©2004 Diane Wetendorf. All Rights Reserved.
General domestic violence safety plans are available online and some include suggestions on how you can more safely use electronic devices, social media, and the like. You may find WomensLaw.org Safety Tips and TechSafety.org Safety & Privacy Toolkit are both helpful resources.
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.
- Memorize all important phone numbers.
- Decide whom you will inform of your situation. Is there someone you can talk to freely and openly, and who can give you the support you need?
- If you have a protective order, keep it with you at all times. If it is safe, tell family, friends, and neighbors that you have an order.
- Keep your cell phone on your person.
- Teach your children what they are to do when you or they are in danger. Practice where they are to go, whom to call. Give a copy of your order of protection to their school or daycare provider.
Cell phones, computers, texts, email, credit cards, ATMs, vehicles, and public transportation all leave a trail of information about your activities, locations, and time. If you suspect that your personal phone, computer, or email is being monitored, you're probably right. If you are looking for information on abuse or planning your escape, it's best not to use your own computer, phone, or usual email account. If you can, use a safer computer and an account your abuser doesn't know about. For example, use a friend's computer, or a public computer in a library, hotel, or other free public access.
Your abuser has access to sophisticated law enforcement tracking systems and databases, but surveillance apps and equipment are readily available to anyone who wants to track or stalk someone. He can monitor your phone use; track the sites you visit, any files you read, create, or edit (online or off-line); and monitor all your email activity. Changing or deleting your regular email account, changing passwords, or erasing your web history will raise a red flag so try to think of alternative ways to more safely use electronic devices and technology.
Police officers have access to additional private and public information: surveillance cameras, license and vehicle registrations, legal records, utility providers, credit bureaus, banks, landlords, mortgage companies, school personnel, hospital staff, insurance companies, government agencies, and other sources. 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.
Annotated safety plan for police-perpetrated DV
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 police-perpetrated 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 and have other weapons throughout your home. He is also trained to use his body as a weapon.
- Standard: Try to stay in a room with a phone or keep your cell phone with you so that, if you have an opportunity, you can call 911, a friend, or a neighbor.
- This is a good safety measure.
- Standard: Call 911.
- Calling 911 might be a last resort for you. Your abuser has a close working relationship with the dispatchers and responding officers and may taunt you to "go ahead and call the police and see what happens" because he's confident his fellow officers or co-workers will support him.
- Standard: Ask a neighbor to call the police if they hear a disturbance coming from your home.
- You may not want your neighbors to call the police. Is there anything else you would want them to do to intervene or to create a distraction? Give them specific instructions.
- Standard: Practice how to get out of your home safely. Visualize your escape route. Identify the best doors, windows, elevator, or stairway.
- Good advice but consider that your abuser is also familiar with escape routes and may prevent your getting to them. He also has learned tactics to stop someone who is trying to escape.
- Standard: Devise a code word to use with your children, neighbors, and others to communicate that you need the police.
- You might use a code word to signal that you need help, but again, you may not want them to call the police or intervene. Is there something else you want them to do instead?
Safety when preparing to leave
- Standard: Memorize all important phone numbers.
- This is a good safety measure.
- Standard: Open a banking credit/debit account in your own name to start to establish or increase your independence. Consider direct deposit of your paycheck or other income sources. 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 bank or other financial institutions. If possible, set aside cash rather than using traceable bank or financial accounts; also purchase a prepaid cash card to use when currency is not accepted. However, be aware that you can't reload cash cards anonymously.
- Standard: Buy a prepaid disposable (burner) cell phone rather than using your personal cell phone.
- This is a good safety measure but be aware that any phone number is ultimately traceable.
- Standard: Decide and plan where you will go if you must leave home quickly even if you don't think you will ever need to. Leave money, an extra set of keys, copies of important documents and extra clothes with someone you trust.
- This must be somewhere the abuser would not think to look. If possible, do not take your own car since he can track its location. Friends and close relatives are probably not your best choice. This should be someone your abuser doesn't know or wouldn't think of contacting. Ideally, this person's name will not be on your phone, email, or any documents.
- Standard: Have a pack ready with medications, important documents, spare glasses, hearing aids, and other items that you would need so you can leave quickly. Keep it hidden in a handy place.
- Your abuser may be hypervigilant in watching for signs that you are preparing to leave him. He may notice if items that you would take with you are missing. Consider buying duplicate items and copying documents so that things remain as normal as possible. Consider leaving the bag elsewhere in case your abuser searches your home. Again, his professional training makes him tuned into details.
- Standard: If you leave the relationship or are thinking of leaving, you should take important documents with you so you can apply for benefits or take legal action. This includes Social Security cards, passports, and birth certificates for you and your children, documentation of legal residency, marriage license, leases or deeds, charge cards, bank and charge account statements, legal documents (divorce decree, child custody agreement), 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: Call a shelter for battered women.
- Be sure to inform the shelter staff that your abuser is a police officer. The shelter may or may not be equipped to provide the increased security measures you require. Or, they may have a close relationship with local enforcement that could compromise your safety.
- Standard: If you are 60 years old or older, contact your local senior services to learn about eligibility for public and private benefits 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: Avoid staying alone.
- This is a good safety measure.
- Standard: Review your safety plan as often as possible 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 you think this will be the case, consider other options. You must decide whether you would be safer remaining in the relationship, leaving but staying within your community, or attempting to hide.
Safety at home (if the abuser doesn't live with you)
- Standard: Change the locks on your doors as soon as possible. Buy additional locks and safety devices to secure your windows.
- This option is based on your financial situation and where you live. Consider replacing wood doors with steel doors; installing security door locks and motion detectors; increasing outside lighting. Install and maintain smoke detectors and purchase fire extinguishers. Remember that your abuser probably knows how to unlock door and window locks. 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/building manager that the abuser no longer lives with you and they should call the police if they see him near your residence.
- Can you trust the local police to take action against your abuser? If not, consider what else you want people to do if they see your abuser near your residence.
Safety with a protective order
- Standard: Always keep your protective order with you. When you change your purse, backpack, etc., 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.
- Can you trust the local police to enforce an order against your abuser?
- Standard: Call the police if your abuser violates the conditions of the order. Learn what violations of the order require officers to arrest the abuser.
- Again, do you trust the local police to enforce an order against your abuser?
- 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 order in effect.
- This is a good safety measure.
Safety outside your home (School, work, public)
- Standard: Decide whom you will inform of your situation. This could include your children's school, your employer, or your residence building 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 and email account.
- This remedy may be ineffective because apps and equipment are readily available to anyone who wants to track or stalk someone. Police officers also have access to additional private and public information databases.
- Standard: Save and document all contacts, messages, property damage or injuries, and other incidents involving your batterer.
- Your abuser is probably smart enough not to leave physical evidence and word messages ambiguously to hide his intent; save and document everything 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, vary your route home. Think about what you would do if something happened while going home.
- Civilian escorts may fear they cannot protect you or themselves from a police officer. Police may be unwilling to take action against your abuser.
Talking with your abuser and others
- Standard: If you must communicate with your abuser, do so in a safer way by phone, postal mail, email, in presence of another person, through an attorney, etc.
- Do not communicate with your abuser if he has a no-contact order against you even if he initiated the contact. Be very careful what you say to the abuser as he may record and save any communication with you to use it against you later.
- Standard: If you must meet your partner, do it in a public place.
- This is a good safety measure but do not communicate with your abuser if he has a no-contact order against you even if he initiated the contact.
- Standard: Decide whom you can talk to honestly about your abuse, and who can give you the support you need.
- Few people — including friends, family, attorneys, and advocates — fully understand how extremely dangerous and complex your situation is. They may be well-intentioned but not understand why standard remedies will not work for you. The burden of educating them falls on you.
- 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.
- Group facilitators and participants may not be familiar with the dynamics of police-perpetrated domestic violence, but they may be able to offer you general information and support. If you choose to attend a group, try to find one outside your police district.