Fast Exit

December 5, 2023 Dec 05, 2023 9 min read

Safety Planning Checklist for Fleeing an Abusive Relationship

The following checklist is designed to help anyone in an abusive or violent relationship plan a way out. Please be aware that this is a risky and complicated process. While the steps recommended below are informed by experience and expertise, everyone's situation is different. Your plan should be adapted to your unique circumstances.

If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

If possible, use an alternate phone or computer for planning

Because many abusers monitor their partner’s phone and internet activity, it’s important to formulate your plans as discreetly as possible. Acquiring a second phone your partner doesn’t know about (and won’t find) is a good option for those who can afford it. Others may need to rely on a public computer at a library or school.


If you have no choice but to use a phone or computer shared with or monitored by your abuser, be diligent about deleting your search history. To learn how to do this, click here.

Be extra careful with social media

As you navigate the process of preparing to leave and after you have relocated, be extremely careful about what, when, and how you post on social media. Social media activity can be tracked easily via location information, and even private posts can be hacked or screenshotted. 


It’s best to avoid posting on social media at all during this time unless it’s absolutely necessary. Communicate with friends, family, and community members via private messages instead. It’s also a good idea to avoid accepting any new friend or follow requests from anyone whose account you don’t immediately recognize or trust.

Remove all tracking information or devices

Due to the increase in smart technology, there are many different ways to track and be tracked these days. This can include location sharing on smartphones, NFC tags, or various tracking apps. Before you leave, disable location sharing, delete tracking apps, and remove NFC tags from your belongings.


Even if you aren’t aware that you’ve been tracked, check the settings on your phone to see if location sharing was enabled without you knowing, and check through your belongings for NFC tags. It’s best to wait until right before you leave to disable your tracking information so as not to create suspicion.

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Consult an advocacy organization

In most places, social service organizations exist to assist victims and survivors of intimate partner violence. These organizations are specially equipped to help people decide exactly how and when to leave an abusive relationship as safely as possible. The social workers and volunteers who staff these organizations can recommend emergency shelters, free cell-phone programs, options for free or reduced-cost legal advocacy, and more. If you can, contact one of these organizations early in your planning process.


To connect with an advocacy organization near you, use the Go Thrive Go search tool and search for “Advocacy / Accompaniment.”

If possible, seek legal counsel

While this option won’t be accessible for everyone, seeking legal counsel from an attorney prior to leaving your relationship can help you assess your risks and decide best steps. This can be especially helpful when children are involved.


Luckily, many domestic violence advocacy organizations in Canada offer free legal assistance to people in active crisis situations. To connect with an organization offering legal services across Canada, use the Go Thrive Go search tool.

Let someone you trust know about your plan

Letting a trusted friend or family member know about your plan to leave your partner is an excellent way to bolster your safety as you navigate this complicated process. However, it’s important to make sure you can trust whoever you tell. While confiding in someone about your plan can increase your safety, it can also endanger you further if you confide in the wrong person.


If you decide to tell someone, choose a person who has demonstrated their trustworthiness to you in the past, preferably someone who already knows your circumstances and supports your desire to leave.

Figure out where you will go after you leave

Having somewhere safe to go after you leave your relationship is essential. This could be a friend or family member’s house or an emergency shelter, depending on what you have access to. Across Canada, hundreds of shelters provide emergency housing to people in domestic violence crisis situations. To connect with a shelter or housing program near you, use the Go Thrive Go search tool.


Wherever you decide to go, make sure you know exactly where you’ll be headed before you pack your bags.

Decide how you will leave

Before you leave, decide how you’ll go – whether by car, public transportation, or on foot. Driving yourself is usually the safest option, but this won’t be possible for everyone. If you decide to leave on foot, plan for inclement weather, wear sensible shoes, and bring water and snacks.


In the event that you are followed by an abuser while driving away, go directly to a police station or hospital, park by the front doors, and honk your horn repeatedly. Those planning to leave by car should also make sure they will have access to car keys when they need them. Secretly making an extra set of keys is a good way to do this.

Memorize your escape route

Once you know where you’re going and how you’re getting there, it’s important to know exactly which route you’ll take. You’ll want to get from point A to point B as fast as possible. In case of the unexpected, decide on at least one back-up route.

Decide when you will leave

It’s not always possible to plan ahead about timing, but if you can, decide roughly when you will leave. Depending on your circumstances, you may need to leave during the night, which can create added complications such as needing to leave quietly. Many people also leave when their partners are at work or away on trips.

Memorize or write down phone numbers and addresses

While most people have access to internet-enabled phones at all times, it’s possible you could be separated from your phone at some point. Additionally, not all victims of intimate partner violence have access to their own phones. As a result, it’s important to memorize or securely write down important phone numbers and addresses to carry with you.

Open a PO box and forward your mail

After you leave, you will no longer have access to your previous mailing address. To remedy this issue, open up a private PO box at your local post office and turn on mail forwarding. With mail forwarding, the post office can reroute all mail addressed to you to your new address without anyone else knowing. Even if your abuser finds out that you’re having your mail forwarded, they will not legally be able to do anything about it.

Open a private bank account and start depositing money

Almost all abusive relationships involve financial abuse, wherein one partner controls all or some of the finances of the other partner to maintain power over that person. If you have not been allowed to work or access your own money in your relationship, visit a local bank and open up a discreet bank account. Keep the information about this account safe and secret away from your abuser, and begin depositing money whenever you can. Even if you don’t have much to start, having your own bank account will be essential after you leave.

If possible, safely document evidence of abuse

If there’s any chance you’ll want to pursue legal action against your abuser or seek legal protection after you leave, it’s essential to begin documenting the abuse if possible. This could mean using the voice recording feature on your phone to record your abuser during abusive episodes, downloading evidence from a shared computer, or taking photos or videos. Be sure to gather evidence as discreetly as possible to protect your safety. If it’s not possible for you to gather evidence without endangering yourself, prioritize your safety instead.

Save copies of important documents

After you leave, you’ll need to make sure you can access your important documents, including any evidence you’ve gathered about the abuse. Other important documents you’ll want to bring with you include your social security card, passport, identification, bank information, certificates and diplomas, etc. Some documents will require hard copy originals, while others can be saved to a USB drive or uploaded to a private cloud storage account online.

Tell the people in your life not to share your whereabouts

Even if you don’t confide in everyone about the details of your plan, it’s important to let people know not to share your whereabouts with your abuser. Some of the people you may want to talk to include coworkers, employers, and teachers.

If you have kids, only share necessary details with them

Depending on the age of your children, you may need to be strategic when deciding what and how much to share with them about your plans. With older children, you may be able to share more and involve them somewhat in the planning process. However, with young children, it’s best to only share necessary details to avoid the risk of your plans being revealed inadvertently.


Some important details to share, particularly with young children, are your policy about school pick-up (for example, who is and isn’t allowed to pick them up), as well as where they should go or who they should call in the event of an emergency.

Expect (and plan for) the unexpected

While planning is extremely helpful, it’s important not to become too attached to the exact steps you’ve laid out in your plan. Create a contingency plan that accounts for possible unexpected changes in your circumstances. For example, what will you do if your partner unexpectedly leaves with your children? Where will you go if the friend who said they would take you in suddenly decides they no longer have space? Formulate  backup plans for each of the most important elements of your escape plan.

Pack one bag of the bare necessities

Due to the nature of fleeing an abusive relationship, most victims will not be able to bring most of their belongings with them. Limit your packing to one backpack if possible, and bring only the bare necessities. Avoid using a bag that won’t be easy to carry on your back, such as a suitcase.


Some examples of bare necessities include toiletries (although most emergency shelters stock basic toiletries for residents), essential medications and prescriptions, basic clothing, snacks and water, phone, computer, wallet, and important and/or private documents.


If you are fleeing with children, avoid packing extra bags for the kids if possible. This will make it harder to leave quickly and efficiently when the time comes. Include their items in your own backpack instead.

Once your bag is packed and your plan is set, the only thing left is to leave. This can be an extremely difficult, distressing, and scary process. It’s important to remember that the process of leaving an abusive relationship – especially one that involves physical violence and/or sexual abuse –  is inherently dangerous. If at any point the steps recommended on the list above feel like they will significantly increase your risk of being harmed, prioritize your safety in a way that makes sense for you and your circumstances.


If you plan to go to an emergency shelter after you leave, check out our other checklist “What to Bring With You to an Emergency Shelter.”

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