Safety planning

A guide for trans women, transfeminine people, femmes and women with trans experience who are experiencing intimate partner violence.

Things to think about when using this guide

There are many sections to this safety planning document in order to provide a more comprehensive tool. It may feel long and overwhelming. Consider reading only a few sections at a time.

Remember also that any step you take to improve your safety is important; you do not need to take them all.

Ideally, people using this Safety Planning tool should write out their answers and notes, to help solidify their thinking and so they can access help remembering their plans if they are under stress, such as during an episode of violence.

However, it is EXTREMELY important that these notes – whether they be on paper or electronic – NOT be left anywhere where an abusive partner could find them.

Possible places where it may be safe to make and leave notes include: your computer at work; on a thumb drive you always carry with you or hide at a friend’s house, a public (i.e., library) computer where you can store the answers “in the cloud” under a password your abusive partner doesn’t know; a friend’s computer; or at a helping agency or professional’s office, such as your therapist’s office or your local domestic violence program.

It is also advised that any lists of friends’ contacts, bank accounts, service options, etc. that you generate be kept separately, to minimize the risks should one fall into your abusive partner’s hands.

Myths about intimate partner violence

There are some very common, but mistaken, beliefs about intimate partner violence (IPV). Some of the primary myths include:

Q

The victim believes it is their/her behavior that causes the abusive partner to “lose control.”

This belief is often fostered by the abusive partner, who usually blames the victim for “provoking” the victim. That means the abusive partner doesn’t have to take responsibility for their abusive actions. It also, perversely, helps the victim imagine they/she has some control over the situation.
Q

Relationship violence is normal and to be expected.

Q

The violence was a one-time occurrence that will not be repeated.

Q

It’s only domestic violence if it’s a man abusing a woman.

These beliefs are dangerous myths. Planning for your safety, focusing on where you actually do have power and control, and taking concrete actions can enhance your safety.

IPV is very common. A lot of research indicates that roughly 1 in every 4 intimate relationships – be they heterosexual or lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans women, transfeminine people, femmes and women with trans experience, gender non-conforming, or non-transgender; people of any race, age, level of disability, income level, religion – experience IPV.

Despite how common it is, intimate partner violence is not something you have to live with.

Many people grew up in abusive households and never learned that living together peacefully is normal and something they should have. Trans women, femmes and transfeminine people, often having grown up subject to others’ hurtful name-calling and/or abuse because they are gender non-conforming, seem particularly likely to believe that they are lucky to ever find love, even if that love turns violent.

No person should have to be in a relationship that is abusive. Trans women, femmes and transfeminine people can and should have loving partnerships that are free from violence or coercion.

Can Abusive Partners Change?

Some abusive partners do eventually learn how to have an intimate relationship without hurting or trying to control their partner. However, this is not an easy process and almost never happens after an abusive person simply promises they will never be violent again.

Instead, violent or coercive partners have to unlearn habits of thought and behavior that lead them to try to control their partners’ behavior rather than their own behavior and emotions. Oftentimes, they have to work through and heal their own experiences of having been abused. Then they have to learn and practice new interpersonal skills to a point where even under substantial stress, they are able to control their emotions and behavior, which results in making choices that are healthy for both partners.

Making these changes takes a lot of time and effort, and usually requires therapy or other professional assistance.

Some domestic violence advocates urge partners who are being harmed to not attend couples counseling with their abusive partner. Their fears include:

the therapist may agree with the abusive partner that the victim needs to make all the changes;
the victim may say something in therapy the abusive partner may use against him or her later; and
the abusive partner may use therapy as just another setting in which to make the victim feel bad.

However, you know your abusive partner better than anyone else, and only you can decide if couples counseling will be safe for you and might be helpful to both you and your partner.

For a variety of reasons, many people who experience IPV choose to stay with their partner, either temporarily or permanently. (Individuals who experience harm from their partners also frequently leave and then return, sometimes more than once before they are able to permanently stay away.) If this is true for you, you can and should think about how you can lower the chances of you and/or your children and pets being harmed by your abusive partner.

Safety planning can help you do this.

What is a Safety Plan?

A safety plan is a set of actions you can take if you stay with the abusive partner while preparing to leave the abusive partner, and/or after you have left.

Your safety plan will help you identify ways of being more prepared to keep yourself (and your children and pets, if you have them) safe. Work through the sections in this safety planning tool that are relevant to you – by yourself, or ideally with a friend, advocate or a BWSS Support Worker.

Remember that a safety plan can’t prevent abuse, because that’s under the control of the abusive partner (no matter how much they claim you provoked it). But if you:

Plan what to do ahead of time;

Prepare to carry out your plan; and

Rehearse the steps you need to take…

you are far more likely to be successful at avoiding the worst.

Note that the suggestions in this Safety Plan are written for a wide range of situations. You know your situation best, so make sure you think through what is best for you and make whatever changes or additions feel right to you.

Need help now?

You are not alone. You have options.

BWSS Support Workers are available 24/7 by phone or text to discuss your situation and help create a personalized safety plan that’s right for you.

Call 24/7 toll free 1-855-687-1868

Text 604-652-1867

Laying the Groundwork of your Safety Plan

You can’t always predict an incidence of violence, and many victims find that they are either gradually or suddenly being subjected to much worse violence than they were at first.

For both these reasons, seriously consider laying the important groundwork that may later prove lifesaving, even if you think your current situation doesn’t warrant such measures.

Identify service and support options

Find out what domestic violence services are offered in your area, and what their phone numbers are.

When you are ready to call a BWSS Support Worker at 1-855-687-1868, or any other DV program, call them from a safe place (see the “Become aware of your online/digital trail,” section below).

Whoever you’re calling, find out what their policies are about serving trans women, transfeminine people, femmes and women with trans experience people and what services, if any, they may be able to offer you while you remain with your abusive partner and/or if you choose to leave.

Start a dated journal of your abuse.

Include threats, stalking, and destruction of property. Add photos if you can. This information will be useful in securing a restraining order or any other legal action you may need to take later on.

It is critical that this journal be kept somewhere where your abusive partner will never find it.

Consider renting a safety deposit box to keep hard copies of journal entries or photos. A second relatively secure option is to use a password-protected cloud-based electronic file service, so no electronic file is on your computer’s hard drive, and no photos are on your phone or hard drive.

Begin recruiting supporters and develop code words.

Trans women, transfeminine people, femmes and women with trans experience people may need to think very carefully about who they know who they can trust to keep confidential information from the abusive partner.

Such individuals may be friends (particularly if they are not also friends with the abusive partner), neighbors, co-workers, or other people you know. When you identify such individuals, begin sharing your situation and ask them specifically if they would be willing to help you if the situation got worse.

Set up a code word or phrase that will tell them you are in danger and need them to call for help (make sure you are explicit about what kind of help you want them to call).

Find out if they would be able to offer other concrete help such as housing you in an emergency, storing duplicate copies of important papers, or keeping your safety bag of packed clothes/supplies.

Stock your wallet and its backup.

Keep your wallet with important identification, credit cards, and other material with you at all times.

Make copies of critical documents and account numbers and keep them someplace safe, such as a friend’s house, at work, or in a password protected computer file stored outside of the house.

The following list includes most of the documents you might need if you leave for a lengthy period of time:

Driver’s license, provincial identification card, car registration, and proof of insurance

Work ID/work permit

Health care and/or insurance ID cards

Social Insurance Number

Birth certificate

Passport

Immigration papers

Surgeon’s letter if your identification has not been completely updated

Court order for name/gender change

Copies of any restraining order, if you have obtained one

Lease or home deed, house or renters insurance information

Children’s identification/adoption records

Paternity or custody records

School and vaccination records (self and children)

Marriage license or divorce papers

Medical records

Other court documents

List of possible service organizations (see Identify service and support options)

List of friends’ and therapist’s addresses and phone numbers

It’s common for abusive partners to become angry and increase the level of violence when their partner leaves, even if they intend to come back.

Leaving is therefore a very dangerous time for victims.

Begin planning for this eventuality by developing these two useful habits:

Become aware of your online/digital trail.

With many people carrying cell phones that can be tracked by GPS and using computers that keep traces of users’ searches and communications, it is becoming increasingly easy for knowledgeable individuals who wish to control or stalk their partners to track down where their victims have gone. To learn more about planning for safety in online spaces, see our Online Abuse and Internet Safety planner here.

It is helpful to think about:

Your location may be traceable through credit card bills, debit card statements, your cell phone, and, of course, your social media updates.

If you search for shelters or other intimate partner violence supports on your home computer or a tablet you leave behind, your abusive partner may be able to learn where you might be.

Don’t trust your cell phone to keep all of your friends’ and resources’ phone numbers (it might be left behind or broken), but don’t leave a paper or computerized directory around where your abusive partner can find it, either.

Make sure you have multiple ways of accessing important numbers, and that they are kept in places your abusive partner doesn’t have access to, like at friends’ houses, work, or electronic storage not accessed by computers/phones at home.

Whenever possible, do your resource scouting at public computers and/or public phones, or borrow a friend’s.

Hide critical computerized information behind passwords your abusive partner would never guess, not your usual ones.

If you do leave and you have the time, clear the browser history on any computer left where the abuser can access it.

Develop habits that regularly take you out of the home.

Develop a regular habit that takes you out of the house daily, such as going for a walk, taking out the garbage, or getting a newspaper.

This activity can be used as an excuse to leave if you have warning that abuse is about to occur. Or if you are planning to leave, the activity can be a safe way to get out of the home.

Planning for Safety at Home

You may not always avoid a violent incident. In order to increase safety, you may want use some or all of the following strategies:

Scout out your home.

Sometimes when it’s not possible to avoid a peak violent episode, you may be able to maneuver that outburst to a safer spot.

You may want to avoid:

Being cornered in closets, small spaces, or bathrooms;

Rooms where weapons (guns) or potential weapons (knives, fireplace tools, or fire extinguishers) are stored; and

Stairways, unless you are using them to flee the home.

Instead, you may want to choose:

Rooms with a phone and/or a door or window you can escape out of.

Try not to have your abusive partner standing between you and an exit.

Think ahead. Before an incident, practice how to get out.

Teach the escape plan to your children, if you have any.

If you live in a tall building, consider what elevators, stairwells, or fire escapes you can use.

Recruit your neighbours.

While some trans women, transfeminine people, femmes and women with trans experience do not feel like calling the police is helpful, others do.

If you do want the police called when you are in danger, consider talking to trustworthy neighbors and asking them to call the police if they hear suspicious noises coming from your house. You may also want to develop a code phrase or visible sign (like a towel hung in a window) that will signal them that you are in trouble and want them to call the police.

Emergency Safety Bag

Abuse can get worse over time or quite suddenly.

If you have ever felt in danger from your abusive partner, consider preparing an “emergency safety bag” that can save you precious time if you suddenly need to leave your home.

This bag should be stored in a safe and easily accessible place, such as a friend’s or family member’s home, at work, in a car trunk, or any place to which the abusive partner will not have access.

Possible contents include:

Finances

Cash

Credit cards and debit cards

Cheques

Essential resources

Keys to car, house, work, safety deposit/post office boxes

List of possible service organizations (see the Laying the Groundwork for your Safety Plan section above)

List of friends’ and therapist’s addresses and phone numbers

Spare glasses or contact lenses

Medications, prescriptions, contact information for doctor(s) and pharmacy

Cell phone and charger

Any assistive devices you need

Photos of the abusive partner

Your journal of abuse, if you do not already store it elsewhere, and/or photos of injuries your partner has inflicted on you

Public transportation schedule

Identification and paperwork

Driver’s license/state identification card, car registration, and proof of insurance

Work ID/work permit

Surgeon’s letter if your identification has not been completely updated

Health care and/or insurance cards

Social Insurance Card

Birth certificate

Passport

Immigration papers

Court order for name/gender change

Copies of any restraining order, if you have obtained one

Lease or home deed, house or renters insurance information

Children’s identification/adoption records

Paternity or custody records

School and vaccination records (self and children)

Marriage license or divorce papers

Medical records

Other court documents

Hormones and prosthetics

Hormones, prescriptions, contact information for doctor and pharmacy

Binders

Stand to urinate devices

Breast/hip forms or other feminizing prosthetics

Packies or penile prosthetics

Wigs

Gaffing materials

Shaving/plucking tools

Makeup

Clothing

Change of clothes and shoes.

If you have difficulty finding clothes and/or shoes in your size, consider buying extra items when you find them and asking friends or colleagues to keep them for you.

Add your favorite clothing sources to the list of addresses and phone numbers you take with you.

Ask your BWSS Support Worker about accessing clothing and accessories from My Sister’s Closet thrift boutique.

Note that if you want to leave, you do not have to wait for the violence to escalate or something terrible to happen. It’s ok for you to go whenever you want to or can. 

Financial Safety Planning

Many trans women, transfeminine people, femmes and women with trans experience people are living paycheck (or benefits check) to paycheck and find it extremely difficult to put aside money that can be used in an emergency.

Whatever you can put aside, however, even if it is just the change from your pocket every day, will increase your options should the abuse you have experienced gets worse.

You can take some steps now to make you safer in the future.

Account information now typically includes usage information and can be accessed online as well as by mail and in-person. If your abuser shares your account(s) or even simply knows your passwords, they/ze/he/she may be able to access information that might help track down where you are if you leave.

Therefore, if possible, open a new account that does not have your abuser’s name on it, and have the statements sent to an address you do not share with the abuser (such as a post office box). (Alternatively, find an online bank that doesn’t send statements at all. Make sure, however, that you use a password your abuser doesn’t know and wouldn’t guess.) Use only this account if you leave your abuser.

Also pay attention to what happens to paperwork concerning any large asset you both own, such as a house or other property.

Abusers may work to put assets in their names only, often offering very convincing reasons why this is a good idea (tax benefits, avoiding potential problems with antagonistic family members, avoiding the confusion that might result if you are planning to change your name, etc.).

Given how few trans women, transfeminine people, femmes and women with trans experience people are protected by marriage and/or community property laws, allowing any asset to be held only in your abuser’s name may mean you will lose whatever equity you put into the asset. Make sure you consult a trans-knowledgeable lawyer so that assets are held in a way that protects you and your interests.

If you need to start disentangling yourself from debts your abusive partner should be responsible for, speak with your BWSS Support Worker about accessing our AWARE program.

Safe Havens

Trans women, transfeminine people, femmes and women with trans experience who experience domestic abuse have fewer options for finding safety than most non-transgender/cisgender victims.

Most transition houses and domestic violence shelters do not house men (non-transgender, transgender, or trans masculine people), and many will not accept transgender women, either. Some will provide hotel vouchers, but these are typically only for a very few nights.

Every transition house and shelter has a different policy about who they house and what specific requirements need to be met.

For example, there is no consensus among transition houses or shelters as to whether trans women who live in a women’s gender role, have identification in their current name and female gender will be allowed access into a women-only shelter.

There are also pros and cons about if a trans woman, transfeminine person, femme, and woman with trans experience should disclose their trans status to shelter staff (prior to or after being accepted into shelter). Some individuals have found it safer to have disclosed, others have noted it has increased their risk of discrimination or even their ability to access transition house/shelter services.

You will need to make the decision about whether or not you disclose your transgender status/history based on your own values, safety considerations, and what other options if any, you have.

Your BWSS Support Worker can help to locate safe emergency housing options.

Need help now?

You are not alone. You have options.

Our Safety Changes Everything team are available 24/7 by phone or text to discuss your situation and help create a personalized safety plan that’s right for you.

Call 24/7 toll free 1-855-687-1868

Text 604-652-1867

More resources for trans women, transfeminine people, femmes and women with trans experience who experience domestic abuse 

Catherine White Holman Wellness Centre

Free, low-barrier wellness services for trans and gender-diverse people, including legal information and counselling.

604-442-4352

cwhwc.com

QMUNITY, BC’s Queer, Trans, and Two-Spirit Resource Centre

Referrals to lawyers, shelters, and other resources; free counselling, social and support groups, LGBTQ2S inclusion workshops, and publications (including Queer Terminology).

604-684-5307

qmunity.ca

Safe Choices

Healthy relationship workshops for the LGBT2SQ community; resources, referrals, consultation, and free LGBT2SQ relationship violence training and education workshops for service providers..

604-442-4352

endingviolence.org/prevention-programs/safe-choices-program/
Trans Care BC

Supports the delivery of equitable and accessible care, surgical planning, and peer and community support for trans people across the province.

1-866-999-1514
phsa.ca/transcarebc
Trans Rights BC

This project aims to provide human rights information that is accurate, accessible, and relevant to the safety and well-being of trans and gender-diverse people and their supportive allies across British Columbia.

transrightsbc.ca
Trans Lifeline

Non-profit dedicated to the well-being of transgender people, offering a hotline for transgender people staffed by transgender people. Volunteers respond to community members’ support needs.

1-877-330-6366
translifeline.org

Used with permission by Forge Forward and the Legal Services Society of BC