Creating a Domestic Violence Safety Plan (by Someone Who’s Been There)

Robin Bull
8 min readFeb 25, 2023

There’s a lot of information online about domestic violence: defining it both from a societal and statutory standpoint, resources in various areas for those who find themselves in need of help (and please don’t think you’re “saving those services for people who are worse off” because that’s not how it works…they are there for you, too), and best practices written by experts. And there are a lot of fantastic articles written by experts. I won’t and can’t deny that.

Yet, articles that discuss relationship red flags (as many as found at a three-ring circus, complete with a clown car full of clowns) and how to eventually heal to move on in life are in overwhelming abundance; especially when compared with the number of real-life experiences with creating a domestic violence safety plan.

Why Is a Safety Plan for Domestic Violence Important?

Allow me to blow your mind. *ahem* Statistically, the most dangerous time within a relationship involving domestic violence is the two-weeks after they leave. So that I’m clear, that statistic is for women. You can find it, along with other statistics here. That doesn’t mean that male victims/survivors (pick what you’d prefer to identify as; I prefer survivor) don’t face any threat. The facts when it comes to men and abuse are that men report even less often than women because of the social stigma they face as a male being abused. And the stat fun for LGBTQ+ abusive relationships and minority relationships (regardless of sexuality or gender)…well, it’s actually no fun at all. Abuse doesn’t know a gender, a sexual orientation, an educational pedigree or no education, billions or bouillon…the sad stats for women alone are the “good” news and that’s really sad.

A safety plan for domestic violence is important because it improves your chances of making it to your court date (please, for the love of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, tell me that you filed for a Protective Order…and if you need help, there are places that can and will help you for FREE. Google your city or town with domestic violence help!), to give the entire situation time to calm itself, and time for you to get to safety.

Creating a Safety Plan Is Personal

As a copywriter, I’m a fan of templates. They can cut down your work or even serve to inspire. As a survivor of domestic violence, I found that because I was going through a lot of what was then kind of new, unfounded territory, none of the domestic violence safety plan templates offered to me really helped me. So, if you do see one or if one is offered to you that at leasts provides you with the basics you know you already need to cover (roof over the head, food in the belly, a little money to keep you covered while you figure out your work situation if necessary…), definitely take advantage of what works.

However, you must think about your own life experiences and make a plan for those things…no matter how inconvenient it may be. My story (not sharing all of it here) of working on my safety plan occurred in 2011. My Victim’s Protection Order was eventually made a permanent part of my divorce via amendment several years later, but it was a long, frustrating time coming.

In 2011, it wasn’t as common to be harassed (by an adult, as an adult…) online and to discuss it (let alone try to prove it) in court. That was, in fact, one basis (of many) on which the VPO was issued (stalking, harassment, and domestic violence).

Protect Your Email

Go to the library or borrow your (real) cousin’s phone. Your cousin who you see maybe three times per year at family gatherings but you used to be SUPER close when you were little…still your ride or die? Yeah, their phone. Use it to reset your email password. Copy and paste the email in a text to yourself. Then log in with your new password also as copied and pasted.

  1. Log into your email and go under security settings. Log out of every device except yours. Of course, if you recognize your cell phone and your laptop…you can leave those.
  2. Go into an email you know they sent…either because it’s from their email or they made an email that looks very similar to an email address you know, such as your mom’s email. In the area where you see the ‘To’ and ‘From’ you will also see a button that allows you to view more. If you click there, you can get the IP address. If your alleged (important for court, but I’m not an attorney) abuser uses a static IP, it may be traced to his area using a WHOIS tool (available free online, but please note it traces to a general area, generally not to a home…although it might track to an actual business). If they have a bouncing IP, they may show up as in your state one day, another state when you get the next email, and a different country on the next email. If you can get the IP addresses, you may be able to use them in court for a Protective Order, but more importantly you can change your email address and block those IP addresses from sending you email.

Yes, that’s right…I said change your email address. Then you can go ahead and block not just those email addresses, but those IP addresses, too. But Robin, I have kids with this person. I never said to deactivate your actual email — just change to a new email address. Do not provide it to the other person or anyone the other person knows (period). Only provide it to your friends (and you will find out who your real friends are — they aren’t who you think, either), family you like (no more chain email, Aunt Margie), and business contacts.

If you’re still with the person, set up your new secret email account. Do not access it on any smartphone on a shared account. Go buy a cheap Walmart smartphone and plan. Keep it on silent. When you are done, empty your browsing history for your internet browser for the day. No need to raise suspicion.

Lock Down Your Social Media Accounts

I know…I know…you shouldn’t have to do that. I went through this years ago and I threw a fit, too. Remember, though, this is about your safety. And I can’t make you clone-proof (or spoof-proof) even if you deactivate.

  1. Make all of your accounts private. If you’re a “social media person” like I am (I’m self-employed), I realize what a pain in the ass this is. I meet clients via social media. Be very careful who you allow to follow you or create a single-page website with your business contact info. Put that link into your social media profile along with what you do. But lock down your accounts.
  2. Make your friends/followers list as private as possible. And leave it that way forever. This is easiest on Facebook. My friends' list is still set as mutuals only. I think my husband (I’ve been remarried for a bit) can see my friends list and I can see his. No one else can see anything but our mutual friends. Why? Because this way if someone the ex knows manages to sneak through, they can’t see anyone they weren’t already friends with. Also, don’t add anyone they know.
  3. Make all your posts “friends/followers” only. Even on Twitter, you now have the option to make posts available only to certain people. So, in addition to going private, you can curate your list of even more trusted people.
  4. Oh, and do not post anything you wouldn’t read out loud in court…in front of the judge…even on a private account. Don’t text it, either. Even with you being the victim/survivor, you don’t want to be on the receiving end of the court’s reprimand or screw up your case.
  5. Don’t “check in” to a location on social media. If you can’t help yourself, do it after you’ve left and you’re somewhere far away from that place.

Download a Safety App to Your Phone

I’ve used a couple of different ones over the year. I don’t have a preference for which one you pick. But before you pick any of them, you need to take your phone to a professional, especially if you can’t afford to just get a new phone, and have your phone checked to make sure your ex or soon-to-be ex isn’t stalking you through your phone, can’t read your texts, see who you’re talking to, etc. Trust me there.

A good safety app has several features.

  1. You can choose trusted contacts.
  2. It has an audible alarm to scare people away.
  3. It can silently text your location to your trusted contacts.
  4. In locations where available, it can contact emergency services on your behalf with your location (not every city or town supports 911 texting).

With the trusted contact feature, you can usually choose between one and five trusted contacts. When activated and you press a button, it sends your location to your trusted contacts and tells them that you need help. Then, they are able to call 911 on your behalf.

Choose a Safety Buddy

This is someone you need to think about and choose carefully. Remember when I wrote that you’ll find out who your real friends are? I wasn’t joking about that. You’ll even lose people in your own family, church…people you’ve known your entire life that you thought were your ride or die. I know, you’re thinking….not me…that won’t happen. I promise it will. You’re not special in that regard, unfortunately.

If possible, try to choose someone local. If you can’t, as long as you can choose someone who will immediately reach out to law enforcement to report…then you’re choosing the right person. This is someone who needs to be able to respond to every text or phone call (choose your pleasure — I’m a texter). And this is going to make you feel like you’re 14 and reporting your movements to your mommy and daddy…but it’s for your safety.

Every time you get ready to leave to go anywhere, text or call your safety buddy. When you arrive, let them know. When you leave that location to go anywhere else, including home, let them know. When you make it, you let them know. If you leave again to go somewhere, you let them know where you’re going. And rinse and repeat. I think I kept that up for…well, it’s a habit now. Except I’ve switched from my safety buddy (my cousin) to my husband (who, thankfully, isn’t annoyed because he went to court with me several times over this).

If your safety buddy doesn’t hear from you, their job is first to try to contact you and second to let law enforcement know the last time they talked to you, where you were headed, and why they were letting you know. This enables law enforcement to look for you to perform a welfare check.

Put Your Safety Plan to Work

Safety plans can’t offer you any sort of safety if you don’t use them. If you find that something isn’t working, examine your safety plan and look for ways to improve it. Safety plans aren’t infallible, but they do play an important role to ensure that you have a better chance at survival during the statistically most dangerous part of leaving.

In fact, you may need more than one safety plan. You may need to create a plan for work (if you work outside the home or will work outside the home), your home, and for other scenarios. Just remember to put a lot of thought into who you can trust (and you most definitely should not trust).

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Robin Bull

Freelance writer, editor, SEO goddess, shenanigan maker. Married. Mom.