Why this series: I talk about safety planning a lot because I'm a domestic violence advocate and the women who come to the nonprofit where I offer my time are trying to modify or leave relationships that have more than the usual problems. Yet the response I often get, even from someone who has just been in court asking for a Restraining Order against her spouse (same thing as a Protective Order), is "No, I don't need to do any safety planning. I have it covered."
Time passes, and without fail, there's another incident, usually something that could have been prevented or at least made unlikely with some prior actions on our client's part, yet even then safety planning is far from her thoughts. She's shocked, rattled, dismayed, can't quite believe the new situation. Safety planning still remains a hard sell.
I feel frustrated and helpless. Now is not the time to tell the woman in front of me "Why didn't you listen to me? We could have taken some simple steps to protect your property (privacy, money, or whatever)." This series of articles on safety planning, to be honest, is as much to calm my frustration as it is to give you a heads up about protecting yourself. Let's hope both of us get some benefit from the information that follows.
SAFETY PLANNING PREVENTS MESSES THAT ARE HARD TO CLEAN UP
Situation: Brenda is faced with the possibility that she may not be able to salvage her 10-year marriage to Brad, who has lost his promising career and responded to the stress by becoming unpredictable, hostile, and, Brenda suspects, using drugs, maybe meth or cocaine. She asks him to leave and he goes to stay with a friend, leaving her and two school-aged children in the family home.
Brad misses the children, so Brenda allows him to visit them on Saturday afternoon while she goes out. While she is absent, and in front of the children, Brad packs and moves valuable items from the home, including some of the children's toys. On Brenda's return, he says he wants the children to have some of their things at his new place, and besides half of everything belongs to him so he can do whatever he wants. Brenda is horrified, and now has to deal with two confused and upset children, who do not understand why Dad took their toys.
Later, Brenda realizes that all the money from the children's college account is missing, and that Brad went into her computer and deleted or copied things from the hard drive. A few weeks later, Brenda realizes she is not getting any mail. At the post office, she discovers Brad put in a change of address for the family and all mail is now going to his friend's house.
Brenda feels violated and is in a state of panic. She doesn't know what Brad will do next. She retains a divorce attorney, who refers her to a domestic violence services organization near her. Things will get worse before they get better, but at least Brenda is making a start at getting an out-of-control situation toward a more stable "new normal".