A Guide to Domestic Violence: Risk Assessment, Risk Reduction, and Safety Plan
For police officers, whose work has as much to do with crime prevention
and community service as it does with enforcing the laws;
for prosecutors, court staff, probation, parole and community corrections
staff, whose work has as much to do with public safety as it does with
the administration of justice;
for domestic violence service providers and victim's advocates, social
workers and human service professionals and health care providers and
educators and clergy and everyone else to whom domestic battered victims
turn for help;
we offer this Guide as a reference and training
This is not one-size-fits-all work. Domestic violence interventions
must be case-specific and based on an ongoing analysis of
the totality of risks the victims faces.
Being in a relationship with an abusive partner - and surviving - requires
considerable skill and resourcefulness. Although she/he may not be fully
aware of it, every victim of domestic violence has already been doing
risk assignment and safety planning: attempting to manage rising tensions,
to head off crises, to protect themselves and their children, to keep
an already bad situation from getting worse.
Whatever the potential benefits, everything that we suggest that battered
victims do - or that we offer to do on their behalf, or that we do without
their consent - also carries with it some kind of potential risk or cost.
Responsible intervention isn't possible unless we seriously consider and
account for those risks and costs, as well as the risks she's/he's contending
with before she/he encounters us.
The starting point for any intervention strategy is the collaborative
- the risks - physical and non-physical - that the victim faces
- the victim's identification of "priority" problems
Get used to the idea that the victim's sense of the most pressing matter
may not be the same as yours. Regardless of which of you is "right",
you will have to content with the victim's sense of priority. And if you
show respect for the victim's priorities, she's/he's more likely to be
able to trust and work with you.
- The victim's existing resources and capabilities?
- Is he/she socially isolated or does she have a good support system?
- Is he/she relatively privileged (by race, case, education, or professional
skill) or not?
- Is he/she a drug addicted?
- Alcohol abusing? Seriously emotional?
- What is his/her level of literacy?
- How well can he/she communicate?
- the results (positive and negative) of past efforts at problem-solving
and seeking help
- Find out what she's/he's done that made things more safe or tolerable;
see who has been helpful in the past, who has an inhibiting effect on
the victim's partner, whom she/he trusts.
- the actually available and accessible community supports and
- Consider how the realities of fees-for-service, "child-friendliness",
proximity to public transportation, hours of operation, and language
capability make a difference.
II. Victim-Focused Intervention
It can't be emphasized enough that the problem of domestic
violence can't be resolved by effecting changes in the victim's behavior.
No battered victim has control over his/her partner's behavior, and it
is foolish to expect victims to "stop the violence." The
problem is the offender's conduct and sense of entitlement to coercive,
controlling and terrorist behaviors.
That said, it remains true that victim-focused measures are an essential
element of a domestic violence intervention strategy. Battered victims
can and do find ways to reduce the level of risk and danger in their lives,
and to reclaim freedom of choice and action.
Risk assessment and safety planning give us a method of identifying problems,
options and resources, for evaluating those options, and for committing
to a plan of action. Some people find it useful to work with a friend
or advocate and write out a plan. (A sample plan is attached.) Some find,
however, that they need to keep the plan and other papers with a trusted
friend, an attorney or a domestic violence advocate. The key thing, whether
the plan is written or not, is to have one.
The goals of victim-focused interventions are:
- To reduce offender access to victims and other vulnerable parties;
Access needs to be understood as a physical, social, emotional,
informational and financial.
Access can be gained directly, through agents or intermediaries,
and through the actions of social institutions like the courts, the
schools, or the child support system.
- To re-establish or expand a victim's zone of free choice and activity,
and strengthen her ability to resist and repel her abusive partner and,
- To increase the level of community "guardianship" surrounding
the victim and other vulnerable people (children, witnesses.)
III. Risk Assessment
A Cautionary Note:
Traditionally, this has involved the analysis of specific threats, or
of the offender's capacity for serious or lethal acts of violence.
There are a number of currently available risk/danger assessment instruments,
including some sophisticated computerized models.
What these tools do is help us think through the
dynamic elements of a particular case, and compare it to known cases that
resulted in serious injury or death.
In a sense, they serve an important "coaching" function, in
that they remind us to do a thorough investigation and analysis of the
significant elements of a case.
What they cannot do is predict the behavior of any given
individual. The single best predictor of future violent behavior continues
to be past violence, and we cannot, in any absolute sense, predict lethality
or serious injury. The best we can do is evaluate comparative risk,
and attempt to safeguard against identified dangers.
The other thing they cannot do is help us really enter into the world
of battered victim's problem solving. Avoiding serious injury or death
is certainly the most dramatic aspect of a domestic violence intervention
strategy. But once we understand domestic violence as a problem of coercive
control rather than simply as problem of assault behavior, we
are forced to broaden our concept of risk assessment. Like battered
victims, we then need to conduct a thorough analysis of the complex
package of physical, legal, economic, familial, social, and emotional
risks faced by the victim, and by those she/he feel bound to protect.
This set of concerns extends well beyond traditional definitions of
While she/he wants the abuse to end, a battered victim may not want to
see their partner harmed, publicly shamed, or damaged financially.
The victim may want to protect her/his privacy and sense of competence.
The victim may be weighing the effects that taking the children out of
their regular school in order to seek shelter will have.
The victim may fear that their partner will try to get custody of the
children if she/he seeks help about the domestic violence.
The victim may be concerned that multiple court appearances will lead
to the loss of their job.
If the victim leaves an abusive partner, she/he may fear being "cast
out" by their family or religious community.
Understanding "safety" as something more than protection from
assault, we need to get beyond "danger", look at a broader range
of risks, evaluate their seriousness, and weight the real consequences
of any possible courses of action we might propose to the victim.
In identifying pressing concerns and evaluating risks, it is critical
to get a sense of how the relationship has developed and at the range
of coercive tactics employed by the abuser. The question isn't simply
"what kind of danger is she/he in?" We have to ask at the same
time, "How constricted has the victim's life become?" and "What
might be done to reduce both the danger and the narrowing of free choice
In the sections that follow, we'll consider some of the most critical
areas that investigations and interviews should explore.
When evaluating available options for intervention - yours and the victim's
- the key questions are:
"If she/he does X (or does not
do X) which risks go up, which go down, and which new risks arise?"
"What are the implications - for the victim, other witnesses, the
offender, the community, my organization, and myself ifI
do (or don't do) X?
IV. Elements of Risk Assessment
- Assessing Threats
For too long, there has been a very high "discount rate"
when it comes to evaluating threats made by one partner against another.
The tendency is to dismiss these as things being said "in the
heat of the moment", or to see threats as an abuser's way of
"letting off steam." Inevitably, in the aftermath of a death
or serious assault, the "wisdom of hindsight" kicks in,
and people tell reporters: "we saw it coming."
In evaluating threats, consider the following:
- Does the victim ..believe the threat?
This is important information, even in those instances where
you come to the independent conclusion that a victim is minimizing
the danger she/he faces.
Consider also that words or acts that are not particularly threatening
in one cultural frame of reference could well be terrorizing in
- Was it made in the presence of other people? In writing? In a
recorded telephone conversation?
Willingness to "leave evidence" or "not
caring who knows" may indicate a more serious intention to
- Is it detailed and specific?
Evaluate threats in domestics as you would evaluate
potential suicides: the more thought that's gone into the plan
(evidenced by the amount and specificity of the detail); the more
likely it is to be acted on: "I'm going to kill you"
is cause for concern; "Tonight, I'm going to feed you feet
first through that wood chipper" is cause for greater alarm.
- Is the threatened act consistent with his past behavior?
- Does the abuser have the means to carry it out?
Again, consider the parallel to assessing potential
suicides: There's having the thought, then there's having a plan,
then there's being able to follow through. Where the "means"
are at hand, there is more risk.
- Have there been "rehearsals" of the act that is being
These can be verbal "picture painting" ("let
me tell you what I'm going to do . . .") or partial reenactments
(showing someone the weapon you intend to use or the place where
you're going to kill or bury them).
- Does the threat extend to others (children, family members, police,
Fear of harm to others may restrict a victim's willingness
to resist and/or to follow through with police, children's services
and the courts.
Custodial interference and parental kidnapping are routine in
domestic violence cases. In addition, a substantial percentage
(in one study, more than a third) of domestic homicides are multiple-victim
killings, murder-suicides, or murder-suicide attempts.
- Does the threat involve murder, suicide or both?
- General Considerations
Here, we need to consider not just "yes or no" but to what
degree these factors are present.
- History of Violence/Use of Force
- Was the suspect abusive to former partners or family members?
- Has the physical violence increased in frequency or intensity
over the past year?
- Has the suspect recently become violent toward the children?
Violence tends to escalate against a victim at the same time that
it begins to be directed to the children.
Children are likely to be injured when attempting to
intervene in domestic incidents. Young boys convicted of homicide
are more likely to have killed a suspect abusing their parent
than to have killed anyone else.
- Has the violence involved choking or attempted strangulation?
These acts seriously escalate the potential for serious
injury or death, but are often described by offenders as attempts
to "restrain" an "out of control" victim.
Whenever there is an indication that choking or "restraint"
is a tactic of abuse, it's critical to do a thorough assessment.
- Did the suspect use an object, such as a belt or other article
of clothing, a telephone cord, an electric cord, a leach or a plastic
- Did the victim initially "see stars", black out momentarily,
or lose consciousness for a protracted period, or lose bladder or
bowel control? Or subsequently, have any degree of neck swelling?
Have bruises, burns or red marks or spots on the neck? Have reddening
of the "whites" of the eyes? Vomit or cough up blood?
Experience difficulty breathing or swallowing? Has speech become
"raspy" or lost voice? Experience headaches and/or neck
- Has the violence involved head-banging or a head injury?
- Has the batterer been violent while she was pregnant?
- Does the batterer have a history of violence toward people who
aren't intimates or family members?
- Does the batterer have a history of sexual assault behavior?
- Has the batterer ever abused pets or other animals? During this
relationship, or as a child?
- Has the batterer destroyed property particularly their partner's
Intentional and terrorist destruction of property is often an "it
could as well be you, and next time might be" message.
- Does the batterer have a special interest in/fascination with
movies, television shows, video games or books that focus on themes
of violence, power and revenge; "true crime" stories of
homicide or stalking?
- Are there weapons in the household? Does the batterer keep weapons
in more than one place? Where are they kept? Does the batterer have
access to weapons owned by others? Is the batterer trained in their
- Does the batterer have illegal or exotic weapons?
- Is having and being willing to use weapons part of their self-image?
This is particularly crucial in relationships that
involve people in law enforcement, corrections, the military,
and the criminal justice system.
- Has the batterer's past violence involved the display, use or
threatened use of firearms or other weapons?
- Does the victim possess weapons? What kind? Is the victim trained
in their use?
In one form, this emerges when one partner feels anxious and unsafe
without the compliant presence of the other.
In another, more extreme and dangerous form, one partner feels/believes
they are "incomplete" without the other. Psychologists and
other mental health professionals will use terms like "enmeshment"
to describe this.
In assessing for centrality, we need to look at both the material
and the emotional "overlaps" between people's lives.
- Do the parties live together or share possessions? Do they have
children in common? Are there legal ties between them?
- Is the victim financially dependent on the abuser?
- Is the abuser possessive? Does he/she express beliefs of "ownership"
or sexual entitlement to their partner? Is the abuser violently
or constantly jealous of the victim? Does the abuser make unfounded
accusations of infidelity?
- How much does the abuser's sense of self depend on the relationship?
For instance, has the abuser ever said, "I'd be
lost without you" or (being ordered into counseling or drug/alcohol
treatment,) "I can't do this without your" or "If
you leave me, I have nothing to live for"?
- Is the abuser socially dependent on the relationship?
- As the relationship has progressed, has he/she become less connected
to friends and family?
- Does the offender engage in "checking up" behaviors?
Listen in on conversations, read mail, require an accounting for
whereabouts and activities?
- Does the offender enlist others in monitoring the victim's behavior?
Not only the offender's friends, family,
co-workers and cell mates, but also the victim's friends,
family, and co-workers.
- Has the offender contacted - or threatened - the victim's friends,
relatives or co-workers?
- Has the offender followed, "staked out" or otherwise
- Has the offender made unwanted attempts to communicate by mail
or telephone, or through third parties?
These communications don't have to be threats. They
can be "oh baby, I was so wrong I don't know what came over
me; can you ever forgive me; let's work it out together"
messages, flowers, gifts, etc.
- Does the abuser control most of the financial resources?
- Does the abuser control or attempt to control most or all of the
victim's daily activities?
- Does the abuser give her lists of things the victim must
and cannot do? Does the abuser ask the victim to repeat
conversations she's/he's had with others? Is the victim required
to account for her/his movements? Does the abuser check the odometer?
Does the victim have to account for every penny she/he spends?
- Has the abuser attempted to isolate the victim, by moving or by
driving people away?
- Does the abuser believe he/she is entitled to control
in the relationship?
- Does the abuser equate compliance with loyalty?
- Is the abuser able to accept disagreement or behavior that is
difficult from what he/she would like to see, or does he/she interpret
those things as a form of personal attack?
- Other Concerns
- Does the abuser drink? Use drugs? How often?
- Has there been a recent escalation in the abuser's pattern of
drinking or drug use?
- Does the abuser's childhood history include domestic violence?
Physical child abuse? Sexual abuse?
- Is this near an "anniversary date" of a traumatic incident
from the abuser's past?
- Have holidays always been flashpoints?
- Does the abuser basically see themselves as somebody "things
happen to", as being put-upon, or as the victim of other people's
- How does the abuser describe "things that went wrong"
(failed relationships, lost jobs) in the past?
- How able is the abuser to understand other people's motives and
- Also: how much does the abuser tend to project his/her own feelings,
fears, or motives onto others?
- Is the abuser able to accept responsibility for his/her actions?
- How does the abuser respond to change, particularly when it wasn't
- Did the relationship begin in a "whirlwind", with quick
sexual involvement, living together soon after meeting, marriage
within six months of meeting?
V. After assessing risks and the potential level of danger, the next
- Clarification of roles and responsibilities
- Where, if at all, does a "special relationship" and affirmative
duty to protect exist? How was it created and what are its terms?
- Is there an order of protection? Are there court-ordered conditions
of probation or parole? Has the abuser said things that create a "duty
- To what extent does confidentiality apply to your communications?
What information are you legally required to disclose, and to whom?
- Tell victims what limits there are to protective actions that "the
system" may undertake on their behalf. This way, you place the
victim in a position to decide what's in their best interests and
not in their best interests to tell you.
- People don't intuitively know how public systems "work",
and victims need to be educated about what any given institution or
responder can or cannot do for them.
- Explain - in some detail - who is what part
of the system needs what kind of information, and who
can reasonably be expected to undertake what kind of
actions on her behalf.
- Everyone needs to recognize that it's the victim who
is ultimately going to carry the "every-moment" burden of
attending to their safety and that of their children.
- Education about the problem of domestic violence
- Nobody wants to be a battered victim. Don't forget for a moment
the stigma attached to this particular label, and don't assume
that victims identify their problem as domestic violence.
- The victim may believe it's the abuser's insecurity or impulsiveness,
drinking or drug use, stress at work, or the behavior of the children,
or something the victim's doing (or not doing) that's the problem.
- Although you can't predict what will happen in any given relationship,
you can share what you know about the dynamics of domestic violence,
particularly as it relates to "de-escalation phase" behaviors,
separation violence, stalking, and dangerousness.
- You can also show an understanding that, in all likelihood, this
will be a "long haul" process, and that you are ready for
- Without in any way suggesting that the victim is responsible
for or can control their partner's behavior, you can assist the victim
in coming to terms with the need to anticipate certain predictable
behaviors on the part of the batterer - and then help the victim to
develop enough of a tolerance for them that they're able to function
adequately and do not, acting from fear or frustration, become drawn
further into harm's way or inadvertently aggravate the situation.
VI. Now, you can move to situation-specific safety planning
- First Steps
- Think about how you evaluate advice, and under what conditions you're
most likely to take suggestions. You're likely to take advice
When what's being suggested is consistent with your experience,
your values, and your sense of self and
When you "walk around" the suggestion and come to the
conclusion that, on balance, it will do more good than harm in your
life (that is isn't going to make matters worse.)
- Now, think about what happens if those conditions
- First, you're just not likely to do it.
- Second, you may very well, if the person making the suggestion
has some kind of power over you, act like you're willing
to or going do it, and then just not do it on once
you're away from them.
- Third, you may come to the reasonable conclusion that this person
has something other than your best interests at heart,
regardless of what their mouth is saying.
- It almost always makes sense to begin from the
assumption that people are going to try to make their relationships
"work" and to preserve their families, if they can, and
that, aside from what they may want to do, powerful social
forces are going to push them that way.
This is particularly true when there are children involved,
as the existing laws related to child custody, visitation and support
will keep people entangled even when they might not wish to be.
Add to that they understanding that "leaving" an intimate
relationship or a marriage is not a single event; it is an accumulation
of decisions and actions. In other words, it's a process, not just
Anyone who's ever stayed in a bad job or had a roommate conflict or
has been in an intimate relationship where the "breaking up"
took longer than the "being in love" knows what this involves;
you don't have to be battered to identify.
- Regardless of what the victim intends to do about the relationship,
risks need to be identified and evaluated, and plans need to be constructed
for a variety of situations:
- a crisis, such as an assault;
- a continuing to live with an assaulting or abusive partner;
- "leaving", including the preparation, announcement, separation
and living independently phase;
Sometimes, people "leave" because they are fleeing
a crisis. In other cases, "leaving" is very carefully planned
over an extended period of time. Depending on the situation, it may
be possible to negotiate the terms of "leaving", but for
some victims, it's safest to disappear without an announcement or
- continuing to date or have social contact with a partner from whom
one has at least temporarily separated, and attempting to re-negotiate
the terms of the relationship;
Face it: people are going to do these things. And for reasons
that may be good. Or because the terms of a court order require
them to. In any event, unless the victim is so impaired as to require
adult protective services, this is simply none of your business. (It
may concern you, but it's none of your business.) You reduce your
own level of frustration and error by anticipating it.
- maintaining an independent life after a permanent separation, divorce
or termination of a relationship.
VII. Crisis plans
Think about handling yourself in a crisis:
If you sense trouble, or find yourself in an argument, move to a "low
risk space" - rooms with two exists and where there are fewer things
that can be used as weapons; rooms where you can be seen or heard from
Kitchens, bathrooms and garages are more dangerous than living rooms,
dining rooms, or bedrooms. Can you guess why?
Learn - and teach your children - to get positioned "between trouble
and the door."
Learn defensive tactics. If you are going to be around someone who is
likely to hit you, learn how to position your body to reduce the damage.
Create signals and/or code words that will let your children know to
get out and go to a pre-arranged place of safety, or that will let your
neighbors/family members know to come over (and create a supportive or
defusing presence) or to call for help.
Examples of signals are a turned-on porch light or a drawn shade, or
an "I can't come over on Thursday after all" phone call to a
friend or family member.
Have an escape plan and a back-up. Rehearse getting out: in the
dark and with your children. Keep spare keys and important documents where
you can get to them readily.
Consistent with their age, their "instincts" and their skills,
developed safety plans for the children: about calling for help, or getting
to a place where they will be safer.
Do whatever it is you need to do to buy time and/or space, to
defuse the situation, or to protect yourself and your children.
VIII. Elements of safety plans for victims who are "staying"
or "staying in contact"
Reduce isolation wherever it can be done without "rocking the boat"
- find neutral opportunities to build and maintain social supports
That is, ways you can connect with people that your partner is less likely
to find threatening or provoking
Through children: playgroups and child-care "co-ops"; Headstart
home-and-school programs; PTA or Home-School Associations; sports; scouting;
attending to children's health needs;
Through church or spiritual communities;
By having friends and family drop by, particularly people in whose presence
the abuser is likely to keep things in check.
Over the long term, develop better options
For victims who have a couple of very young children, or children with
special needs, a safety plan may well have "not getting dead"
as its short-term objective, with the long-term goal of "getting
Although you may not be at all comfortable with this decision,
it may well be not only the best thing the victim can do at the moment,
but also the safest. The victim may well get out:
- after there are no more - or there are less burdensome - child care
- after the children are old enough to speak for themselves in custody/visitation
- after the children are old enough to enact their own safety plan.
- after the victim's education - or some critical stage of her children's
education - is completed,
- after the victim is better able to cope emotionally or physically,
gets out of treatment, off probation/parole, or out of mandated services,
- after the abuser is fully vested in a pension or is able to leave
his/her military/law enforcement job or political position.
Safety plans for victims who are "staying" should always
- Getting a cellular phone and programming it for an emergency call;
- Learning to protect the privacy of communications: how to "foil"
Caller ID and automatic recall functions; using someone else's credit
card to make calls; adding (if you can do it safely) a "password
voice mail" feature to your existing telephone service;
- Avoiding "little ears";
Children in these situations often have conflicting emotions
and are too easily "pumped" for information by the abusive
partner or allies. It's important to protect children from things
they don't need to hear or might be overwhelmed by.
- Paying attention to the fact that cellular and cordless phones, baby
monitors, household intercoms and even some hearing aids can be picked
up on a scanner;
- Finding really safe places to store or hide documents, diaries, notes,
letters and other information;
- Figure out safe places to hide things. Under the silverware divider?
In a coffee can in the freezer? Between the mattress and the box spring?
Behind a drawer? Use your best judgment.
This can be understood in part as building evidence for
a future legal case, in the event there has to be one.
- Developing practical skills that will also build self-confidence:
like learning to drive, learning to do simple home repairs and/or auto
maintenance, or learning to swim;
Note: this last item turned out to be really useful for
the protagonist in Living with the Enemy.
- Completing or furthering education and developing marketable skills;
This may include learning English; learning to read, learning
to drive, or improving existing reading and computational skills.
- Finding part-time work or a developing home business;
- Squirreling away small amounts of money; opening separate bank accounts;
getting credit in your own name;
- Consider, immediately before leaving, transferring assets
out of joint accounts and into your own name, so you can retain control
of them until the courts get to decide.
- Similarly, if you can, use the "cash advance" feature of
your jointly-held credit cards and take them to their limit, then put
the money in an interest-bearing account in your own name.
- Helping the kids get part-time jobs and teaching them to save money
IX. Elements of separation-based safety plans include elements of crisis
and "staying" planning (see above) plus
- Personal security measures limit the batterer's access to the victim
or help the victim shield themselves - and information about their whereabouts,
activities and intentions - from the batterer.
All of these involve some kind of personal loss, dislocation
or disruption of personal/family routines; most of them cost money -
and some create significant financial burdens.
Victims will understandably and legitimately resent having to bear
these costs in order to achieve a measure of safety and privacy. Don't
try to undercut these feelings; help them to do what needs to be done
despite the fact that "it's not fair."
Moving. This is easier to do if you are a tenant, although there may
be need for legal assistance in getting out of a lease; harder to do
when it involves selling a home. This may require leaving the area altogether,
and if children are involved, the civil courts will have something to
say about it.
Try to use a "no name" mover, so you can't be easily traced,
or more your things to storage, then use a different company to move
them to where you're going.
In extreme cases, relocation is an element of a complete change of
identity. Unless a person is involved in a formal victim/witness program,
this generally requires a number of illegal acts and a strong commitment
to following through, including a willingness to cut most, if not all,
existing personal ties.
Protecting the confidentiality of your new address
Changing the phone number, getting an unlisted number and radically
restricting who you give it to, and/or using an answering service
or voice-mail number. If you need to share a phone, (with a roommate
or relative) get a "password" voice mail feature added to
- notify the local postal service that it is not to release
the change of address information;
- changing your mailing address to a private box; using a private
mailing service, or renting a post office in a different location
from where you live;
- using your "mailbox" address on personal checks, letterheads
and business cards;
- getting dropped from commercial mailing lists that get rented or
sold (especially with companies who send your catalogs or publications);
- advising phone company, utilities, banks and creditors of the change
and asking them to put a "code word" on your file to restrict
inquiries. (TRW has a service which will let you know if someone runs
a credit check on you;)
- registering your vehicle at and having your driver's license list
your "mailbox" address;
- placing property or other assets in trust so that your address cannot
be obtained through a title records search;
- as far as is legally possible, (in the state where you live or from
the state that you've fled) protecting the new address in transfers
of school records and in any legally-required release of educational
- teaching children to keep address and phone numbers confidential;
If you can afford it, you might want to consider using one number to
call-forward your calls to yet-another phone somewhere else.
Making sure your address isn't listed in the phone book or "reverse"
If you are routinely harassed over the telephone and you can find the
money, you might want to get an new unlisted line while continuing to
use an answering machine to monitor calls to the "old" number.
The tapes may be useful in building a "stalking" case.
Using caller ID and call tracing services defensively: know who's calling
you before you answer, but learn how to keep your calls from being identified,
or call from public telephones.
Courts have the ability to keep a petitioner's address and telephone
This will take a formal request from you, and in some cases, from the
Get the name and number of your abuser's probation/parole officer and
stay in touch.
Where available, enroll in victim-notification systems that will alert
your to releases from jail/prison.
Some victims may be eligible for Federal victim-witness protections.
- Home security measures
- keep doors, windows, basement access and the garage locked;
- change window and door locks;
- replace wooden doors with steel/metal doors;
- install peepholes, window bars, and/or poles to wedge sliding doors;
- put fire extinguishers near your doors and learn to use them as "intruder
- if you can afford it or negotiate with your landlord for it; install
outdoor (motion sensitive) lighting, timed indoor lights, and/or electronic
security systems and alarms;
- get a dog;
- program emergency numbers into home and cellular telephones;
- if you are eligible, get involved in victim/witness programs that utilize
"panic button" security alert systems, and/or dedicated cellular
phones programmed to 911.
- Changing or modifying social habits
Moving won't help if you can be found at familiar places. As much as
you possibly can, vary your patterns places: join a new congregation;
shop at different stores; go to a new dry cleaners; frequent different
restaurants and theaters; change banks; work out at a different gym;
find a new hairdresser.
Change the route you take to get to work or school. Get a different
bus/train; get off of the subway one stop earlier and walk the extra
Learn to spot someone following you. If you're in the car, make four
right turns in succession, or get off and then immediately back onto
the highway (then check to see if the car/s you're concerned about is/are
still there. If you're on foot, go into a large building through one
entrance and out a door on another side. If you're being followed,
go immediately to a police or fire station.
Get the clearest possible terms in orders for visitation. These may
include supervised visitation programs, pick-ups and drop-offs that
are at a neutral site or monitored by a trustworthy third party, protective
orders that limit contact to written and emergency communications.
X. General considerations for all safety plans
- Keep a record of incidents and contracts
- Include the date, time what happened, who else heard or saw, photographs,
tapes, and the names and badge numbers of responding officers.
- Workplace safety
- Inform your supervisor, EAP program and/or the security office about
the situation. Some companies have developed protocols for handling
- If you have security in your building, give them a photograph of
the abuser, a vehicle description, and a copy of your order of protection,
if you have one.
- Work-site security may also involve changing your work space or
shift; screening calls, mail, packages and visitors; arranging for
special or different parking spaces and/or accompaniment to and from
your car, bus or subway stop. In larger organizations, it may be possible
to arrange a transfer to a different office, or another branch.
- Similarly, if you are in college or a vocational educational program,
you can notify your adviser and the security office, and get their
help in keeping safe.
- keep copies of orders of protection, custody and visitation with
everyone who takes care of your child, and with their schools;
- teach children how to make collect and emergency calls, and that
they can give their address and phone number to "safe" adults
- identify locations to re-group and rehearse "escape plans"
with your children. (You should do this in case of fire, in any event.)
- Personal supports and skills
Don't underestimate the difference it makes when people take the
victim's situation seriously, and communicate both concern and respect.
The development of a "partnership for safety" reduces isolation
and may also reduce feelings of powerlessness and anxiety. In addition,
it helps to:
- find a "positive mirror" - friends, family members, spiritual
supports - to affirm your self-worth and ability to cope with the
abuse (and for that matter, with the changes you're making in order
to get free of it!);
- get involved in peer support groups for victims of domestic violence,
sexual assault and/or stalking; or in individual or group psychotherapy
where trauma and continuing stress begin to compromise your ability
- if you've "left", even if it makes you anxious,
try to restrict your contact and communications with your ex-partner,
to have witnesses present when it can't be avoided, and to keep a
record of calls, messages, or unwanted contacts;
- be alert to your own "flashpoints": don't let your abuser
provoke you - through fear or anger - into a more dangerous situation;
- learn techniques for stress reduction;
- participate in self-defense training or the martial arts;
- make a commitment to good self-care: nutrition, sleep, regular health
care, attention to one's use of alcohol, prescription medications
and other drugs.
XI. Suspect/Offender-Focused Interventions
- The goals of suspect/offender focused interventions are:
- To establish that batterers are strictly and solely accountable
for their own actions, and to hold them to standards established by
- To disrupt the idea that domestic violence is a "private matter",
and to establish a "social hold" over the abuser;
This includes establishing bail, conditions of pretrial
release, conditions of probation, and the terms of orders of protection,
custody/visitation and support.
- To the greatest extent possible, to require restitution to the victim
and the community;
In addition to covering the cost of medical care, temporary
shelter, lost work, trauma counseling and other costs directly associated
with an offense, this can include requiring abusers to cover the victim's
attorney fees and other court costs.
- To provide, through access to batterers' intervention programs,
the opportunity for offenders to learn about the dynamics of domestic
violence, come to terms with their own culpability, and effect a change
in their attitudes and behaviors.
- In some cases, the most appropriate suspect intervention (from the
point of view of enhancing the safety of a given victim) is to leave
it alone because any system-based intervention directed at the suspect/offender
will dramatically escalate victim risk, in a way that cannot adequately
be accounted for.
Most of the time, however, by the time case reaches the attention of
police or the courts, there are criminal offenses and/or child abuse/neglect
issues that require an affirmative response.
For example, mandatory arrest laws; mandatory child abuse reporting;
laws and regulations involving adult protective services; policies which
are based in "prosecuting without the victim."
In these cases, it is absolutely incumbent upon criminal
justice professionals and the courts to take affirmative measures to
reduce the risks their actions are creating for the victim.
- Intervention may involve
- Detective contacts/DA's Office "warn-off" letters
- "STOP-the-stalker" and other anti-stalking surveillance
and apprehension measures
- Temporary Orders of Protection
--Including orders issues on behalf of non-victim witnesses
- Arrest and detention - for victim-directed criminal conduct
- Arrest and detention - for "other" criminal conduct
- Independent criminal activity; possession or sale of illegal drugs;
weapons charges; probation or parole violations
- Permit revocation/weapons confiscation
- Bail and other conditions of pre-trial release
- Criminal convictions
- Permanent Orders of Protection
- Jail, Fines and Restitution
- Including weekend and "part-time" jail sentences
- Suspended sentences
- Supervised probation
- Including intensive supervision and day reporting
- Electronic monitoring and "house arrest"
- Psychiatric evaluation and hospitalization/drug and/or alcoholism
treatment (As conditions of release/conditions of probation)
- Batterers' Intervention Programs
- (As conditions of release/probation/suspended sentence and not as
an "alternative" to a criminal resolution of a case.)
Everyone's work rests on the brilliance of someone else. In this case,
thanks are offered for permission to cite, adapt, attach, re-appropriate
and/or steal the insights not only of my (Colleen McGrath) colleagues
at the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence but
also those of:
- Jacqueline Campbell, John Hopkins University
- Jill Davies, Legal Aid Society of Hartford County
- Gavin deBecker, Inc.
- Scott Gordon, Los Angeles District Attorney's Office
- Dr. Joanna Landau, Four Winds Foundation
- The New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- Anne O'Dell
- The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- The Polaroid Corporation
- Casey Gwinn and Gail Strack, San Diego City Attorney's Office
- Lt. Sue Tyler, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department
- Mark Wynn
and most importantly, all of the battered victims who've taught us
lessons in survival.