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Safety Planning

For someone you know.


The following safety planning information was developed by Officer Randy White and Joan Zorza, Esq. The ZOE Project has made minor adaptations, including changing "victim" to "survivor" and changing pronoun usage.

The original source can be viewed here.

Don’t judge the survivor. You are not in their situation. Tell them you believe them and will always be there to listen. 

Make sure you become familiar with the cycle of abuse, the power and control wheel, and the many different manifestations of abusive behaviors.


Avoid telling the victim that they need to leave (they often already know that they need to leave but they feel they cannot do so safely). Instead, discuss a safety plan. Remember that leaving the relationship is often more dangerous for the survivor than staying.


Remember that the process of leaving is not linear and can take multiple attempts before true leaving is achieved.

Don’t tell them that the abuser is a jerk, that you never liked them, etc. This might drive the survivor away or make them feel they have to defend their abusive partner.


Become the victim’s confidante. Listen to everything they tell you. You could be a good witness later by backing up their story.


Assure them you will keep what they tell you confidential. This will help you gain their trust so they will be more likely to call you if they find themselves in a very serious situation (e.g., trying to escape.)


Ask them what the situation is like for them. Their abuser may:

  • Physically abuse

  • Make rules that are forever changing

  • Punish the survivor for breaking those rules

  • Criticize

  • Humiliate

  • Prevent the survivor from seeing friends or family, or from going to school, work or place of worship

  • Accuse the survivor of lying or being unfaithful

  • Force the survivor to do things they do not want to do or that make them uncomfortable (e.g., eat, drink, or engage in certain behaviors)

  • Monitor what the survivor does

  • Monitor how much money the survivor spends

  • Make the survivor beg for money or demand to see every receipt

  • Destroy the things the survivor cares about

  • Spy on the survivor

  • Blame the survivor for their (abuser's) misdeeds

  • Insult the survivor, call them names, or spit on them

  • Tell the survivor's friends, family, neighbors, or coworkers nasty things about them

  • Threaten to hurt or kill the survivor, the children or those the survivor loves (including pets)

  • Threaten to kill themselves

  • Threaten to abduct (kid- nap) the children, get custody of the children, and/or threaten that survivor will never see their children again

  • Threaten to put survivor in a mental hospital

  • Falsely accuse survivor of drinking or using drugs

  • Force survivor to engage in illegal activities


Let the survivor know that:

  • You are afraid for their safety.

  • You are afraid for the safety of their children.

  • This is not their fault; no one deserves to be abused.

  • Even if the abuser apologizes, it does not mean they will stop abusing.

  • Alcohol does not cause abuse; many alcoholics never abuse, and most abusive alcoholics who stop drinking continue to abuse.

  • There is a good chance the abuse will only get worse.

  • They are not alone; you will be there to help them or to help them find others who can help (be realistic about your own capacities). Pick a code word for the survivor to use if they need you call the police (or pick up their children from school).


Let the survivor know that abusers usually snoop on their victims to learn what they are doing and who is supporting them. They abuser may well check the survivor's car to see how many miles they have driven, and/or check their phone or computer for messages, phone calls, contacts, new photos, and Internet search history. With today’s electronic security the abuser may even have bugged the survivor's care, phone, computer, or other technological device with GPS tracking.


Let the survivor know that the abuser will most likely try to isolate them from anyone who is supportive of them (including their children and even you) by driving the survivor and their friends/family/co-workers/support system away from each other.

  • Common tactics are to disparage one (or both) to the other, to make it very difficult for the survivor to see supporters, and, if all else fails, threaten the survivor or their supporters.

  • Tell the survivor if you know the abuser is doing such things. (Be aware that the abuser may be talking to your friends and family, or even snooping on you to find out what you are doing to support the survivor.)


If it is safe for you to do so (and nobody in your household will tell the abuser), offer to let the survivor store some emergency things in your home in case they (and children, if applicable) need to leave quickly. These should include:

  • Information about the abuser’s driver’s license, car registration and workplace address (often needed to get or register an order of protection).

  • Information about their financial data (like credit cards, bank accounts, insurance policies).

  • The survivor's emergency and important phone numbers (or an emergency/alternative phone), prescription information (and even an emergency supply of medications), and their children’s immunization records.

  • It should also include information about any firearms he has.


If the survivor has children:

  • Let them know that most people who abuse their partners are not good parents, that most of them physically or sexually abuse the children, and that, if nothing else, they are poor role models for the children, and they often become worse as the children grow older.

  • Let them know that you know it is hard for the children to be in this situation, and that children are much more harmed by living in a home with domestic violence than they are by divorce or separation.

  • Let them know that, unless they have court permission to relocate, they may lose custody if they flee with the children to another state. They should work with domestic violence advocates or a lawyer if they plans to leave with the children.

  • Let them know that if they leave without one or more of thei children and want custody of them or to protect them, they should talk to a lawyer or domestic violence advocate about getting an order of protection and/ or custody order, and the sooner they do this the better.

  • They, you or somebody should tell the children that abuse is wrong.

  • They, you or somebody should teach the children that they should never get in the middle when one parent is abusing the other, that they should go somewhere where they will be safe and, if they can do so safely, call the police.

  • They, you or somebody should teach the children how to call the police for help, how to give their name, the address where they are calling from, and a brief explanation of why help is needed (e.g., daddy is beating up mommy). They should know that dialing 911 on a cell phone may not get the local police.


If they does not have children, let them know that:

  • It is easier to get out of a bad relationship when there are no children and that abusers control their partners through the children;

  • Abusers often sabotage their partners’ use of birth control to get them pregnant;

  • Having children almost always makes abusers more possessive and abusive.


Encourage the survivor to document everything that happened, including an accurate account of how they have been injured. Suggest that they get medical treatment.


If the survivor has injuries, ask them if you can take pictures of the injuries to keep at your home or other safe place. Assure them it is to document the injuries for when they are ready to call the police or go to court. Date the pictures and keep them with notes about when, where and how they got the injuries. They may need several copies or enough pictures to use to get an order of protection, if criminal charges are brought, and to use in a divorce and/or custody case.


Document all the dates and times that you see injuries on the survivor, even if they deny that the abuser caused the injuries. The survivor may have gone to the hospital but did not tell you or was too ashamed to tell you.


If the abuser has destroyed or damaged household property, with the survivor's permission, have the police, you or somebody else take pictures of the damage. Store the pictures in a safe place with the date, time and description of what each picture shows so that the survivor can use them in court if they want to.


Tell the survivor about local domestic programs and shelters, providing them with phone numbers. And/or tell them that the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) is available for help in developing a safety plan and obtaining information about emergency shelter/relocation, restraining orders and advocacy programs in or out of the survivor's area.

Be aware that clergy vary, and while some clergy are really helpful in cases of domestic violence, many others are not. The local domestic violence program is likely to know who will be helpful if the survivor wants to talk to a member of the clergy.

If the survivor is going to leave their abuser, tell them not to tell the abuser or anyone who might tell the abuser in advance.

Offer the survivor a safe place, if this is realistic, or help them to find one.

If the survivor leaves the relationship, do not disclose their location, especially to mutual friends or family members of the abuser. The survivor's safety is absolutely paramount.

If the survivor is suicidal, this is an indication of just how desperate they feel and they need help (ideally without letting the abuser know).

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