Domestic Violence Safety Planning with Children and Pets

A women brushes a young girl's hair who has a determined look on her face, possibly reflecting on a bad memory. - 10/06/2020

One of the main reasons that survivors will not leave an abusive partner is out of fear for what might happen to their children or pets. Domestic violence is an abuse driven by power and control, and many abusers think that love is a weak point that will prevent a survivor from trying to escape. Victims of domestic abuse are called “survivors” for a reason. You can make it through this challenge. Here are some considerations that can help when planning to move your children and your pets to a safe place.

Children

  • Teach your children how to call 911 and give their address to the operator.
  • Establish a safe place where your children can go when things escalate.
  • Have a code word that lets your children know a situation is becoming unsafe.
  • Instruct children to stay out of the kitchen or bathroom where items could be used as weapons.
  • Make a list of people with whom your children feel comfortable talking.
  • Let your children know that none of this is their fault. Reinforce your love for them. Tell them you will do everything in your power to protect them. 
  • Use language so that if repeated by your child it won’t sound accusatory and incite more anger in the abusive partner, for instance:

Don’t say: “Do this if dad/mom becomes violent.”

Because the child might say to the abuser: “Mom/Dad said to do this if you get angry.”

Do say: “Let’s practice what to do in case of an emergency.”

Because the child might say to the abuser: “Mom/Dad said do this in case of an emergency.”

Pets

As for pets, statistics published by the National Domestic Violence Hotline say that up to 65% of domestic violence victims are unable to escape because they are worried about what will happen to their pets if they leave. These steps can help you prepare:

  • Keep emergency provisions ready to go (i.e. food, medicine, leash, documents, toys, carrier).
  • Program the number to the closest emergency vet office into your cellphone.
  • Speak to a friend or veterinarian ahead of time to establish a safe, temporary place for pet care.
  • Take steps to prove ownership such as vaccination and/or licensing records.
  • Once you are in a new place, avoid leaving your pets outside and choose a new veterinarian.
  • Visit the Animal Welfare Institute website to learn more about domestic violence safety planning for pets.
  • Some states include pets in a protective order.

A safety plan is critical. In a traumatic situation your brain does not function the same way it does when you are calm and unafraid. Use moments when your abuser is away to think clearly and map out an exit plan. Logical steps will help ensure that you, your children and your pets make it to a protected place.

Also consider these steps for your domestic violence survivor’s safety plan:

  • Identify a safe house/place where there are no weapons.
  • If your children are somewhere else, do NOT go to and endanger them.
  • Save important numbers in a phone and keep your phone hidden.
  • Back your car into the driveway and keep the driver’s door unlocked.
  • Avoid wearing scarves or long jewelry that could be used to hold or strangle you.
  • Let a trusted person know about your situation (i.e. doctor, neighbor, employer).

Human beings are born with a resilience mechanism to get us through life’s toughest challenges. That being said, making it to safety can be overwhelming so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Here are a few numbers to know where people are standing by to help:

  • Lakeview Center Victim Services 24-hour helpline 850.433.7273
  • Lakeview Center Certified Sexual Violence Program (Escambia and Santa Rosa counties) 850.469.3800
  • National Domestic Violence hotline 800.799.7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522
  • Report Abuse hotline 800.962.2873
  • National Sexual Assault hotline 800.656.4673