Safety and security tips for domestic violence situations (please add any others you can think of)
Below are some safety and security tips, broken up by phase.
When at home, planning to leave
Avoid unexplained changes. The general idea is to not make any sudden changes to your routine, practices, or other behaviors unless they can be readily explained. For example, a “cover story” should be created for why you’re setting money aside if asked
Remember Need to Know. Only tell people about your plans if they absolutely need to know and can be trusted. Limit the number of people that know your plan; even if you trust them, they may be tricked into giving up your location
Be careful of your browsing history. Most browsers keep a record of websites you visit. Whenever you’re researching new locations, shelters, or anything else related to you plan, use “private browsing” or “incognito” mode. Alternately, download the Tor Browser Bundle to browse securely. Although the Tor Browser Bundle is a secure, private way to browse the internet, be aware that it runs from a folder that may be found. You can hide this folder or run it from a thumb drive for added security.
Keeping a “Go bag”. It’s a good idea to pack a “go bag” with enough clothes, money and essentials to last for a few days, as well as important documents and records. However, this bag must not be kept anywhere that can be found. Keep it at a safe location, such as work, a storage locker, a trusted (and preferably not mutual) friend’s house, etc.
Prepare, but don’t spend too much time preparing. The longer you take to prepare, the greater the chance of detection. Life and safety is more important than any possession; if you need to leave, leave as soon as you can. If you have time to take the bare essentials, do so.
Bring as much cash as possible, or know where you can borrow some. Do not use credit cards if the abuser has any way of seeing what’s been charged and where. If you borrow money, make sure it’s from a trusted friend or relative that has no connection to the abuser.
Tell your kids what they need to know. Children are likely aware of the violence, but may not be sure what they can or can’t share. Tell them that if there’s violence, it’s their job to get to safety, not to intervene. Teach them how to find a safe place and call 911. Establish an “emergency word” to use with your children, which would indicate that they need to get to an established safe area.
Document the abuse. Take photos of injuries and save any written or recorded threats. Keep a journal documenting incidents. All of this information should be kept in a place inaccessible by the abuser, such as a secure email account
Know what to do if you’re in immediate danger. Move away from anywhere with dangerous objects, such as the kitchen or bathroom. If possible, secretly designate an area of the house as ‘secure’ by moving any dangerous objects out of it. This area should also offer clear escape routes
Know your escape routes. Plan ahead for which routes offer quick and safe escape routes. Practice the routes with your children, and establish a code word so they know when to escape and call the police. Make sure they understand to keep this code word secret
Avoid wearing necklaces or scarves
Secure weapons. Keep guns locked up and unloaded; secure bladed weapons
While traveling to a safe location
Don’t take the most direct route to your destination. When you leave, head off in the opposite direction from where you’re actually headed, just in case someone sees you leave and may tell the abuser which direction you went. Afterwards, double back and take another route to your actual destination.
Know what to look for to make sure you’re not being followed. Look several car lengths back, not just immediately behind you. If you think you’re being followed, simple checks can help to make sure. For example, make a u-turn and see if anyone else does the same thing. Drive slightly below the speed limit and see if anyone doesn’t pass you. Make a series of turns and see if the same car follows you. If you feel you’re being followed, pull into a police station parking lot or call the police.
If your vehicle has OnStar or a similar service, call to either cancel tracking entirely or set a password to ensure no one else can find the vehicle’s location using their “find my family” service.
The first 24 hours
Consider a protection order, but remember that the order itself offers no protection. But if it’s violated, inform the police immediately
Change website passwords. Even if you’re pretty sure that no one else knew them. Make sure to change your social media, bank and email passwords. Take this opportunity to enable two-factor authentication (2FA), sometimes referred to as multifactor authentication. This can help protect your account even if your password is compromised.
Get a new phone. One option is to purchase an inexpensive, reloadable cell phone from any major retailer. These phones, commonly referred to as “burner phones” will have no connection to the abuser and can help you keep in touch with your support system. Another option is to visit a retail location for your provider and have them move you over to a new plan. If they don’t offer you a new phone with the plan, make sure they perform a factory reset of the device to ensure any apps that could track your location are removed.
While at a shelter
Depending on the nature of the shelter, you may be asked to follow specific security rules designed to protect you, other residents, and the shelter staff. Although those rules may sometimes seem a little bit restrictive, it’s important to follow them for everyone’s safety.
If the abusive partner had access to your cell phone or your account, you may be asked to remove your phone’s battery, and maybe even wrap it in tinfoil to block any transmissions. Although this may sound a little bit extreme, this might be done because a cell phone may be used to track you or find out where you’re going.
At a hotel
Choose a secure hotel. Look carefully at the hotel before registering. Can someone get inside without a keycard, except through the main entrance? Are the grounds well-lit and maintained? Are there cameras in the hallways and lobbies? Does the staff appear attentive? Does the door have a deadbolt and peephole?
If possible, pay in cash. If that’s not possible, pay using a credit card that has no connection to the abuser.
When making reservations, instruct the hotel staff not to disclose your name or confirm your presence to anyone, no matter who they say they are (including spouse or relatives); also tell them to inform you if anyone is is asking about you. They will note this in your file, which will pop up whenever they look up your information. Also instruct them not to give a copy of your key or keycard to anyone but you.
Call the front desk to confirm any unrequested deliveries to your room. Don’t open the door until you’ve confirmed this.
Use additional security measures. Portable locks and telescoping door jambs are inexpensive and effective ways to make a room more secure.
Request a room on the fourth through sixth floor. You’re less likely to have a break-in if you’re not on the ground floor, and the sixth floor is the limit for most fire department ladders.
While at work
Remember that this is where you will be the most exposed in your daily life, particularly if you are still at the same job that you had before you left.
Come up with a safety plan at work. Your employer can screen your calls, assign a new phone number, move your desk, and provide an escort to your car.
If available, ask for a transfer and make sure all of your coworkers know not to disclose where you moved to. This is usually pretty simple, and most employers are understanding regarding this matter.
Provide a photo of the abuser to building security. This would allow quick identification and make sure they know not to allow them into the building.
When you reach your new place
Set phone passwords for utilities and services. Call services like any utilities and your phone company to ensure that no information is given out without a phone password that only you know.
Establish a “safe word” for your children. Decide on a word that can be given to your children in the event that you need someone to pick them up from school or daycare. This word should only be given to trusted individuals when needed and changed after use. Do not give the safe word to anyone until it is needed.
Tell your employer and children’s daycare what they need to know. Develop a safety plan with both, but limit what you tell them to what they need to know. Make sure that your employer and daycare provider know about any protection orders and what to do if the abuser shows up
Upgrade the security as much as possible. Consider deadbolts, door prop guards, external lighting, alarms, etc. Anything that can be done helps. If renting, make sure your landlord changes the locks before you move in.
Do a quick safety check when you get home. Look for anything unusual or signs of entry. Check for broken windows, open doors, fresh footprints, etc. If anything looks unusual, call the police to have them perform a courtesy check.
Protect your new address. 32 States have an Address Confidentiality Program (ACP), which gives victims of domestic violence a confidential mail forwarding service and a legal address for all forms and state agencies. Ask your local courthouse if such a program exists in your state. If this isn’t an option, consider a PO box for all mail.
Change up your routes to work, school, daycare, and other frequent destinations
Tell schools and daycare who can and can’t pick up your children. If there’s a protective order in place, make sure they know about it
Consider which neighbors you can give some details to. They can let you know if they see the abuser or their car in the area.
Take Special care to protect this information (as in, make sure not to say or do things that could reveal the following):
- The route you intend to take when leaving, where you plan on going and who will help you along the way
- Where your emergency clothing, supplies, money, and documents are kept. Also, try to hide the fact that those things are being moved at all
- Any emergency code words, such as those used with children to indicate safety or danger
- New, private bank accounts
- Phone records and web searches related to the escape plan
- New job and new home location
- Alarm codes, passwords, and pin numbers
- Date and time of planned departure
- The purchase of specialized clothing that may indicate the planned destination (e.g. cold or warm weather clothing)
This information isn’t hard to protect, but it can help make sure the escape plan goes off without any problems. Just think about what sort of thing can give away that information, and make sure to protect it.