A safety plan, in its simplest form, is any action or steps that help an individual be safe from a specific threat, in a specific situation. At Safe Voices, our advocates work on safety planning with survivors of domestic abuse every day. The safety plans we create with survivors can be as extensive or broad as an individual wants or feels necessary.

Hillary Hooke

For example, some people may be comfortable putting in place a safety plan at their workplace that outlines safe places for them to park their car, having colleagues check in on them if they don’t show up to work, being escorted in and out of the building by another person, or even changing their worksite, team or office location. Others may seek a safety plan for handing off children when there is shared custody or visitation involving an abusive co-parent.

For a lot of people facing abuse, however, a safety plan might not be helpful if it requires many changes to their day to day routine. A safety plan is only effective if individuals feel they can actually follow or implement all the steps. So, for some, the most effective safety plan might be something as straightforward as keeping a “go bag” in their car with a plan that if they are in immediate danger they will call 911 and leave immediately to a safe, welcoming location. For many survivors, even the simple fact of knowing they have a safe, loving haven away from abuse with their friends or family is a protective factor and can increase their personal safety.

When safety planning, a concerned friend or family member might be interested in connecting their loved one to a domestic violence advocate or support group, or even receiving some form of emotional support themselves. Making a referral to an advocate typically involves locating your local domestic violence resource center (a complete list of DVRCs can be found at MCEDV.org) and contacting them through their 24-hour helpline number. Calling a helpline (or using any other DVRC service) is always free of charge, and there is no obligation to seek further services or share any information beyond what is comfortable for you. Some DVRCs, including Safe Voices, are also beginning to offer online chat services as an additional way to connect with an advocate (visit safevoices.org for more information).

When connecting with a DVRC about a specific service or support, such as shelter, best practice is for the advocate to speak directly with the survivor. If you call on behalf of a loved one, you can expect to receive advice and support, and be told that a referral will require the survivor to call back and speak with the advocate themselves. You can also offer to accompany someone to a meeting with an advocate, if you feel that would increase their comfort working with an advocate.

In instances where a survivor is not ready to work with an advocate, family and friends might feel frustrated and sad that their loved one remains unsafe due to the choices and actions of their abuser. However, pressuring someone to leave an abusive partner, or pressuring them to work with an advocate, is rarely a successful way of increasing the survivor’s safety. The best way to help safety plan for someone who is not ready to access these services is to let them know that support exists, and that you will help connect them to an advocate when they are ready. Issuing ultimatums only serves to further isolate survivors and can have the unintended consequence of forcing them to rely even more on their abuser as a source of financial, material or emotional support.

Ultimately, if being in the supporter role begins to feel overwhelming, you aren’t alone: These feelings are common to anyone who is worried about a loved one, especially when that loved one is being abused by a partner or ex-partner. To address these feelings, some DVRCs, including Safe Voices, are beginning to provide friends and family support groups. Finding a source of support that is right for you, whether in one of these groups or by calling a helpline, can have a direct, positive impact on the safety of the loved one you are supporting.

Hillary Hooke has worked for over four years as an educator and advocate at Safe Voices. She is based in Farmington and provides education, prevention, and youth advocacy services to Franklin County.

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