It can be difficult to think clearly during a situation of high stress, tension and risk. We also have little control over our brain’s defence mechanisms in these situations and whether in the moment we will choose to fight, flee, freeze or friend/fawn. To prepare for such situations it’s important to have in mind a safety plan with the following points to consider and remember:
- In an emergency, call 999 to report a domestic abuse incident.
- If you need to call 999, provide your location. If you are unable to speak safely then leave the line open so operators can monitor the situation.
- Try carrying a small amount of change on you at all times for a public payphone or public transport if needed.
- Consider escape routes for wherever you are.
- Prepare a bag with some personal belongings (important documents, money or spare bank card, clothes, medicine, spare set of keys, keepsakes) which you can leave with a trusted friend in case you need to flee.
- Rehearse an escape plan, so in an emergency you (and children) are prepared to get away safely.
- Keep any important and emergency telephone numbers with you – try to memorise them if you can.
- If there are neighbours you could trust, tell them what is going on and ask them to call the police if they hear sounds of a violent attack.
- Inform trusted family, friends, colleagues of your situation for added support so they can look out for you and call the police on your behalf if required.
- Develop code words with trusted family, friends, neighbours and your children. These can be used to alert danger, for example texting the word ‘apple’ to your friend could be code for ‘Ring 999 now, I’m in danger’.
- Practice calming exercises to regulate your nervous system, like breath work or meditation
- Try to avoid any places (eg. shops, banks, cafes) that you used to use when you were with your ex-partner.
- Try to choose a safe route, or alter routes/types of transport, when approaching or leaving places you can’t avoid (e.g. work, school, GP).
- Change all your passwords for social media, emails, bank logins, apps, etc. Refuge has created this useful resource on breaking up digitally.
- Block them on social media and block their number.
- If for any reason you need to phone your ex-partner (or anyone they are in contact with), make sure your telephone number is untraceable by dialling 141 before dialling their number.
- Turn off GPS and location tracking in your phone apps.
It’s really important to provide evidence to the courts, so keep track of all communications that you can. Take screenshots and keep a diary, if it’s safe to do so.
This is also helpful when the abuse is coercive control because you’re often made to feel like you’re going crazy and question your memory, so writing down exactly what has been said and done can empower you and reduce self doubt.
Make sure you keep detailed records of each harassment, threat, abusive incident and instances of controlling behaviour including:
- date/time it occurred
- what was said or done
- photos of damage to property or injuries to yourself or others
- If your current or ex partner injures you, see your GP or go to hospital for treatment and ask them to document the visit
- Report all abuse to the police if you can
- With your restraining order in place, make the police aware of this for them to enforce, and also inform a solicitor
You know your abusive partner and how to deal with him best, but we’ve listed some ways which might help to reduce the risk of ‘explosions’ and attacks during the escalating tension phase of the cycle of abuse.
- Remove yourself from the situation if you can.
- Create physical distance between you and your abusive partner.
- Distract and delay him.
- Contact your trusted person about what’s happening if you can.
- Talk to your abusive partner calmly as this might encourage him to tone down his aggression and mirror the way you’re addressing him.
- Keep your body language neutral and calm (facial expression, move slowly, open body language).
- Validate your partner’s feelings (but not his actions) to make him feel heard and seen: “that must feel really frustrating”. Hearing your verbal empathy might disarm him.