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Safety During a Violent Encounter

Be aware that in an abusive relationship, violence is used as a tactic for the abuser to maintain power and control over the victim-survivor. The violence will continue and may escalate in intensity and frequency.

Safety planning is an individualized process where a practical plan is created that includes ways to remain safe while in an abusive relationship. An advocate can help you produce a plan and discuss your options with you.

If a violent encounter seems imminent and unavoidable, there are a few options to consider to keep you safe. These tips cannot guarantee your safety, but by using your experience and intuition, along with these tips, you may be safer. You are the best person to judge your safety.

  • Try to control your breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth so you can continue to think clearly.
  • Say or do whatever you can to de-escalate the situation.
    • Avoid rooms or areas without an easy escape.
    • Stay on the ground floor if possible.
  • For example, a basement with stairs and one point of entry will be difficult to escape from during a violent attack.
  • Mentally plan how you might escape from each room in advance.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Think about what you could use to shield yourself when your partner becomes abusive.
  • Avoid getting into a vehicle.
  • Avoid areas where weapons are easily accessible.
    • Kitchens are dangerous because of the access to knives. Bathrooms are dangerous because of slipping and the many hard surfaces in a small area. Garages or sheds can also be dangerous because of access to tools and other heavy equipment.
    • Avoid any areas where firearms are stored or kept, even if they are locked securely.
  • Remove necklaces and scarves if possible as these could be used to strangle you. Remove earrings.
  • Move away from any children in the area.
  • Consider safe places to go after escaping.
  • Choose a code word or signal that would let children, relatives or neighbors know they should call for help.
  • Hide spare keys and money in a safe place or ask a safe person to hold onto them for you in case you need to flee unexpectedly.
  • If you are unable to get away from the abuser and are being assaulted, try to make yourself as small as possible to minimize any injuries. Get into a corner or put your back to a wall, bring your knees to your chest and use your arms to cover your neck.
  • You have the right to protect yourself and that includes calling the police.

After the Violence

After a violent encounter, it can be difficult to process what has happened, take time for yourself to recover and reconnect with yourself. Seek medical attention if needed and is safe to do so. Consider documenting the violence and abuse. Take pictures and write descriptions of the abuse in a journal or open an email account and email them to yourself. If there are any medical or police reports documenting the abuse, keep the records. Make sure your information is kept in a safe place. Keeping documentation will allow you to have an option to pursue legal action in the future.

Participating in self-care activities like exercise, eating healthy, counseling, journaling, knowing when and how to emotionally check out during times of duress could be helpful. Be gentle with yourself mentally and physically. Practice your spirituality by smudging, praying or sitting with your traditional medicines if this helps heal your spirit.

“Immediate safety is important and long-term safety planning should be considered when you are in or exiting an abusive relationship,” said StrongHearts Services Manager Joy Samuelson (Standing Rock Sioux Tribe). “Our advocates can help you plan for your safety, no matter what your current situation is.”

*Tips adapted from The National Domestic Violence Hotline.

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