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EVAWI > Resources > Best Practices > FAQs > Safety Planning
Q How can I help secure victim safety in a small town where everyone knows that I am a victim advocate?
A How can I help secure victim safety in a small town where everyone knows that I am a victim advocate?

Safety is a critical concern for victims of sexual assault as well as intimate partner violence. Particularly in small towns, or other communities that are rural and/or remote, responding professionals must recognize victims’ fears stemming from the fact that most perpetrators are known. Victims are often very afraid of further violence – and possible retaliation by offenders and their families and friends for disclosing/reporting the crime. Of course, in cases where the suspect is a stranger, victims are also likely to be very worried if the suspect remains at large and poses a threat to them and their family members.

Fortunately, a number of resources and tools are available to assist professionals in helping victims to evaluate their own safety and engage in realistic safety planning. Excellent materials are offered by the National Network to End Domestic Violence and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, among others. The National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations also addresses issues of safety planning for victims. For example, to develop a safety plan for sexual assault victims, the following guidelines are offered in the National Protocol (the following section is quoted verbatim):

Screen for domestic and dating violence and other forms of abuse. Assist patients in considering things such as:
  • Where are they going after being discharged? With whom? Will these individuals provide them with adequate support? Is there anyone else they would like to contact? (Provide information about available community resources for obtaining support and help in making the contact if needed.)
  • Will their living arrangements expose them to the threat of continued violence or harassment? Is there a need for emergency shelter or alternative housing options? (Provide options and help obtain if needed.)
  • Are they eligible for protection orders? (Provide information and help obtain if desired.)
  • Is there a need for enhanced security measures? (Discuss options and help obtain if desired.)
  • If they feel unsafe, what will they do to get help? (Discuss options and help them develop a plan.)

Planning must take into account the needs and concerns of specific populations. For example, if patients with physical disabilities require shelter, the shelter must be accessible and staff able to meet their needs for personal assistance with activities of daily living. If patients living in institutional settings have been assaulted by another resident, a staff person, or person who has easy access to residents, the institution should offer alternative living arrangements and reduce the likelihood that patients have to come into contact with the assailant again. It should also ensure them access to services designed to promote their recovery (National Protocol, 2004, p. 114).

Professionals who respond to intimate partner violence and sexual assault may need to work to enhance their capacity for assisting victims with safety planning, such as providing victims with information about their rights, obtaining a protective order, asking law enforcement officers to patrol specific areas, accessing emergency shelter, obtaining a cell phone equipped to call 911 in the case of an emergency, and/or accessing other safety devices. As described in the New Jersey State Standards, this may include notifying the appropriate agency for adolescent victims who are sexually assaulted by a family member or caretaker, in order to determine appropriate placement (New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, 2004, p. 14). It will also likely include “identifying personal support systems such as relatives, friends, clergy, or others who may provide emotional, financial or physical assistance in the days following the assault” (New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, 2004, p. 14).

In general, it is important that investigative procedures used by law enforcement or the prosecution do not compromise safety strategies that are used by victims (Toolkit to End Violence Against Women, Chapter 4, p. 4). This is obviously a critically important question, and readers are referred to the following materials to be prepared to better assist victims with safety planning.

This response is an adapted excerpt from the OnLine Training Institute (OLTI) module entitled, Sustaining a Coordinated Community Response: Sexual Assault Response and Resource Teams (SARRT).

New Jersey Office of the Attorney General (2004, December). Attorney General Standards for Providing Services to victims of Sexual Assault (2nd edition). Published by the New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety, Division of Criminal Justice.

Toolkit to End Violence Against Women (2001). Developed by the National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women and the Violence Against Women Office.

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