Safety Planning Saves Lives

Cindy ran into the bedroom and locked the door, but her husband threw his weight against it trying to knock it open. Her heart raced as her hands frantically searched under the bed for the box.

Another hard thump against the door, as he screamed at her from the other side. She knew he wasn’t going to take the news well that she was leaving him for good. She barely escaped his grasp when he wrenched her arm with one hand, while smashing her cellphone to the ground, breaking it into pieces with the other. Who knew what he would do if he managed to bust the door down now?

She ripped open the box and grabbed the shoe which held the emergency cell phone that she kept charged and stashed there. Pressing the power button, she prayed the door would hold long enough for her to call the police and get help.

What seemed like an eternity was actually about 20 seconds. The phone finally flashed ready. Cindy hit the button, calling 9-1-1. Panicked, but grateful to hear the voice of the operator, she knew that now someone would know she was in danger.

She quickly gave her name, location, and a description of the situation—exactly as she had rehearsed so many times, should this moment ever arrive. Another hard pound onto the door, as her husband continued to slam his body against it, trying to break it from the frame. Cindy tried to focus on the operator’s voice on the other end, hearing the fear rise in her own voice as she tried to answer questions about what was happening. She could hear the keyboard on the other end of the phone typing. She took a deep breath and held it. Would help arrive in time?

The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when the victim finally decides to leave the abuser.

It’s an incredibly volatile and unpredictable time, when emotions run high. The abuser feels power and control slipping away—and that can bring on a whole new level of danger for the victim.

It is for this reason that Safety Planning is so important for victims.

Safety Planning is highly personalized, as every situation is completely different. A cookie-cutter approach does not work and cannot ensure the safety of the victim. Each plan must be walked through with eyes wide open, searching for “holes” in the strategy, which could render the victim in a highly dangerous situation if not thoroughly examined prior to implementing.

That’s the tricky part about Safety Planning. You can’t just make one plan and expect it to be enough, because things change. Much like a pilot of an airplane who must always be prepared for an emergency landing—constantly scanning the ground below, seeking a new spot should it be needed—a victim of abuse must also be constantly revising and preparing a safety plan, because circumstances can change. Often a “Plan B,” “Plan C,” and even more plans are crafted to best prepare a victim of abuse when a dangerous situation arises in their relationship.

Can you imagine living your life in survival mode like that?

Advocates at New Horizons are trained in helping victims put together Safety Plans.

It’s just one of the many free services and supports we provide to our clients. New Horizons is also an integral part of joint effort with the La Crosse Police Department called DART, which is an acronym for “Domestic Abuse Reduction Team.”

The DART team is highly proactive, monitoring police reports and following up on referrals for high risk situations, working to reduce domestic violence and make the community a safer place for families and officers. DART pairs up police officers with victim advocates from New Horizons who visit victims to offer resource information and support. Safety Planning is a main component in their work.

“Safety Planning needs to be a discussion, not reading a form. It can do more harm otherwise. You have to think outside of the box, as a person’s situation can change from day to day,” Rita Carranza, DART Victim Services Coordinator says.

Carranza goes on to say that living in fear can be overwhelming, but being a survivor means you’ve been safety planning all along. For example, the victim gets to know that “look” the abuser gets before a violent incident, or when the abuser is wrestling with substance abuse or mental health problems—what usually happens. A victim has trained themselves over time to recognize things and become proactive. Making smart decisions to ultimately steer what could spiral out of control by working to diffuse situations before they escalate.

“You have to plan for the worst case scenario, and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse; putting obstacles between you in your safe room, and the abuser,” Carranza says. “Nobody can keep you safe 24/7,” but incorporating Safety Planning can certainly increase the odds in the victim’s favor.

Just this past year, 62 victims lost their lives due to domestic abuse in Wisconsin. That’s 62 unnecessary deaths, many of which left children orphaned and families overwhelmed by tremendous grief as they try to pick up the pieces.

Domestic violence is real and it’s in our community. Listen to and believe a victim if they open up to you. Help them to get in touch with someone who can help with free resources and supports, like New Horizons. You could very well be saving their life.