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Making a safety plan when you are in an abusive situation

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When you are experiencing any form of abuse —whether it’s stalking, sexual violence, online abuse, domestic abuse, among others— a safety plan can help you improve your safety.

In this blog we introduce you to the basics of safety planning, we describe how it can help, we give some examples of things to consider when creating a safety plan and explain where to get specialist support to make one or to get more information about safety planning.

What is a safety plan?

A safety plan is a list of clear and practical steps you can take to protect yourself if you are experiencing abuse or violence. This can be helpful in any abusive situation and especially if you are worried that things could become dangerous or if you decide to leave the situation.

Safety plans are commonly used in domestic abuse situations to, for example, know who to call or where to go when a person feels that her life and/or that of her children is at risk.

However, safety plans can be useful in other instances of violence or abuse, including stalking, sexual violence, sexual harassment, forced marriage, online abuse, to name just a few (or a combination of these).

Remember: if you are at risk of immediate harm, call 999. If you cannot speak on the phone, use the silent option:

  • call 999
  • answer the questions by coughing or tapping
  • then dial 55 if prompted.

How can a safety plan help?

Abusive and violent situations can feel unpredictable and beyond your control. However, safety planning is a way to regain some control over what is happening to you. It can give you some reassurance and practical steps to take if you’re feeling anxious about your safety.

A safety plan can give you an indication of who to call, where to go, and what to do when you believe a perpetrator might harm you or anyone in your care. For example, if a neighbour is stalking you, a colleague has been sexually harassing you, or you are receiving abuse and threats from an anonymous troll online, you can consider the risks and plan ways to increase your safety.

These are just some scenarios, so it’s important to keep in mind that safety planning can be helpful in many other cases and, most importantly, it can be adapted to your circumstances.

It is also good to remember that specialist support organisations are there to advice you on how to improve your safety when you are being affected by specific types of abuse, or when the abuse is a constant in your life (for more on this, read the last section of this blog).

Some things to consider when making a safety plan

The first step is to think about your specific situation and the potential risks for you and other people in your care. Some questions that might be helpful to ask yourself are:

  • Do you know who the abuser is?
  • Is the abuser living in the same household/building as you or staying near you?
  • Are there patterns to the abuse —for example, is it more likely to happen at particular times?
  • Have threats been made to you and others around you (children, family, friends)?
  • Does the abuser know where you live and work/study?

These and other questions can then help you to come up with some steps to help you keep safe. Below we include a few examples of what these steps could be:

  • Having a list of emergency phone numbers and contact details of someone you trust at hand, in case you need to call them immediately.
  • Having a working mobile phone on you at all times with emergency contacts saved in it. If you don’t have access to a phone, try to keep track of the nearest phone you can access: this may be a neighbour’s phone or a payphone.
  • Having a safe place to go if needed, such as the home of a family member, friend, or a women’s refuge. Or if the abuse usually appears when you’re outside your home (for example, in your daily walk to the park), identify a safe place to go if needed, such as a supermarket or post office.
  • Talking to someone you trust about your situation. It doesn’t have to be a family member or friend, it can be a support organisation. Check our list of support services available here.
  • Consider informing your employer, student services within your university or college or a teacher in your children’s school.
  • Avoiding following the same pattern or routine each day so your whereabouts are less predictable.
  • Making sure windows and doors at home and for your car are locked.
  • Ensuring that online accounts/social media are as secure as can be. We have some tips on how to do this here.
  • Having a small amount of cash nearby for a bus fare or to use a payphone in an emergency.
  • Knowing where you keep your official documents (passport, birth certificate/s, national insurance number, bank details) and making sure you can access them in case you need to leave your home abruptly.
  • Seeking emotional support from a specialist organisation. You don’t need to cope with this situation alone.

Again, these are just examples of things you could include in your safety plan. It’s worth keeping in mind that what might work for one person may not work for another. A safety plan should suit you and people under your care specifically.

Agencies and organisations that can assist

Everyone will experience abuse differently and, depending on the circumstances, a government agency or support organisation can offer you specialised assistance to make a safety plan.

Agencies

In Scotland, Police, Social Work and health agencies can help you create a safety plan if you are already in contact with them. For social work and health agencies – it is a good idea to get in touch with local services which may be able to offer advice and support.

Agencies like Police Scotland can even help you make your home safer. This includes several options such as markers on your address (which means the police can respond as soon as possible if you’re in danger) and alarms in your home. In some cases, local authorities can help you and your children move to a safe location.

Support organisations

In addition to the agencies above, there are many support organisations in Scotland which are there for victims/survivors of different types of abuse and which can assist you in creating a safety plan:

The Forced Marriage and Domestic Abuse Helpline
Open 24/7

Call: 0800 027 1234
Email: helpline@sdafmh.org.uk
Web chat: sdafmh.org.uk

Scottish Women’s Aid: If a partner, ex-partner or a member of your household is abusing you, contact your local women’s aid group for support. You can also read these tips for staying safe when you’re experiencing domestic abuse.

Rape Crisis Scotland helpline can support survivors of any form of sexual violence
Open daily, 6 pm to midnight

Call: 08088 01 03 02
Text: 07537 410027
Email: support@rapecrisisscotland.org.uk

Shakti Women’s Aid works with women who identify as Black or belonging to an ethnic minority group who are experiencing domestic abuse, forced marriage, ‘honour’ based violence, and FGM (‘cutting’).

Call: 0131 475 2399
Email: info@shaktiedinburgh.co.uk

National Stalking Helpline
Open daily 9:30am - 4pm except Wednesday, 1pm - 4pm

Call: 0808 802 0300
You can also read their personal safety advice here.

Scottish Women’s Rights Centre: if you are unsure about which organisation to contact, we can assist you in finding a service that can help you. Contact our Advocacy Support Helpline on 08088 010 789 every Tuesday, 11am to 2pm.

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