If possible, asking security staff to walk you to and from your car.
    • Knowing your workplace security phone number in case of emergency.
    • Asking a co-worker to screen your calls at work. Also, think about asking for a phone with caller ID and recording capabilities.
    • Changing the route you take to and from work.
  • In Public
    • Changing what time you attend religious services, or attending a different place of worship.
    • Changing your patterns - avoid stores, banks, laundromats, and other places your partner may go to look for you. When possible, ask someone to go places with you.
    • Telling someone where you're going if your plans include something that's not part of your normal routine.

Note - All New York State governmental agencies* (as well as many private employers) have domestic violence workplace policies. For more information, check your employee manual or ask your human resources department.

With an Order of Protection

If you get an order of protection, think about:

  • Where you will keep your order of protection. Always keep it on you or nearby.
  • Giving copies of your order of protection to police departments in the communities in which you live, work, where your children go to school, etc.
  • Giving copies of your order of protection to your employer, religious advisor, close friends, children's school(s), children's day care provider(s), etc.
  • If you lose your order of protection or your partner destroys it, you can get another copy from the court that issued it.
  • If your partner violates the order of protection, you can call the police and report the violation, contact your attorney, call your advocate, and/or tell the court about the violation.
  • Calling a domestic violence program if you have questions about the order or if you have problems getting it enforced.

* All New York State agencies are required to have domestic violence workplace policies in place by August 1, 2008.Taking Care of YourselfIt is important to plan for your physical safety, but it is also important to plan for your emotional health and safety. This time can be stressful, confusing, frightening, and sad. Think about:

  • Who you can call if you are feeling down, lonely, or confused.
  • Taking care of your physical health needs by getting a check up with your doctor, gynecologist, and dentist. If you do not have a doctor, consider contacting a local clinic.
  • Who to contact if you are worried about your children's health and well-being.
  • Who you can call for support if you are thinking about going back to your partner and want to talk it out with someone.
  • Attending support groups, workshops, or classes at the local domestic violence program or another community agency.
  • Looking at how and when you use drugs and alcohol, and what to do if you need help.

1-800-942-6906

Spanish language: 1-800-942-6908

In NYC: 1-800-621-HOPE (4673) or dial 311 TTY: 1-866-604-5350

24 Hours, 7 Days a Week

What Can A Domestic Violence Program Do For Me?

Local domestic violence programs are a valuable resource. They provide confidential helpincluding 24-hour hotlines, counseling, and emergency shelter. While shelter may be what most people think a domestic violence program is, they also provide a lot of other useful services, and you don't have to stay in a shelter to get help from a domestic violence program. Another important thing to know is that you can use a domestic violence program whether you plan to stay in the relationship with your partner or not.The person at a domestic violence program who will help you is an "advocate." Advocates understand the criminal justice, Family Court, and social services systems, and they are familiar with other community resources that might be useful to you.In addition to giving you good information, advocates can often go with you to court, to the police station, or to social services, and provide you with practical and emotional support. Getting help from someone who has experience working with victims of domestic violence and who knows how to work with the different systems can make things a lot easier for you.

Available Services

There are domestic violence services available in every county in the state. Specific services may vary from one community to another, but most programs offer the following services.

Shelters
You don't have to stay in a shelter to get help from a domestic violence program.

Shelters offer a short-term safe place to stay for you and your children, if you have children. Domestic violence shelters are only for women who are abused and their children - they are different from homeless shelters. Every effort is made to keep the location of the shelter secret to protect the families who stay there. Some programs may even provide safety for your pets. Domestic violence shelters do have rules that people who stay there have to follow, in order to make sure that everyone stays safe. Usually you can stay there only for a short time. Shelter staff will start working with you right away to find longer-term housing.

24-Hour Hotline
Advocates are available 24 hours a day to provide emergency help and emotional support, information, admission into shelter, and referrals.
Counseling
"No matter what happens, if you think you're being abused, think about going to a support drop-in group."
-Domestic Violence Survivor

One-on-one counseling provides information and emotional support. Counseling can also help you think about the choices and options that work best for you.

Support Groups

Support groups are like counseling, but are done with a group of people together. They are a good place to learn about domestic violence, listen to other women who have been abused, and share your story, if you choose. Many women find that support groups help them feel less alone.

Services for Children

Many programs offer a chance for children to talk about what is happening in their lives, participate in activities, go on outings, and get help with schoolwork.Many domestic violence programs offer some or all of the following additional services for women who have been abused, whether they are in a shelter or not. These include:

You can use a domestic violence program whether you plan to stay in the relationship with your partner or not.

For additional information about domestic violence programs, or to find the one closest to you, call the NYS Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline at 1-800-942-6906.Top

What Other Services Are Available?

You may need help and services that the domestic violence program doesn't provide. Communities across the state offer a lot of other services that can help meet some of your other needs. Domestic violence programs can give you information and referrals for these services. Referrals are often available to:


For more information about where you can get some of these services, look in the Resources section of this publication. NYS Office of Victim Services (OVS): Victim Compensation NYS Office of Victim Services (OVS) gives financial relief to victims of crime and their families. Payments are available for crime-related expenses. Crime-related expenses include, but are not limited to: medical and burial expenses, loss of earnings or support, counseling costs, the cost to repair or replace personal property, some court and/or medical transportation expenses, the cost of staying at or using any for-fee services of a domestic violence shelter, and limited attorney fees.Some of the people who might be able to get OVS compensation include, but are not limited to:

OVS gives financial relief to victims of crime.

If you think you qualify for victim compensation, you can file a NYS Office of Victim Services (OVS) Claim Application. You can get an application by calling OVS at 1-800-247-8035 or you can download an application from their website. You can also get an application from places like local victim assistance programs, police stations, hospital emergency rooms, or domestic violence programs. Ask an advocate if you need help filling out the application.

Counseling

If counseling is a service you want, call your workplace employee assistance program (EAP) or domestic violence program for suggestions. They may provide the service you are looking for. If not, they probably know of counselors who have been helpful to others. If you are worried about the cost, ask for referrals to counselors who use a sliding fee scale. Of course, there is no guarantee that you will feel comfortable or satisfied with a particular counselor. You may need to try more than one before you find one you want to work with. In deciding on the right counselor for you, look for a counselor who:

What About My Children?

People who abuse their intimate partners may also abuse their children. Even if they are not a target of the violence, however, children often know about the abuse happening in their home even when parents think they don't. Abused women try very hard to shield their children from the violence, but this is not always possible.

While each child is different, children can be affected by seeing one parent abuse the other. Some ways children may be affected include:

An important factor in helping children deal with domestic violence is their relationship with you. There are things you can do to help them with what is happening now, and these things may also help them as they become adults.

There is help available for children who have lived with domestic violence. Many domestic violence programs have services specifically for children, including counseling and support groups. Talk to your local program about how they can help your children, and/or if they have referrals for other children's services.

What about Help for My Partner?

Abusers often do not take responsibility for their behavior. They blame their partners, stress, alcohol or drugs, anger, loss of control, an unhappy childhood, or someone or something else. The fact is, lots of people are under stress, drink, use drugs, get angry, or were abused as children. Yet most of these people do not choose to use violence and control in their intimate relationships.

Unless someone takes full responsibility for their abusive behavior, they are unlikely to change.

Domestic abuse is about one person's decision to manipulate and control their partner. Abuse is not a loss of control. In fact, it's usually just the opposite. Abusers control their partners in many different ways. Think about it: they are able to control their own behavior when necessary. They usually don't hit their co-workers or the store clerk who makes a mistake, but they often use those things as excuses for abusing their partners later.

Abusers can change, but it's not easy. If enough is at stake, they may decide that they need to change. Regardless of what your partner does, it is important to continue to plan for your own safety.

What if he attends a batterer program?

Most abusers go to batterer programs because a court ordered them to go. Ordering abusers to attend a batterer program is sometimes used by the courts or probation as a tool for holding them accountable. Or, they may hope that the abusers' behavior will change. All batterer programs are different. They use different tools and have different goals. None of them can guarantee that a person's behavior will change after the program. Since not all batterer programs operate in ways that put your safety first, ask your local domestic violence program for information about the programs in your area.

While it may seem like a positive step for your partner to attend a batterer program, it doesn't mean that he will choose to stop his violent behavior or that you will be safe. Many abusers who attend a program continue to be violent and controlling. You should plan for your safety based on who he is right now, not who you want him to become.

What if he stops drinking or using drugs?

Even when abusers stop drinking or using drugs, their abuse often continues. Alcohol and other drug use do not cause domestic violence, although abusers often use it as an excuse. Abusers who drink or use drugs have two separate problems - abuse and alcohol/drug use - that need to be dealt with separately. Many abusers get more violent - and more dangerous - when they stop drinking or using drugs.

Alcohol and drug use do not cause domestic violence.

Many drug and alcohol treatment programs offer groups for family members or family counseling sessions, but these are not always safe for people being abused by their intimate partner. You may be abused for what you say or the counselor may say or do things that put you in danger. Also, your partner may blame you - and you may blame yourself - for both his drinking and his abuse toward you.

If you decide to tell the substance abuse counselor that you are being abused, don't do it in front of your partner. No counselor should ever insist that you participate in services if your partner is abusing you. You are the only one who can decide whether it's safe to participate or whether it's safer to refuse.

What about couple counseling?

According to abused women who have gone for couple or family counseling, it doesn't work, and often makes things worse. Counselors who don't know about the abuse or who don't understand domestic violence may do or say things that put you in danger.

Couple counseling assumes that both people in the couple are free to share their thoughts and feelings. That cannot be true if one person is abusing the other. It is often dangerous for abused women to express their feelings and talk openly about the abuse in front of their partners. Some women are threatened or assaulted for things they said - or didn't say - during a couple counseling session. If that happens, tell your counselor about it in private. Ask them to find a way to end the couple sessions without letting your partner know what you said.

Regardless of what your partner does, it is important to continue to plan for your own safety.

Going to counseling together suggests that you share some responsibility for your partner's behavior - a belief that he may already have. An abuser's behavior is his responsibility, no one else's, and he is not likely to change unless he takes full responsibility for his actions.

What about mediation and parent education?

Sometimes courts require abused women to participate in services with their partners. Such services may include mediation or parent education.

Mediation is used to help people work out their differences and come to agreement. Many judges order mediation in divorce and custody cases. However, mediation can be dangerous for the same reason couple counseling can be dangerous. It can be dangerous for abused women to express their feelings in front of their partners. This option only works if both parties have equal power in the relationship.

Some abused women choose mediation, thinking that it will lead to better results for them and their children. If you use mediation, it is important to discuss with your attorney or advocate your goals and expectations ahead of time. Be clear about what you are willing to negotiate about and what you're not. Again, consult your local domestic violence program about the mediation program and the individual mediator.

Women who are abused do not have to attend parent education. If the court orders you to attend, tell the clerk who handles the paperwork that you have been abused and ask for a waiver. You can also tell the person you speak to at the parent education program about the abuse and request a waiver. Requesting or getting a waiver should not affect the outcome of your case. If you do decide to participate, you should definitely attend a separate class from your partner.

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Stalking

Stalking is a crime in New York State.

A serious potential safety risk to abused women is stalking. Stalking is one person's unwanted pursuit of another person. While some stalking happens between strangers or acquaintances, stalking also happens in intimate relationships. Stalking can happen after the relationship has ended or while you are still with your partner. Many women who are stalked by their partner are also physically or sexually assaulted by them.

Stalking is a crime in New York State. There are four counts of stalking under the law depending on the stalker's behavior. Common stalking behavior includes:

"People may minimize your story. Don't let people tell you you're overreacting."
-Domestic Violence Survivor

While some stalkers' behavior may not seem dangerous or threatening to an outsider, stalking is serious and should be treated that way. If you are being stalked, it is important to keep a record of what is happening. This can become useful evidence if you decide to get help from the police or court. Every time something happens, you should record:

Technology Safety

The use of modern technology has increased abusers' abilities to monitor and track their partners' activities. If you are not sure if someone is monitoring you, trust your instincts, especially if your abuser seems to know too much about your activities or things you have only told to a few people. Abusers can be very determined and creative. A person does not have to be "tech savvy" to buy or use monitoring or surveillance technology. It is cheap and easy to use.

Phones

These days, most people have a cell phone. It can be a link to safety. On the other hand, an abuser can use it as a tool to listen to your calls and track your whereabouts. Most phones come with services or options to do this, such as: Caller ID, call logs, Call Return Service (*69), last number dialed, Global Positioning System (GPS), "silent mode," or "auto answer." Landlines (regular telephones) may also carry some of these risks. Traditional "corded" phones are usually safer than other kinds of phones. Think of these things as you plan for your safety. Consider options such as leaving your cell phone behind if you leave or getting another phone on a new account.

Computers

If the abuser has access to your computer, he can see what websites you have gone to and read your e-mail. Abusers can also monitor computer activities without being there by using keystroke logging technology or spying software. These send a report to the abuser's computer of all the activity (e-mails, websites visited, instant messages, etc.) that has taken place on your computer. Be aware that changing passwords or erasing history could make the abuser suspicious. To be safe, use a computer at a library, community center, Internet café, workplace, or a trusted friend's house when you need to look for help or plan to escape.

Recording Devices

Hidden cameras, such as "Nanny Cams," are cheap and easy to get. Abusers can easily hide a camera to monitor your actions. These cameras can be very small and will often appear as everyday objects. Even a baby monitor can be used for listening to conversations. As tempting as it might be, shutting them off or removing them could make your partner suspicious. Be careful.

Tracking Devices

Global Positioning System (GPS) devices are affordable, small, and can be easily hidden. An abuser can hide a GPS device in your car, jewelry, purse, shoes, and other objects that you carry with you. If you find an object you think may be a GPS device, do not remove it. Call the police. If it's safe to do so, take photos.

Save proof of contact by the abuser, including e-mails, instant messages, or phone messages. Saving everything can help show patterns, plan for safety, and provide evidence for police. For evidence, it is important that e-mail messages stay on your computer, even if you print them out.

Technology is constantly changing and evolving. For the most up-to-date information on technology safety, visit The Safety Net Project website.

Sexual Assault

Most sexual assault happens between people who know each other.

There is an overlap between domestic violence and sexual assault. Sexual assault is often one of the last things that abused women talk about because it is so deeply personal. It is very common, however, that someone who is abused by their intimate partner has also been sexually assaulted by them. In fact, most sexual assault happens between people who know each other.

Many domestic violence programs also have sexual assault services available. If you feel you would get more help from a sexual assault program than a domestic violence program, call the NYS Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline and ask for a referral to the sexual assault program (sometimes called a rape crisis center) in your community.

The NYS Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline: 1-800-942-6906

In NYC: 1-800-621-HOPE (4673) or dial 311

TTY: 1-866-604-5350

24 Hours, 7 Days a Week