Whether you are thinking about leaving, have decided to leave, or are thinking about giving your abusive husband another chance, it is vital to have a personal safety plan. This can be the difference between life and death. Just going through these steps will give you some peace of mind.
Here’s what you will find on this page:
– Safety At Home
– What do you do during and after a fight?
– Safety precautions to take after you leave (or he leaves)
– How to be safe in the car
– How to be safe at work
– Checklist of documents or items to take with you
– Final checklist of things to do or take with you
Safety At Home
1. Tell a trusted friend or family member what is going on.
If you are planning on leaving: It is better to first test your friend or family member with a little information. They might not want to get into trouble or believe the extent of your abuse because your abuser behaves differently in front of them. Tell them a little bit about your fears and give them some time. If they tell anyone else despite you asking them not to, then do not entrust them with any more information. If they don’t disclose your secret, then you know you can trust them.
If you are planning on staying: Tell your friend or family member about the abuse in as much detail as possible. Show them proof if you feel that they don’t believe you. This way, if you are having a rough time, they can come and take you away (even if only for a little while).
2. Know your options in a case of emergency. Make a list of people you can call to stay with:
– Family: If your parents/siblings are supportive, then you need to make sure that they can protect you because this is the first place your husband/in-laws will check. They will most likely come under the pretence of ‘mediation’, but then emotionally blackmail your family to let you go with them. Use your family’s help to go to a distant relative or friend that is unknown to your husband/in-laws.
– Friends & Colleagues: Will they pick you up in the middle of the night? Do they have access to a car? Keep a burqa (to disguise you) and a spare bag at hand.
– Organisations and Shelters: Are there any organisations that can help you? Do they provide or refer you to counselling services and legal assistance? Do they help you to get a job and permanent housing? In case of doubt, use our resources page to figure out which organisations and shelters can help you and how.
It is vital that – in the case of family, friends, and colleagues – you test their reliability and trustworthiness first, as discussed in point 1 (see above).
3. Make a list of pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages of leaving. Be realistic about both situations and re-evaluate your options on a regular basis. What sounds like a good option today may not work well tomorrow. Don’t act impulsively on such an important decision. Take time to carefully strategize and evaluate your options.
4. Lie about where you are and who you meet: If your husband becomes suspicious and you are only allowed to go to your family’s house, use this opportunity to your advantage. Ask your friend to meet you there to discuss your escape plan. Only do this when it is safe.
5. If you have to travel to another city in order to reach a shelter, friend, or family member, find out how to get there at all times of the day. If you have a car, check out where you can park your car so that it will be hidden. If you are taking public transport (bus or train), make sure that you discretely write down the timetable of the bus or train.
6. Pack an emergency bag with things such as:
Clothes, toothbrush and other necessities, non-perishable food, special blanket or toys for the children, cash, cheque book, ATM/bank and credit cards, phone numbers of friends and organisations which can help you, copies of important documents (personal identification, birth certificates, passport and NIC, driver’s licence, school and medical records, deed of ownership for the house or car, car papers, insurance papers, tax returns), extra keys for your car and house, etc. Leave the bag at home (in a hidden place) or with a trustworthy friend/relative. Do not leave it at your parents’ house if they are not fully behind you leaving.
7. Remember to take important medicine with you when you are leaving.
8. If you leave, it may not be safe to return. Therefore, gather up any valuable possessions that you may miss afterwards, such as photographs, children’s toys, jewelry etc. Your husband will either destroy them or blackmail you with them just to torture you.
9. Think about how you would get out of the house without causing any suspicion or harm to your personal safety. Practise it at least once to see how long it takes and what hurdles you are coming across. Keep in mind the schedules of the people you live with at different times of the day. Find the most inconspicuous way of exiting the house without causing alarm. Think about leaving when the abuser is not around.
10. Research information about where you would go.
11. Safety in the car: If there is a chance that your car might be blocked, park it on the street. Always make sure that the passenger and back doors are locked when you get into the car. Moreover, your car should always have a full tank of petrol/gas.
12. Record evidence of your husband’s/in-law’s abuse. Try to record the voice of your abuser or try to take a picture/video of physical assault. This can be very useful if you are filing for divorce, claiming child custody, or proving to your family that you are telling the truth. But ONLY do this when it is SAFE to do so.
13. Always document and save all harassing phone calls and encounters. Keep digital and paper copies of texts and emails. Document any evidence of bruises.
14. If your children are old enough to understand what is going on and if there is someone you can trust to help you, teach your children how to call them for help when you are being physically assaulted. Teach them a code word that you can use in a case of emergency.
15. Memorise or keep a list of telephone numbers in your wallet of people who will help you.
16. In case your husband, in-laws, or family want to lock you in the house/room, make sure to have a spare set of keys hidden in your emergency bag.
17. Calculate how much you need to save in order to be able to live by yourself. If you are working, this will help you to determine how much you will need to earn when you are on your own. If one of your friends or relatives is willing to take care of your financially or borrow you some money, this amount will come in handy as well.
18. Save this amount: Begin by saving a little money every now and then from the grocery budget, from garage sales, or from any other source. Keep enough money on you at all times to pay for a taxi or bus fare, and for one or more nights at a hotel. Get a credit card in your own name and use the address of your workplace or of a trusted friend. Open up a savings account in your own name and deposit as much as you can every week.
19. Save enough money for the security deposit and for up to three months of rent (if possible).
20. Keep your room clear of weapons and other sharp objects: If you have a knife holder/rack, either put it in a place that is hard to reach or put the knives in a safe place. If there are guns in the house, hide them in a safe place or – in a case of emergency – know how to unlock them. If there are acids or other dangerous chemicals in the house, avoid the room in which they are in at all costs. If you think you may be set on fire, call the police immediately!
21. If you are sleeping in separate bedrooms, lock and barricade the door so that he can’t attack you while you are sleeping. Have a spare phone (that nobody else is aware of) hidden in your bra or in the room you think your in-laws or husband might lock you in. This will allow you to send a message to your family and friends to rescue you.
22. What you should do if there is an argument or a threat of violence: Try to move to a room where you cannot be trapped or where there are no guns/acid/oil. If possible, avoid the bathroom, garage, basement, or any rooms without access to a window or external door. If your in-laws are not abusive, take the fight to where they are and insist on sleeping in the same room as them so that you can spend the night in safety.
23. Consider learning some basic self-defense techniques to protect yourself from harm. This will also increase your self-confidence and emotional strength. But beware! It is not advisable to fight your husband because most women can easily be overpowered by an angry man and you may put yourself in serious danger or get killed by trying to fight back.
24. Keep your mobile phone charged, always and have some key numbers on speed-dial: You never know when an unsafe situation might erupt, so have the number of police, ambulance, friends and family on speed dial. Additionally, try to always keep your mobile phone charged because it can be life-saving in tough situations.
25. If you have a smart-phone, download a personal safety app: Downloading a safety app can be useful if you have a trusted circle of friends and family who can be alerted automatically by the app if you are in danger. Some safety apps include P.F.O. and Circle of 6.
26. Always surround yourself with people when possible: Whether it is inviting relatives over for when your husband is on holidays or going to stay with relatives/family if he lets you – try to surround yourself with people. This might not be possible all the time but the chances are that the less time you spend alone with your husband, the less the chance of violence and extreme abuse. Even if violence does happen, at least it might be diffused by other people.
What do you do during and after a fight?
1. Try to diffuse the situation and to quench his anger by staying as calm as you can. Do things that assure him you are listening. Be careful about hitting back or picking up things (glass, books, mobile) to throw at him. This may make him want to grab these things from you and hit you, causing much more damage.
2. Do not argue or talk back if that agitates him. An abuser never wants to admit his own fault, but only wants to find excuses to abuse you.
3. If the noise wakes up your children or if they are present in the room with you, try to position yourself away from the children to protect them from the abuser. If they are old enough to remember the code word you taught them, then say it so they can go and get help, i.e. call your father, brother, in-laws, or friend.
4. If things are getting very violent and you are at risk of serious injury, then run to your in-laws or call your parents/friends immediately. If the abuser is distracted or has to go to the toilet, use the opportunity to grab your children, the emergency bag, your purse, and the keys, and drive away from the house. If you don’t have a car, then call for help as soon as you have a chance to do so.
5. If you are unable to escape immediately, wait until the abuser is asleep or make an excuse to check on the children. If you cannot leave the house with your children, then leave and plan to come back to get them with the help of family and friends.
6. If you are hurt and need medical attention, then wait until the abuser is distracted or asleep and call your family/friends for help or go to your in-laws. Keep some bandages and antiseptic agent in the bathroom. If you are calling your family/friends, call them from where your husband cannot hear you. If you think that he will continue beating you, lock yourself in a safe room until your family/friends get to your house.
7. If you see the abuser with a gun/knife/pillow/oil/acid in his hand, DO NOT attempt to pacify him and LEAVE immediately!
8. Keep a spare phone with you (hidden from view) at all times because your husband might confiscate your normal phone during a fight to stop you from calling someone for help. If you are calling your family/friends, call them from where your husband cannot hear you. If you think that he will continue beating you, lock yourself in a safe room until your family/friends get to your house. If nobody lives near you, call the police immediately! Don’t try to run on foot if there is no rickshaw/taxi/bus near your house because your husband can outrun you on foot or overtake you in a car.
Safety precautions to take after you leave (or he leaves)
1. If he leaves your home, change the locks on all outer doors and windows immediately. If you are staying at your parents’ house or a friend’s place he knows of, remember to replace the locks there and install extra precautions. Replace wooden doors with steel doors if possible because they cannot easily be kicked in. Make sure that there are window locks and bars in sliding glass doors. Of course, this is only possible if the people you are staying with are willing to take all of these steps. If they are not willing to do this, try to keep your presence completely hidden from all neighbours and make sure that all servants in the house know not to reveal your presence.
2. If you leave and go to an area where he or his family/your family lives, make sure not to leave the house with your kids and to wear a burqa if necessary to keep your identity hidden. The most dangerous time for a woman is always when she is attempting to leave or has just left. It is important to be as discreet as possible. Only a few people should know where you are.
3. Do not, under any circumstances (even if he is crying, pleading, and promising), allow the abuser to see your children in the place where you found refuge. Always arrange to meet him in a public space, even if you have to travel some time to get there. Make sure that everyone who knows where you are living is also clear on not disclosing your location under any circumstances. Your family and friends must be trustworthy!
4. Get a new phone and turn off all location/GPS settings for all apps, especially Whatsapp, Twitter, and Facebook. If your abuser has important contacts, it is easy for him to get your number traced through any of these apps. Make sure that everyone who knows your number also knows not to give it to him or his family under any circumstances. Do not pick up calls from unknown numbers. Keep a separate SIM card and call the number back from that card. If it is your abuser, then take out the SIM card and destroy it. If he calls and you see his number, hang up. Change the SIM card. Do not engage in conversation with him.
5. Do not open the door unless you can clearly identify the person who knocks. Unless you are sure that you can trust your neighbours, do not tell them your real name or that you are a runaway. They might not believe you or may even sympathise with your in-laws/family. If your husband and/or his family are hiding in the lobby or if they come inside your flat, you should immediately inform your trusted friend or relative so that they can come and help you. Change your location immediately because it might not be safe for you to stay there any longer.
6. If you receive a suspicious package that you did not order, do not open it under any circumstances. Throw it out!
7. If you have children, teach them how to call you in case they are ‘kidnapped’ by your husband. Also, explain to them why you have had to run away.
8. Always document and save all harassing phone calls and encounters. Keep digital and paper copies of texts and emails. Document any evidence of bruises.
How to be safe in the car
1. Always park your car in well-lit areas. Don’t get out of your car if you feel that someone is observing or approaching you. Trust your instincts and don’t get out of the car until you have the door keys in your hand and the surroundings look safe. Clear your car of any personal items that may help someone to identify your car. There may be many white cars in your neighbourhood, but there is certainly only one with a decorative tree hanging from the mirror. Hide such personal items.
2. In order to avoid getting locked (and potentially driven away) in your own car, ask a mechanic to install a locking gas cap which can only be unlocked from inside the car.
3. Never get into your car without making sure that it is empty. If – for any reason – you are suspicious, investigate it first.
4. Always keep the doors locked while driving or waiting in the car.
5. If you believe that you are being followed, consider your options. Can you lose the follower in traffic? If you can, do that and then hide your car with some sort of cover. If you cannot lose the follower, drive to the nearest busy place where you can disappear, e.g. a bazaar. Park quickly and disappear into the crowd. Find a rickshaw and reach a safe place. Return to your car later or get your friend/relative to retrieve it for you.
6. Always have a spare battery for your mobile phone and burqa in your car.
7. If you don’t feel safe walking to your car alone, then ask someone to walk to it with you. If your friends and family are supportive, always get them to accompany you.
8. In the unfortunate scenario that you come face to face with your abuser in public and that you feel threatened by him, either scream to get attention or try to get lost in the crowd. Always stay around people. Do not approach your car unless you are 100% sure that you have enough time to drive away undetected.
9. If your abuser gets into the car with you, take the keys out of the ignition and try to get out of the car. If he tries to prevent you from getting out of the car, honk the horn as loud as you can to attract attention and scream “help”. If he tries to drag you out of the car, scream to get the attention of people.
10. If your abuser finds you and approaches your car by blocking your way out, don’t try to get out. If you can drive away without hitting him, drive away immediately. If you cannot avoid hitting him, then stay inside the car with locks in check. Honk the horn to create a scene and embarrass him into leaving you alone. Don’t move the car if there is a chance of hitting him because the last thing you want is to be arrested for it.
How to be safe at work
1. Alert your boss, co-workers, and receptionist about your situation so that they can take the necessary precautions for uninvited visits/calls by your husband. They should know not to give out your phone number, address, or any other personal information to any caller because it could have dire consequences for you.
2. Don’t accept or open any packages which you did not order or which look suspicious.
3. Ask permission to park your car in a secure area and co-ordinate with someone to walk you from the office to your car and from your car to the office.
4. If there is a security guard on duty at your workplace, make sure that he is aware of your situation so that he can be vigilant. Show him and the receptionist pictures of your husband, in-laws, and family members. Do the same for the people working at your children’s school.
5. Devise an escape plan with your colleagues in case your abuser enters your office somehow.
6. Ask a co-worker or your manager to call you or a relative/friend to find out why you haven’t shown up at work by a fixed time without notice.
Checklist of documents/items to take with you
Identification and personal documents/items:
– Identification for yourself and your children, i.e. passports, NIC cards
– Birth certificates
– Marriage certificate/Nikkah Nama
– Driver’s licence
– School records
– Medical and health records (also: vaccination records for your children)
– Any medication for you or your children
– Your will
– Keys for your car, house, etc.
– Phone numbers and addresses of all relevant people and organisations
– Any pictures, video tapes, CDs, or sentimental possessions
– Your children’s favourite toys, books, and blankets
Money, credit cards, and financial documents:
– Money (any cash you have saved)
– Any jewellery or possessions that you may be able to sell for money
– Cheque book, credit cards, and ATM/bank cards
– One proof of address, e.g. copies of bills, receipts, credit card statements
– Deeds to your house and other real estate (photocopy them if you cannot take them with you)
– Mortgage papers (photocopy them if you cannot take them with you)
– Loan agreements (photocopy them if you cannot take them with you)
– Bank books (joint and personal accounts, children’s accounts)
– Insurance policies (photocopy them if you cannot take them with you)
– Tax returns and bank statements of the past five years (photocopy them if you cannot take them with you)
– Pay stubs (yours and his) (photocopy them if you cannot take them with you)
– Copies of any other financial documents (photocopy them if you cannot take them with you)
Things that could help you to identify your abuser:
– Registration and title of both your car and his car, his licence plate number and car info (may be useful later)
– Recent photographs of your abuser
– Documentation of any criminal activity, copies of police reports (photocopy them if you cannot take them with you)
– Any proof of abuse
Final Checklist of Things to Do or to Take with You
1. When I decide to leave, I will get out of the house by ___________________________________________________. 2. I will keep my purse, emergency bag, and car keys ____________________ so that I can get them quickly when I have to leave. 3. I will tell ___________________________ about the violence I have been facing and the threats to my safety. I will ask them to call the police if they hear anything suspicious coming from my house. 4. I will use _____________ as a code word or signal for my children and friends to call or come for help. 5. If I have to leave my home, I will go to _____________________________________________________. 6. If I cannot go there for some reason, I will go to ____________________________. 7. When an argument begins, I will go to ______________________, a room where I can safely exit or find my spare mobile phone to call for help from _______________, or _______________, or _______________. 8. I will leave some cash, an extra set of car and house keys, some extra clothes, and important papers with ________________________ if I cannot hide them at home. 9. I will open a savings/current account at_________________ by using _______________ documents, and I will begin saving something each month by _______________ . 10. __________________________ has said I can stay with them in an emergency situation. 11. I can leave some extra clothes with _____________________________. 12. I will hide my spare mobile phone _____________________________ , with emergency numbers and enough credit for calls/texts. 13. I will inform _____________________(at work) to not accept calls or answer personal questions from anyone, and to not allow my husband to visit the office.