Planning for safety can help everyone – even those who are not necessarily in abusive situations – to be better prepared to keep themselves as safe as possible. Safety planning can help women with disabilities who are in abusive situations and relationships to make choices about how to get themselves, their loved ones including their children, and their animals to a safe place (Adams, 2020). Safety planning can also help women in abusive relationships and situations to prepare for future violence episodes and, therefore, increase their chances for safety. To stay as safe as possible, it is important to develop a safety plan. A safety plan is a carefully thought-out plan that people can follow to keep themselves safer in a variety of situations.
To stay as safe as possible, it is important to develop a safety plan. Safety plans rely on recognizing potentially risky situations and then being prepared to help reduce those risks. This guide includes safety information for women with disabilities who are in abusive situations, have been in abusive relationships, or who are at risk of experiencing abuse.
Safety Planning When in an Abusive Relationship
If you are in an abusive relationship, consider the following options to increase your chances for safety:
- Think about what has worked in the past when facing an emergency.
- Be aware of the abusers’ patterns and behavior before they become abusive.
- Watch for signs that physical violence could happen such as increased verbal abuse.
- Ask your personal assistant or partner to assist with care tasks when they are not angry. If you abuser is your personal assistance, identify a different person to provide assistance for you in the event you must leave home.
- Decide where to go if you must leave.
- If you have a cell phone, keep it charged and near you. Program 911 into it.
- Rent a post office box in your name and keep the key in a safe place.
- Consider getting a credit card in your name only and having the statements sent to your post office box or an address unknown to the abuser.
- If you can get out of your home on your own, plan or practice how you will do it. It may be helpful to practice getting out of your home with your service animals or children so they can respond quickly if necessary.
- When you expect an argument, try to move to a place that is low risk such as a room with an outside door. Avoid a closed room or a room with dangerous items including weapons.
- Think of who you can call and have their phone number available.
- Think about who to call for support such as a friend, family member, or a domestic violence hotline. Memorize or program their numbers into your phone.
- Develop a signal or a code with your children or neighbors so they can call for help when you need them to do so.
- Obtain information about getting a protective order or other legal information from the local police, the sheriff’s department, or the Office of the County Attorney. Some centers for independent living provide legal advice.
- Contact the police when you are not experiencing violence at home and tell them about your situation. Ask if a patrol car could drive by your home on a regular basis.
- Trust your judgment. If being hurt or threatened, consider doing anything that you feel will keep you safe until you can figure out your next steps. Remember: Sometimes it is best to leave, but other times it may be best to stay and do whatever the abuser demands. Giving in to abusers in profoundly serious situations may be the only way to protect yourself and your children from being hurt or killed. Also, abusers often become more violent when they believe the victim is leaving.
Safety Planning When Leaving an Abusive Relationship
Deciding to leave or stay in an abusive relationship is a very personal decision. It is important to keep in mind that leaving or preparing to leave an abusive relationship can be an extremely dangerous time.
- Make sure to keep your car or van, your wheelchair lift, and your power wheelchair in full working order.
- Always keep at least a half tank of gas in your car or van.
- Do not tell your abuser that you are leaving. Leave quickly.
- Request a police escort, a friend, or family member to accompany you when you leave.
- Consult a lawyer. Keep photos or other evidence of physical abuse and a journal of threats of violence and violent events with dates. Store your journal in a safe place.
Items to take with you: It is helpful to have items ready in case you need to leave quickly. When preparing to leave, consider leaving money, an extra set of keys, and important documents with a friend or family member. If you are leaving an abusive relationship, it is important to take certain items with you:
- Phone and phone charger
- Birth certificates for you and your children
- Extra assistive equipment such as cane, walker, or shower chair
- Marriage and driver's license, identification card, disability card for public transportation
- Car title, lease or mortgage papers
- Insurance information
- School and health records, social security card, welfare and immigration documents, and divorce or other court documents
- Financial information including credit cards, check book, bank account number, ATM cards, and some cash
- Keys for your home, car or van, and place of work
- Medications and prescriptions
- Medical records for you and your family
- Phone numbers of your doctors
- Medical supplies such as bowel and bladder supplies, Hoyer lift
- Chargers for wheelchair battery and other electronic devices
- Service animal and supplies
- Phone numbers and addresses for family, friends, doctors, lawyers, and domestic violence agencies
- Multiple change of clothing as well as toothbrushes and other toiletries for you and your family
- A photo of your abuser kept in a safe place or give it to a trusted friend to keep for you
- If time, family photos, comfort items, or other things important to you
Safety Planning When No Longer with the Abuser
After a victim has separated from the abuser, there is a risk that they may come back to harm their victim. Here are some things you could do to keep yourself safer at home when the abuser is not living with you:
- Change the locks on all doors.
- Install an electronic system, additional locks on doors, locks on all windows, etc.
- Have a fire extinguisher and install smoke detectors on each floor.
- Install an outside lighting system that comes on automatically when someone is close to your house.
- Tell the neighbors that the abuser no longer lives with you. Ask them to warn you or call the police if they see the abuser near your home.
- If you don’t have a cell phone - get one and keep it with you. Program it to call 911.
- Change your phone number. Be sure the new number is unlisted.
- Use an answering machine and Caller ID to screen calls.
- Keep copies of court orders and dates of previous incidents for reference in the event you need to call the police again.
- Consider getting a guard dog.
- Use a different bank, routes to and from work, and stores that are different from those you used when living with your abuser. Change regular appointments that your abuser knows about.
- If you have school-age children, inform the school who is and is not allowed to pick your children up from school.
Safety Planning in Medical Settings
Although some may find it hard to believe, patients may be abused or violated by their medical provider or other medical personnel. Because women with disabilities may have more frequent contact with medical providers and medical organizations, they may be at higher risk for this type of abuse. Consider the following recommendations to protect your safety in medical settings:
- Ask a nurse or someone else to be present while the doctor is performing an examination.
- Ask that a door of an examination room be left slightly open.
- Be assertive and inform medical staff about any accommodations that you need (such as assistance during transfers).
- If you can, call for help loudly when feeling unsafe.
- Tell others that you feel unsafe while in a medical setting.
Safety Planning with a Protective Order
If you are a victim who is leaving an abuser, you can apply for a restraining order or protective order (P.O.) at your courthouse. A P.O. is a legal document or court order designed to keep an abuser away from their victim and protect the victim from further harm. The decision to get this legal protection should be left to the victim who knows the abuser best and how the abuser will respond to legal and police actions. Victims who obtain a P.O. should always keep a copy with them, inform others that they have a P.O., and contact the police if or when the abuser violates the P.O.
SAFE Disability Services (2020). Safety Planning with People with Disabilities and Deaf* People: A Working Guide
Safety first initiative. Safety Planning for Persons with Disabilities: Advocate Guide.
National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence (n.d.). Domestic Violence Personalized Safety Plan.
National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence (n.d.). The Hotline.
Office of Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2019). Relationships and Safety Resources.
The Vera Institute of Justice maintains a website called End Abuse Against People with Disabilities where you can find information, a newsletter and webinars.
WomensLaw.org. (2020). Safety Tips.
In addition to safety tips, WomensLaw.org provides state-by-state information about protective and restraining orders.
Other Information on Resources for Safety Planning
Whether or not you are in an abusive relationship, you may benefit by learning about the safety-related resources available in your community or on the state or national level. Learning about these resources can help you plan for safety if you find yourself in an abusive situation. It can also help you recommend safety resources to a friend or family member in abusive relationships. To protect your safety, we recommend that you contact your local domestic violence center and/or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) for help to develop and practice a safety plan. Safety planning and resources for help in abusive situation can save lives. Please refer to our Resources page for additional information on obtaining help for abuse.
Adams, R. (2020). Safety planning with people with disabilities – A working guide. D. King & M. Schwartz (Ed.). Austin, TX: Disability Services of SAFE.