Emergency Escape Plan


Being involved in a violent relationship is kind of like living on top of a volcano. Some people leave once they realize it and never look back. Others run off during the eruption, wait out the danger, and come back once things calm down. Many go back and forth a few times, but eventually leave for good. Whatever your long-term plan is (staying or leaving), it's crucial to ensure your basic safety in the here and now, while you're still sharing the house with your abuser and the volcano can erupt any minute.

The beauty of an emergency escape plan is that you don't have to hide it, because it's applicable in any emergency: fire, flood, earthquake, burglary, etc. Any reasonable person would commend you for being conscious of safety, your partner won't question your motives, and your friends and family won't suspect abuse (if you wish to keep it secret). You can even disguise your plan as a joke, a game, or a hobby (e.g. zombie apocalypses). It consists of simple adjustments that are easy to implement, but that would drastically increase your chances of surviving violence at home, and eventually escaping it.

Be dressed

Many people wear pajamas or bathrobes all day, and walk around the house barefoot. It's cozy, but not very safe: should an argument escalate to physical violence, you'll want to leave immediately. It only takes a minute to find your pants and put them on, but stabbing you with a kitchen knife won't take long either. Just make it a habit to get dressed every morning, even if you're planning to stay home all day. Wear shoes too: a pair of canvas slip-ons doesn't cost a lot, won't look weird indoors, and can be pretty comfortable. When you go to bed, know where your clothes are, so that you can easily find them even if you have to get up and run in the middle of the night.

Keys, phone, and IDs

Keep your keys, phone, and IDs consistently in one place, so that you'll be able to grab them quickly if you need to run out. A decorative bowl/basket, a wall hook, or a small shelf by the entrance door tend to work particularly well. Some people get cell phone cases with slots for credit cards and cash, combining the phone and the wallet together so that they are easier to grab as you run. However, this approach can backfire: if your partner grabs your phone/wallet first, you'll be leaving with nothing. Play it by the ear, chose whichever solution makes the most sense to you, but do keep your keys, phone, and IDs in the same place consistently, so that you won't have to search for them in an emergency. Some people also hide spare keys outside of the house: under a rock on your front lawn, in your desk drawer at work, in your car, etc.


Practice emergency exits, hiding, and calling for help, so that your child knows exactly what to do. Approach it as a fire drill or any other emergency, without specific focus on domestic violence. When you're teaching them to leave the house - specify where they should go, if they should wait for you or not, if they need to take anything with them, etc. When you're teaching them to hide - specify where they should hide and for how long, when is it safe to come out. When you're teaching them to call for help - specify what number to dial and what to say. Have them memorize their home address and full name: there are 911 calls placed by children every day, saying "please help, mommy isn't breathing, my name is Jesse, we live in a big house with a brown door." Tracing calls takes time, so if your child knows their name and address, the police would be able to help them faster. Teach your kids to call extended family, friends, or hotlines when they're unsure what to do.

Cash, documents, phone numbers

Having some cash hidden (that he doesn't know about and has no access to) is crucial for escape planning and for emergency situations. Cash stashes are the start of your independence. Twenty bucks hidden in the sole of your shoe allows you to take a cab or buy food for a few days, so you're not completely at the mercy of your partner and walk away if you need to. Even if you decide to come back once things calm down, it's still good to be able to survive in the meantime. Don't keep cash in your wallet: your partner can easily find it there and take it from you. Instead, hide it somewhere: in a book, in your hygiene products, in the sole of your shoe, in a ziploc bag buried under a bush in your backyard, etc. Preferably in all of these places at once. In addition to cash stashes, make copies of important documents: birth certificates, social security cards, passports, benefit cards, credit cards, police reports, court orders, etc. You can save them to a flash drive - those can be disguised as pretty much anything, e.g. chapstick. Write down important names, addresses, and phone numbers: police and fire departments, DV shelters, mental health crisis lines, your lawyer, therapist, doctor, friends, family, etc. Most people store this information on their cell phone, but what if your partner takes it away or breaks it?

Emergency backpack

Domestic violence victims often have no property of their own, that their abusive partner has no control over, down to underwear and toothbrush. Such items can be bought when needed, but they might be easier to stash than cash, and add a sense of security and independence. Just pack a change of clothing (underwear, socks, a t-shirt or two, a hoodie, a pair of pants), personal hygiene items (toothbrush, travel-size toothpaste, soap, shampoo, etc.), a spare phone charger, kids stuff (if you have kids), and any other items you'd need to survive for a few days. Keep it light, and don't include items that your partner would notice missing. It's best to store your emergency backpack/suitcase outside of home: at your mom's, friend's, neighbors', etc. If that's impossible and you have to keep it at home - disguise it as a laundry basket, a trash bag, a box of items to be donated to Salvation army, etc.

Sentimental value items

When you're stripped off your dignity, safety, boundaries, health, happiness, friends, family, job, property, basic human rights - personal possessions of sentimental value (dad's picture, mom's ring, friend's keychain, etc) become a lot more important, as they might literally be the only thing you have left that is your own. You would go to great extents to keep it. And your abusive partner would go to great extents to take it away, specifically to show you who is the boss. It's not uncommon for abuse victims to accept a beating, a rape, even risk to life - just to keep an item of sentimental value. I knew people who attempted suicide when their partner destroyed such an item. Try to keep these items outside of the house you share with your partner. Your neighbors, friends, or family might let you store a shoebox with these items in their closet. If that's not possible, you could rent a small safe deposit box at your local bank; it only costs $15-25 per year. If that's not an option either, at least buy a small metal box with a lock that you can hide somewhere in the house. Aside from keeping your items safe, this would greatly affect your overall outlook on life: things feel very differently when you know you have stuff that your partner does not control or even know about. Abuse strips victims of all self-worth, so protecting yourself often starts from protecting your property.

Neighbors, friends, family, or shelters

Violence requires privacy, so your partner will probably be against you socializing with people. You might be against it too, being a victim of DV is embarrassing and time-consuming. However, people are an important part of your safety net. You don't have to pour your soul out to your neighbors on daily basis if you don't feel like it, but you need to know what their names are, have them know what your name is, exchange phone numbers with them, and say hi when you bump into them - this way you (and your child) will be able to knock on their door in an emergency, and they'll open it. Stay in touch with your friends and family too: you could stay over at their place for a few days (or send your kids there for a weekend), store your valuables and emergency backpack, and overall have someone to call if you need support. If staying in touch with neighbors, friends, or family is not an option - at least find and write down the address and phone number of your local DV shelter: you need to have a place to run to in an emergency.