Safety Planning During COVID-19: Tips From Survivors For Survivors

The following Safety Planning Guide was created by members of Sanctuary’s Survivor Leadership Institute and has been reviewed by multiple clinicians. The guide draws from survivors’ and clinicians’ expertise, as well as from safety planning models from the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Sanctuary for Families, and Love is Respect.

Click here to download a PDF with safety tips from survivors.

Lea esta guía en español aquí.

WHAT IS A SAFETY PLAN?

A safety plan is a set of steps you can take to reduce the risk of harm in unsafe situations with an abuser or family member. With the changes in our environments due to coronavirus, we advise survivors of gender-based violence to consider the following safety tips created by survivors.  Sanctuary for Families’ team of Survivor Leaders put this list together in hopes of providing digital tools for safety during this time.

Why Should I Create a Safety Plan?

It can be hard to think and react in a time of emergency or high stress, especially with the added stress and uncertainty of coronavirus, so it is helpful to create a plan in advance. It is also important to update your safety plan often, as circumstances can change.  Abusers often try to have power and control over a survivor’s life, and a safety plan is one way a survivor can have power and control over their own situation, as much as they can.  Having a plan can empower you to make the safest decisions you can for your situation.

You are the Expert

You know your situation better than anyone, so please individualize your safety plan to what feels safest for you.  If something does not feel safe, trust your instincts.  For example, it may not be safe to complete a safety plan in writing, but you can still review one in your head and memorize it as best you can.  It can also be helpful to go over your safety plan with a trusted friend or relative.

Digital Safety

Please try to use a safer computer or phone that someone abusive does not have direct or remote (hacking) access to.  Digital stalking is one way for abusers to try to exert power and control. Email and Instant/Text Messaging (IM) are not safe or confidential ways to talk to someone about the danger or abuse in your life. If possible, please call instead. If you use email or texting, please use a safer computer or phone and an account your abuser does not know about.

For more information on computers, the internet, and digital safety, click here.

INCREASED RISK OF HARM DUE TO COVID-19

As many of us are practicing social distancing and quarantine, there are many additional risks for survivors and their safety, such as:

  • Isolation: Abusers can use this time to further isolate survivors from their loved ones. They may also use this as a time to further restrict a survivor’s movement in person, controlling where they go and when. They might also control a survivor’s interactions online, limiting their access to the outside world.
  • Restricting Access to Information: Abusers may also restrict access to the news and other outlets, making themselves the source of all information.
  • Increased Abuse: The abuse may worsen during this time as survivors may be spending more time in contact with their abusers. Survivors may also experience new or different types of abuse during this time.
  • In-Person and Digital Stalking: Abusers might try to exert their power by trying to monitor, control and stalk survivors in person and digitally.
  • Financial Abuse: Many individuals are experiencing financial burdens due to being unable to work, and abusers may further financially exploit survivors during this time.
  • Parenting: Survivors who co-parent their children with their abusers may be facing unique challenges during these times, such as barriers to visitation and/or increased exposure to the abuser due to lack of accessible childcare.  For example, in order for a survivor to work, he/she/they may need to utilize their abuser for childcare.

SAFETY TIPS FROM SURVIVORS

1. Buddy System Code Word

Identify at least two people that you can contact with a “code word” to let them know if you are in trouble. Plan in advance what they should do if you send them the code word.

2. “Safest Room”

If there is an argument, identify an area of the home you can move to where there are no weapons and there are ways for you to leave the house, apartment, or building, such as a door or window to exit the house/apartment. For some survivors, especially those quarantined at home with an abuser during coronavirus, no room may feel safe, so we call it the “safest rooms”. If you can at least identify the lowest risk areas, you may be able to reduce harm.

3. Planning with Children

  • Code Words: If you have children, decide how to communicate urgency. For example, when one survivor’s daughter was little, the survivor would open her arms and the daughter knew that meant to come running to her for safety.  Some survivors also create a “code word” with their children that means they should go to the “safest room” in the home that you have already decided upon.
  • Emergency Numbers: If for some reason you are not able to make emergency calls and you have children, give them the safety number/s, if they are old enough. Please see the Resources section listed below for some emergency phone numbers.

4. Notifying the Police Before an Emergency

Ahead of time, you can notify your local police station of your concerns. Let them know the history and your concern of being in isolation due to coronavirus. It may be useful to speak with the Domestic Violence officer.

5. Exit Plan

In case you have to flee, create an exit plan ahead of time with someone who could support this need. Is there a trusted friend/relative who you can stay with, if needed?

6. Supplies, Food & Medication

Check your supplies and food. If you need food and do not have the money, check your local pantry, temple/church/mosque/etc., or other community organizations. Remember to keep your medication in the safest, easily accessible location in case of emergency.

7. Emergency Bag

Pack an emergency bag with an extra set of keys, clothes for you and your children, a pay as you go cell phone, medications, copies of important documents, etc.

8. Important Documents

Make copies or take pictures of your important documents for yourself and send them to a trusted friend or relative. Important documents may include IDs, social security cards, immigration documents, birth certificates, health insurance information, and Orders of Protection.  As mentioned earlier, be mindful of sending anything via phone or computer.  Please use whatever method is safest for you.

9. Seeking Social Support

With social distancing and quarantining, survivors can feel even more isolated, and abusers may use further isolation as a power and control tactic. Identify trusted friends, relatives or even online support groups where you can still connect virtually.  If you have a friend who may be experiencing abuse, be sure to reach out to them even more during this time.

10. Creating a “Peaceful Space”

Many survivors are feeling forced to spend more time with an abuser during the coronavirus outbreak because they may feel unsafe leaving the home, as well as unsafe staying in the home. If you cannot leave your home, try to create a “peaceful space” for yourself in your home (if that is safe for you). You can draw pictures of a more peaceful place and put them on a wall to help you take an emotional break to visualize a more peaceful place.  This is also an activity you can do with your children.  You can also write positive affirmations and put them up on the wall to remind yourself of your worth.

11. Holding onto Your Plan

Consider keeping a list of your safety plan in your phone or wherever might be safe for you. Please consider what is safest for you. If you choose to write your plan somewhere, consider listing only key words that help you remember the plan, but that would not be clear to your abuser. If this is not safe, try to memorize your plan, focusing on memorizing at least one key emergency number on your list of resources.

RESOURCES

All of the following resources are accessible, despite the coronavirus outbreak.

  • 9-1-1: In case of an emergency at any time, please call 911.
  • Emergency SOS on iPhone: Here is a link to a shortcut to using Emergency SOS to quickly and easily call for help and alert your emergency contacts if you have an iPhone: How to Use Emergency SOS on your iPhone
  • Emergency Location Sharing on Androids and iPhones: Here is a link for how to set up emergency location sharing on your phone, in case you want to share your location with a trusted friend or relative in case of emergency: How to Use Emergency Location Sharing
  • Sanctuary for Families Hotline: Sanctuary for Families’ Hotline is still accessible from Monday-Friday from 9 AM- 5 PM. Please call us at 212-349-6009
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: The National Domestic Violence Hotline is still accessible 24/7. Please call them at 1-800-799-7233
  • National Human Trafficking Hotline: The National Human Trafficking Hotline is still accessible 24/7. Please call them at 1-888-373-7888 or text them at 233-733
  • Suicide Hotline: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is still accessible 24/7. Please call them at 1-800-273-8255