Strategies for staying safe

  • Use visual aids
  • Have a safety planning process that addresses the complex needs of people with developmental disabilities
  • Assess level of dependency on the batterer. Some survivors feel unsafe or unsure about managing daily living needs without their abuser.

Preparing to Leave

If you are a victim who lives with an abusive partner, or if an abusive partner has access to your finances, home, or workplace, these steps can create safer conditions for leaving an abusive relationship.

  • Change the payee on your SSI/SSDI benefits to someone other than the abuser.
  • Make plans for your personal cares needs (e.g. help getting to appointments, taking the bus, or buying groceries) with someone other than the abuser; ask more than one friend for help to prevent one person from becoming overwhelmed.
  • Secure a post office box in your own name and hide the key or give it to someone you trust.
  • Get together money, an extra set of keys, medications, spare medical supplies, and clothes for you and your children. Leave these items with a friend.
  • Identify friends, family, religious community members, and others who would let you stay with them or lend you money to leave.
  • Make sure that your bus pass and emergency numbers are in a safe place that is easy to access. If you drive, keep the gas tank at least half full so you can leave at any time.
  • Keep the number of the shelter and local crisis line with you or memorize it (don’t label or identify the number). Get a cell phone (free from most area shelters) or keep change on you for calling from a phone booth.
  • Contact the domestic violence shelter in your area to discuss safety planning and your needs, and if you are disabled, explain to them about your disability. If the shelter is full, keep calling back daily until space becomes available. Stay in contact with the shelter to check the status. Safety planning is very important at this time, so ask the shelter to help you.
  • If you are disabled, contact your caseworker (if you have one), an independent living center, or another disability organization to identify additional benefits you may be entitled to after leaving the abuser. Local ARC programs can refer you to these.
  • If you use special transportation services to escape or seek assistance, give the transit company the name of a place you regularly frequent but the address of the place you want to go to. This will prevent the abuser from getting suspicious.

Preparing for an explosive incident and/or crisis

  • Abusers’ tactics are unpredictable, but victims can sometimes learn to recognize cues that violence is about to occur. Identify and prepare for violence. Plan to exit at the first sign of violence.
  • Get an extra cell phone. Keep it secret from the abuser and turn off the ringer. Always have it on you. Program 911 and other safety numbers into the speed dial of the phone.
  • Practice exiting your home or how you will get to a phone.
  • Practice calling 911 on a non-functional phone and role-play what you will say.
  • Practice getting to the bus both during the day and at night. Know the bus schedules in your area.
  • Inform the police, case workers, family, and friends of your situation at a time when you are not in immediate danger. Ask a friend or family member to drive past your home a couple of times each evening, or as regularly as possible.
  • Plan where you will go if you have to leave. Police stations and hospitals are accessible 24 hours a day.
  • If you have pets or support animals, ask friends or family if they will be willing to pick up your pet if you must leave suddenly. (Many survivors report not seeking safety because they were afraid to leave their pets behind. Don’t exclude pet safety in safety planning.)

Responding to an explosive incident or crisis

  • When you feel afraid, stay close to a phone and call 911 for help as soon as you feel the need. Try not to second-guess yourself if you are afraid—trust it and call for help. DON’T WAIT.
  • During an incident, stay away from rooms that have possible weapons, like the kitchen or the bathroom. Try to stay near an exit. Don’t go into rooms with only one exit.
  • Look for an exit and/or yell for help.
  • Ask neighbors or friends if they are willing to call the police if they hear disturbances coming from your home.
  • Create and use a code word or phrase that tells your family, neighbors, children, support workers, or friends to call 911.
  • If a situation is dangerous, consider giving the abuser what they want in order to calm them down until you can get to safety. Trust yourself and when it is safe leave and seek help.
  • If the abuser cannot be stopped, focus on staying alive and protecting yourself.

Adapted from Stellar, 1998 “Checklist for persons with disabilities: What to take with you when you leave and abuse relationship and Hoog, 2003; Enough and yet not enough: An educational resource manual on domestic violence advocacy for persons with disabilities in Washington State