If you are experiencing domestic violence, you are probably also experiencing many difficult emotions. Some of these emotions, such as sadness and fear, are the direct consequences of the abuse and are strong signals that the abuse must stop. Other emotions, such as guilt and shame, can be the result of feeling responsible for a terrible situation that you did not create and over which you have little control. Abuse is not your fault, and you cannot make an abuser change. What you can do, however, is take back control of your own life, and take action to leave an abusive situation. Domestic violence safety plans can help.
Many people feel paralyzed when they begin to think about leaving. There may be enormous emotional and financial obstacles to surmount. Some people have legitimate fears regarding violent retaliation by the abuser. There is help available for all of these obstacles. As you work toward increasing safety and stability in your life, keep the following in mind:
- An abuser who threatens violence if you leave presents an ongoing threat to your safety if you stay; leaving can permanently solve this problem.
- If you have children, they may be at risk of physical harm; they will certainly be emotionally harmed by witnessing domestic violence in their home.
- Financial help for victims of domestic abuse is available through the court system.
- Safe houses and other shelters provide many free services to victims of domestic abuse.
Making a Safety Plan
If you are in immediate danger, call 911, or go to the nearest police station or to a domestic violence shelter. You will be connected with resources that will help you make a long-term plan. If the police find that domestic violence has occurred and you have been physically injured, they will arrest the abuser. If the police come to your home but do not arrest the abuser, do not remain in the home after they leave. Ask an officer to drive you to a safe location. If you have children, take them with you.
If you are not in immediate danger, you have time to make a safety plan that addresses your unique situation. Here are some tips to help you get started. We have also created a Domestic Violence Safety Plans PDF that you can download or print.
- Protect yourself during the planning stage. It is very important to keep your plans a secret from the abuser. This is especially true if an abuser has been physically violent or has made serious threats of violence against you or people close to you. If the abuser is a member of your household, do not make phone calls to domestic violence resources or attorneys on a home phone or family cell phone, and do not conduct research related to your plan on a shared home computer. Use a trusted friend’s phone or computer, or use a computer at the public library. Contact a domestic violence shelter about obtaining a donated cell phone.
- Pack an emergency kit. Have a bag ready with clothing for yourself and any children you may have, along with other essential items such as emergency cash, a few days’ worth of prescription medications, lists of addresses and phone numbers for friends, relatives and domestic violence resources, and important documents such as social security cards or birth certificates and health insurance cards for you and your children.
- Collect and record evidence. Keep a journal in a safe place and record all instances of abusive behavior in detail. Include dates and times, locations, and any witnesses. If you are injured, take pictures and record the location of any cuts and bruises. Keep your evidence in your emergency kit or in a safe location outside of your home. Bring it with you if you go to the police station, the court house, or to consult with an attorney.
- Decide where you will go. Plan in advance exactly where you will go if you need a place to stay on short notice, whether it will be to the home of a friend or relative or to a domestic violence shelter.
- Prepare your children. Even very young children can be taught to dial 911 or run to a neighbor’s house in an emergency. If you have children, teach them how to use the phone. Educate them about how to recognize an emergency situation, and give them simple step-by-step instructions about what to do.
- Seek individual counseling. Being abused by someone you once trusted is a profoundly personal violation. Many victims experience isolation and loss of outside support systems along with the abuse. You can obtain a referral to a therapist with appropriate training and experience from a domestic violence hotline or shelter, or from your family law attorney.
- Seek attorney assistance. An attorney can help you successfully navigate through the restraining order process. If you have children with your abuser or you are married to your abuser a lawyer can help you prepare your court papers to include requests for child custody, financial support, and attorney’s fees. The attorney will keep your information confidential. If you are afraid that your abuser may know that you are going to see an attorney or may even follow you to the office, tell the attorney. You can proceed directly from the consultation to the courthouse or the police station, and from there to a safe and undisclosed location.
- Contact a domestic violence center for more help. Planning can be very difficult when you are living in a situation that creates continual stress. There are trained hotline responders available to assist victims of domestic violence with appropriate safety planning. Call one of the following numbers for confidential crisis intervention, information and/or referral to other services:
New Jersey Domestic Violence Hotline: 1 (800) 572-7233 (SAFE).
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1 (800) 799-7233 (SAFE).
Local resources can help victims address immediate needs such as housing or employment. You may be eligible under special rules for obtaining welfare assistance, food stamps, or other types of emergency aid. Here are a few resources to get you started:
Center for Hope and Safety: (201) 944-9600.
Click to Empower: The Allstate Foundation has partnered with the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) to create a group of financial tools to help survivors of domestic financial abuse regain economic independence.
Mt. Pleasant Animal Center: Project S.A.S.H.A. partners with homeless and domestic violence shelters to provide Safe And Sound Housing for Animals for 90 days while a pet owner recovers from a crisis situation.
New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence (NJCEDV) (formerly the New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women): (609) 584-8107. The NJCEDV maintains a county by county listing of member programs offering emergency services and transitional safe housing.
New Jersey Department of Health Services (DHS) Division of Aging Services: The Division of Aging Services maintains a listing of county APS providers. Within 72 hours of a referral, APS will conduct a thorough and confidential investigation, including a private assessment of any person 18 years of age or older who is potentially at-risk of abuse, neglect or exploitation.
Shelter Our Pets: 973-506-9696. For assistance with housing your pets if you are entering a New Jersey domestic violence shelter
Our attorneys can help you with restraining orders, temporary spousal support and child support. You can get out. You can live well with your children and you can stay safe. Call us: (888) 888-0919.