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The idea of packing up and leaving your home can be incredibly overwhelming. Many of us have relocated at some point in our lives and know it takes a lot of planning and energy – both emotionally and physically.

For people experiencing family violence there is so much more to consider. Although other people, such as friends and family, may feel that it should be an easy decision, at Refuge Victoria we know it’s not that simple. When you love someone, the thought of leaving them may seem worse than staying; it can be really confusing, scary and difficult.

The timing of you leaving the relationship is really important and can make a big difference to your overall experience. Stories from victim survivors and research into family violence highlight that violence and abuse may increase or escalate when women try to leave a violent situation or separate from their partner.

The thought of more violence and more pain can be unbearable, especially when it may also impact children and other family members. Leaving a job, leaving a partner who is also a carer, leaving when your residency status is uncertain, or leaving to parent alone – all of these new realities can prevent people from leaving.

As a specialist family violence service, Refuge Victoria can help you with these barriers. Read more in Staying with Us about the ways in which we will work with you and support you after you leave.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women there may be additional fears about escaping family violence. Many women may worry about putting extended families, kinship networks and their community connections at risk. It is really important to acknowledge that family violence is not part of Indigenous culture, however many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, children and young people experience family violence. You will be supported to develop a cultural plan that will aim to minimise any disconnection from mob or culture that has occurred as a result of Family Violence.

Safety Planning

Safety planning is a term that you will hear often when you have contact with Family Violence support services.

Overall, safety planning is a process which helps you to consider:

  • what you might need to do to feel safer if you are living with violence or abuse
  • what you can do to keep your children safe at home and at school or child care
  • how to improve your safety at home, at work and in the community
  • ways to keep your home, car and devices (phone, laptop, iPads) safe, and importantly,
  • an escape plan.

The best way to make a safety plan is with the help of a trusted friend or family member, or a service such as 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or Safe Steps (1800 015 188) who can do a more detailed safety plan with you.

Our top tips for safety planning before you leave

1. Talk to those you trust

Ask them to be part of your safety plan. Let trusted people know what is happening and create a code/safe word which you will use (by phone or text) if you need them to call 000 for you. Tell your neighbours to call 000 if they hear violence or abuse. Tell trusted friends or family if you are planning to leave and where you are planning to go. Tell your boss or work friends, or your children’s teachers or carers, and let them know to call 000 if they are worried about your safety.

2.  Plan and practice

Teach your children how to call 000 and if they are old enough, share your code/safe word with them and plan what to do if you use it. Plan how to get out of the house if you need to escape. Plan where you will go first. Know where the nearest police station is and the quickest way to get there. Store contact numbers for those you trust, plus 1800 RESPECT and Safe Steps, in your phone under different names which you remember easily.

3. Pre-pack what you need

Important documents (passport, driver’s licence, bank cards, medicare cards, birth certificates, medical records/scripts) are good to have packed if you are leaving, but remember that we can help you to replace them – it’s more important to stay safe. It may be easier to make copies of the documents, especially if it will raise the suspicion of the person using violence if they cannot locate them. A ‘go bag’ or ‘grab bag’ which you can access as you escape or leave with a friend can store documents or copies, clothes and medications, pet food or leads – anything essential to you.

4. Be ready to switch off

Technology is amazing at keeping us connected, but it can also be the easiest way for a person who uses violence to contact you, locate you or prevent you from leaving. If you are planning on leaving, be ready to disconnect from them. Consider leaving your phone or devices behind when you leave – especially if they are devices that the person using violence set up for you. Have a second phone and different number which only your trusted contacts know about – if you are unable to plan this, don’t worry, that’s something we can help you with.

Know how to:

  • switch off your location settings
  • change your passwords on your online accounts (social media, email, banking, car rego and e-tags, Centrelink/MyGov)
  • block the person using violence on your phone and social media, and help your Children to do the same.

5. Create a safe room

Once you have decided to leave, it can take some time to create a plan – and it’s important to stay safe during this time. It’s often a good idea to have a safe room, a room with a lock where you and the children can go to while calling for help.