Safety Planning


General Safety Steps

If you feel safe doing so, it's a good idea to develop a relationship with an advocate or counselor at your local domestic violence agency before you are in a crisis situation. She may help you think things through, explore your options, and help you with your safety plan. Be aware that some standard safety steps such as packing an escape bag or changing your daily routine could increase your abuser's suspicion and vigilance.

At Home

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Vehicle Safety

Escaping Your Home

Review your safety plan as often as possible in order to plan the safest way to leave your abuser. Remember: leaving can be the most dangerous time.

Practice Safer Technology

Sophisticated and affordable surveillance products are readily available to anyone who wants to track or stalk another person. Cell phones, computers, e-mail, credit cards, ATMs, automobiles and public transportation leave a trail of information about where you are and what you are doing. Police officers have access to additional private and public information: information from the Department of Motor Vehicles, criminal records, telephone and utility companies, credit bureaus, banks, landlords, mortgage companies, school personnel, hospital staff, insurance companies, government agencies, and other sources. Communication, banking and transportation services use interconnected networks and databases. A batterer who is in law enforcement has the investigative skills and knowledge to obtain and use personal information against you, your family and friends.

If you think your computer usage is being monitored, it probably is. Remember that as a police officer, your abuser is trained to notice anything out of the ordinary, so it may be dangerous to change or delete email accounts, erase cookies, change passwords, or erase your Internet history if you usually don't do so. Your abuser doesn't need special skills to monitor your computer or Internet activities. There are many programs he can use to track all your computer usage — web sites you visit, documents you read, create or edit (online or off-line,) and all your email activity. It doesn't matter if you try to delete files or hide your work behind passwords. He can also discover web-based phone calls, online purchases and banking, and many other activities. There is no way you can completely erase what you have done on any computer.

If you are looking for information on abuse or planning your escape, don't use your home computer. If you can, use a "safer" computer and an account that your abuser does not know about. For example, a friend's computer, or a public computer in a library, hotel, or other free public access. Avoid using public web services that require information such as your driver's license or credit card numbers. Create difficult passwords for your email, voice mail, and home security access. Even though your abuser can break a password, one that combines numbers, letters and symbols will make it more difficult. It may help to create a new online account and password that you use only on safer computers.

Email, messaging, texting and other electronic communications are never a confidential means of communication. They are equivalent to sending a postcard. Avoid posting any personal information or abuse history on a blog, public or private forum, or social networking site. It does not matter if you create an alias. Whatever you post is ultimately traceable.

Avoid using cellular or cordless phones. Your calls can be intercepted, listened to and recorded with eavesdropping equipment. Remember that cell phones transmit signals that reveal your location. There is also a record of every call you make and receive. Your cell phone contains a wealth of information about you. If you can, use someone else's phone to make confidential calls. Your abuser may have tapped or put a bug on your line.

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Annotated Safety Plan for OIDV Survivors

Diane Wetendorf ©1998, rev. 2014. All rights reserved.

Standard safety planning may be problematic or even dangerous for women whose abusers are in law enforcement. The following takes a standard safety plan and includes additional safety considerations for officer-involved domestic violence.

Safety During An Explosive Incident

Standard: Try to avoid being trapped in a bathroom or the kitchen because there are objects that can be used as weapons.
While this is good advice, your abuser may wear his service weapon all the time as well as have other weapons throughout your home. He also knows how to subdue a person using his body alone.
Standard: Try to stay in a room with a phone so you can call 911, a friend, or a neighbor.
He may make it impossible for you to reach the phone or he will pull the phone from the wall, so try to keep your cell phone on your person. Again, his training may make him particularly effective at physically controlling you and preventing you from making a call.
Standard: Call 911.
This might only be a last resort for you. You know that he has a close working relationship with the dispatchers and responding officers. He may taunt you to "go ahead and call the police," because he is confident that his co-workers or colleagues will accept his version of the incident.
Standard: Practice how to get out of your home safely. Visualize your escape route. Identify the best doors, windows, elevator, or stairwell.
Good advice but remain aware that your abuser is also aware of escape routes and may make sure you can't get to them. Again, he has been trained in a variety of tactics to stop someone who is trying to escape.
Standard: Have a packed bag ready with any medications and other important items. Keep it hidden in a handy place in order to leave quickly. Consider leaving the bag elsewhere if your abuser searches your home.
Your abuser may be hyper-vigilant and notice items that you would need are missing from their usual places. Consider buying duplicate items so that things remain as "normal" as possible.
Standard: Ask a neighbor to call the police if they hear a disturbance coming from your home.
You may not want neighbors to call the police. Is there anything else you would want them to do to intervene or create a distraction?
Standard: Devise a code word to use with your children, grandchildren and others to communicate that you need the police
Again, you might use a code word to signal that you need help, but may not want them to call the police. Is there anything else you would want them to do to intervene or create a distraction? Give them specific instructions on when to notify the police.
Standard: Decide and plan for where you will go if you have to leave home (even if you don't think you will need to.)
This must be somewhere the abuser would not think to look. Do not take your car if at all possible, since he has access to methods of tracking it down.
Standard: Memorize all important phone numbers.
This is a good safety measure.

Safety when Preparing to Leave

Standard: Open a credit/debit account in your own name to start to establish or increase your independence. Consider direct deposit of your paycheck or benefit check. Think of other ways to increase your independence.
Abusers in law enforcement know how to track financial information and may have informants at your local financial centers. If at all possible, set aside cash rather than use savings/checking/debit accounts.
Standard: Leave money, an extra set of keys, copies of important documents and extra clothes with someone you trust so you can leave quickly.
Friends and close relatives are probably not your best choice. This should be someone who the abuser does not know or would not think of contacting. Ideally,this person would be someone whose name/number will not display on your phone, any bills, emails, or other standard means of communication.
Standard: Bring any medications, prescriptions, and glasses, hearing aids or other assistive devices you may need.
Your abuser may be hyper-vigilant in watching for signs that you are preparing to leave him. He may notice if items that you would take with you are missing from their normal place. Keep things as "normal" as possible. Again, his professional training makes him tuned in to details.
Standard: If you leave the relationship or are thinking of leaving, you should take important papers and documents with you to enable you to apply for benefits or take legal action. This includes Social Security cards and birth certificates for you and your children, documentation of legal residency, your marriage license, leases or deeds, your checkbook, your charge cards, bank statements and charge account statements, insurance policies, proof of income for you and your spouse, and any documentation of past incidents of abuse.
You may not have access to any of these documents because your abuser knows you will need them if you ever try to build a new life. Copies of these documents may not be legally accepted, but may help you with any authorities or advocates you contact.
Standard: Determine who would be able to let you stay with them or lend you some money.
Make sure this is someone the abuser would not think of.
Standard: Keep the domestic abuse program number close at hand and keep some change or a telephone calling card with you at all times for emergency phone calls.
Purchase a phone card or disposable cell phone rather than using your personal cell phone. Your abuser may have access to individual and electronic databases that can track telephone use.
Standard: If you are 60 years old or older, contact your local elder adult service agency to learn about eligibility for public and private benefits and services such as Social Security, pensions, housing, transportation and medical insurance.
If you are hiding, remember that accessing or even asking about public benefits will blaze a trail by which the abuser can find you.
Standard: Review your safety plan as often as possible in order to plan the safest way to leave your abuser.
Remember — leaving can be the most dangerous time. Do you think that your abuser will become obsessed with tracking you down if you "disappear?" If so, consider other options. Will you be safer if you stay more visible, either in the relationship or in your community?

Safety in Your Own Home (If the abuser does not live with you)

Standard: Change the locks on your doors as soon as possible. Buy additional locks and safety devices to secure your windows.
Replace wooden doors with steel or metal doors. Consider installing or increasing outside lighting with motion detectors. Consider cameras inside and outside the house. Install smoke detectors and purchase fire extinguishers. Remember that your abuser may know how to enter locked doors and windows. Consider installing locks that are especially difficult to open. Place obstructions in front of doors, windows, and any entry points (but make sure you can easily escape in case of a fire.)
Standard: If you have young children, grandchildren, or other dependents living with you, discuss a safety plan for when you are not with them and inform their school, day care, etc., about who has permission to pick them up.
This is a good safety measure.
Standard: Inform neighbors and your landlord that your abuser no longer lives with you and that they should call the police if they see your abuser near your home.
Will the local police take action against your abuser? Consider what else people might do if they see your abuser near your home.

Safety with a Restraining Order/Order for Protection

Standard: Keep your protective order with you at all times. (When you change your purse, this should be the first thing that goes into it.) If it is lost or destroyed, you can get another copy from the County Court office.
Will the local police enforce an order against your abuser?
Standard: Call the police if your abuser violates the conditions of the restraining order. Learn what violations of the order require officers to arrest the abuser.
You may have to demand that the responding officers call a supervisor.
Standard: Think of alternative ways to keep safe in case the police do not respond right away.
Think of what you will do if the responding officers refuse to take any action.
Standard: Inform family, friends, teachers, and neighbors that you have a restraining order in effect.
This is a good safety measure.

Safety in Public (School, work, social, recreational, or volunteer activities)

Standard: Plan how to get away if confronted by an abusive partner.
This may be more difficult with a police officer abuser since he is trained to prevent people from getting away from him in a confrontation.
Standard: Decide whom you will inform of your situation. This could include your school, work location, or residence security (provide a picture of your abuser if possible.)
Alert them that he is a police officer and may use his professional status or other police officers to gain access to you or your children. He may appear in uniform to mislead or intimidate them.
Standard: Change your phone number.
This remedy may be ineffective because police officers can easily get phone numbers.
Standard: Screen calls; arrange to have someone screen your telephone calls, if possible.
This is a good safety measure.
Standard: Save and document all contacts, messages, injuries or other incidents involving the batterer.
Your abuser is probably smart enough not to leave this type of evidence, or will word messages ambiguously/vaguely to create confusion or doubt as to intent; save and document them anyway. Taken together, they may provide useful evidence of stalking behavior or other abusive tactics.
Standard: Devise a safety plan for when you are out in public. Have someone escort you to your car, bus, or taxi. If possible, use a variety of routes to go home. Think about what you would do if something happened while going home.
Civilian escorts may be afraid that they cannot protect you or themselves from a police officer.

Your Safety and Emotional Health

Standard: If you are thinking of returning to a potentially abusive situation, discuss an alternative plan with someone you trust.
This is a good safety measure.
Standard: If you have to communicate with your abuser, arrange to do so in a way that makes you feel safer, whether by phone, mail, e-ail, in the company of another person, through an attorney, etc.
Be very aware of what you say to the abuser as he may record and save any communication with you.
Standard: If you have to meet your partner, do it in a public place.
This is a good safety measure.
Standard: Decide who you can call to talk to freely and openly, and who can give you the support you need.
Remember that no electronic communication is secure. Your abuser may be able to track your cell phone use, any email accounts, social media, etc.
Standard: Plan to attend a victims' support group to learn more about yourself and abusive  relationships, and to gain support from others in similar situations.
It might be safer to attend a group that meets away from your immediate area. However, few advocates are familiar with police-perpetrated domestic violence and may not understand your unique situation.
Standard: Call a shelter for battered women.
It may be somewhat difficult for you to find a shelter that is equipped or willing to shelter you and your family since they work closely with the police.
Standard: Avoid staying alone.
This is a good safety measure.
Standard: Vary your routine.
This is a good safety measure.
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MORE INFO

As a victim of a police officer, your situation is very different than other domestic violence victims.

Our books are available through:

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Hijacked by the Right
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Victim Handbook by Diane Wetendorf