What is a Safety Plan?
Safety planning is one puzzle piece in a very big picture. Sexual, family and intimate partner violence (SFIPV) occurs in interpersonal relationships, but it is a complex social issue. If you are an LGBTQ+ person experiencing SFIPV, you are already working hard daily to manage and respond to issues of risk and safety.
Engaging in deliberate safety planning can be an important and useful strategy to limit risk. It is your right to have plenty of tools and support at your disposal, but that is not because safety is solely your responsibility. In an ideal world, we would all be working to keep each other safe from harm. We hope that our safety planning resources will not only be useful to you, but also to those who support you and want to help keep you safe.
Safety planning is designed to help you recognise, consolidate and build on your own expertise in managing your safety. Try to reflect on your existing knowledge and wisdom. No one knows how to navigate risk and safety in your relationship(s) better than you.
To help you plan to be safer in the future, try using our Safety Planning Tool, which you can do with a professional, a friend or family member you trust, or on your own. You can save this tool under password protection and/or print it off and keep it in a safe place where it will not be found.
For many people experiencing SFIPV, navigating cycles of crisis comes with the territory. A crisis can look like episodic harm, but many other kinds of crises can also be relevant to your situation.
While situations in which crisis and harm can occur are broad, examples include:
- Mental health
- Alcohol and other drug issues
- Court proceedings
- Periods of incarceration
- Anniversaries of difficult events
- Financial crisis
Preparing for stressors means that any fall-out won’t be a surprise, and we can prepare ourselves for potential episodes. Our Safety Planning Tool can help you anticipate likely scenarios and create a plan of action.
It is important to know that your brain and body will process traumatic incidents in unique and creative ways, and you may experience any number of physical, mental and emotional responses.
Common responses include:
- Changes in appetite
- Inability to fall sleep or difficulty waking up
- Shaking hands
- Extreme focus or an inability to focus
These are natural and normal signs that your body is trying to process and cope with what you are experiencing. They are not signs that something is wrong with you.
Our Safety Planning Tool will take you through a list of things to think about before, during and after a crisis or episode of harm.
Involving Emergency Services
During the course of your experience with SFIPV, you or someone else may involve emergency services, such as police or an ambulance.
This section provides an opportunity for you to think about this in advance, as preparation is important. You might think about the following:
- Under what circumstances would you involve emergency services?
- Do you have any concerns about engaging emergency services?
- Do you have any prior experience with emergency services?
- If police respond to SFIPV, they may instigate legal proceedings – do you understand what those are?
- Do you understand your rights and obligations with regards to an emergency response?
- Do you have supports or services who you can access in the event of an emergency response?
Safety at Work/School
When thinking about safety, it is important to think about it in relation to all aspects of your life. Considering many people spend one third of their time at work or school, it is clearly an important element of safety planning.
Not only is it important to think about how safe you are at work/school, but also how you can use your workplace/school as a safety network. For some people experiencing SFIPV, work/school is the safest place for them, as it may be the only place where their abuser can’t access them.
For other people, their place of school/work might expose them to their abuser, particularly if their abuser attends the same workplace/school or if their workplace is open to the public, such as a café or theatre.
Here are our recommendations for safety planning in relation to work/school:
- Legal Considerations – Many institutions and workplaces will have policies and practices in place for responding to risk, particularly if there are orders in place (such as a Personal Safety Intervention Order).If you are a minor, there will be additional legislative requirements in place. Ideally, these policies and processes exist to uphold and protect your safety. Ensuring you have a clear picture of your school/workplace’s obligations and policies, and understanding how they will respond to any issues of risk or safety, will help you feel more able to make informed decisions. You have a right to know how your work/school will respond to any disclosures or incidents.
- Conflicts of Interest – LGBTQ+ community crossover can be a source of support, but it can also create unique concerns when it comes to SFIPV. The person(s) who use abuse may be connected to your school or place of work. This could be directly (e.g., a fellow student or employee) or indirectly (e.g., a stakeholder, customer or worker at an adjacent service). They may also be socially connected to others in your school or workplace. If this is the case, flagging this at any points of disclosure and asking how it will be managed is very important.
- Keep a Record – Keep a record of all interactions with your school/workplace relating to your abuse. You may want to record any relevant policies or procedural information. You can also ask for a copy of any notes that your work/school takes in relation to your situation.
- Asset Mapping – When you have a clear idea of how your work/school will support you, you can add them to your asset map and to other sections of your safety plan.
Feeling Safer in Public Places
If you are feeling unsafe in general, being in public spaces could make you feel either more or less safe. Either way, think about the public spaces you are visiting and how you could make those spaces feel safer.
The approach will be different for each location and situation. However, if there are public places you frequent regularly (e.g., the park you walk your dog in daily, the library you study in or the pool you swim at every Saturday) you can plan and prepare for those first.
For many LGBTQ+ people, safety in public places is a fluid concern and takes things like visibility and safety as a LGBTQ+ person into account. Here are some questions to prompt you to think about ways you can improve your safety in public places:
- Physical Environment – Are there any obvious hazards present (e.g., a large staircase, a river, a main road out the front)? Is the area well-lit? Where are the less visible places? Do you know where the exits are and are they usually accessible? Can you access a clear exit for your vehicle, if you have one?
- Personal Safety – Do you usually feel safe there? Why or why not? Is there anything you can do to feel safer, without putting yourself at further risk? Do you have a trusted person with you or close by? Does a trusted person know where you are? Do you have phone access if you need it? Do you know the staff or the regulars there? Are there times of the day when it is not safe to be there?
- Surveillance – Is there CCTV in the area? If so, does this make you feel more or less safe? Is the area populated? If so, does this make you feel more or less safe?
- Visibility – Do you feel visible as an LGBTQ+ person and does this make you feel more or less safe? Are there other LGBTQ+ people that visit there? Are there signs of inclusion like rainbow flags or “Welcome Here” stickers?
Accessing Support Services
Accessing a service to support you around your experience of SFIPV can be daunting, especially as a LGBTQ+ person. Preparing yourself as much as you can in advance will help you to make the most of the services available.
You may not be able to directly access a skilled, inclusive specialist service. Completing this section can give you some ideas about how to prepare and resource yourself if you are accessing a support service, particularly if you are not sure how skilled they are in LGBTQ+ specific treatment and assistance.
You are entitled to protection from discrimination. Accessing a support service should make you feel safer and more supported. If you experience discrimination when accessing a service, particularly if it decreases your feelings of safety, that is a serious violation of your rights.
Find more information on anti-discrimination legislation, complaint pathways and processes here.
Here are some questions to prompt you to think about ways you can assess and improve your safety when accessing support services.
- Vetting – “Vetting” refers to the process of making advance contact with a service and asking questions to see if they are a good fit for you. This is an important step, especially for LGBTQ+ people. Whilst LGBTQ+ positive service delivery is a growing area of expertise, not everyone will have access to a specialist service. You may wish to enlist the help of an ally or support person to vet a service. If you are already linked with a service provider you trust, they can also vet other services for you. If you live rurally or remotely, or are otherwise unable to access a specialist service directly, you may still be able to contact them and ask for a recommendation, make a supported referral to another service, or give you advice. See the service directory on this website for more information on services. When you do decide to engage a service provider, you might share this website with them, or ask them to complete our Safety Planning Tool with you to help inform them about your situation and your support needs.
- Policies – What are the services policies about LGBTQ+ inclusion? Some services may have discretionary policies about providing services to “women and children”, for example. This does not give them to right to discriminate by, for example, excluding transwomen. Understanding in advance how LGBTQ+ friendly a service is and how they will respond to you can help you to understand your options and make informed decisions.
- Allies – Do you have any current friends or allies to support you through the process of seeking support? If yes, then you might consider showing them some or all of this safety plan and the Safety Planning Tool to explain to them what you are experiencing and the kinds of support that are most helpful to you, so they can be a more effective advocate. Bring your ally to your first service appointment for extra support.
- Legal Considerations – If there are any pending legal matters or orders in place, a service will have additional legislative requirements. You have a right to ask what these are and to have any information clarified, so that you understand what the services obligations are and how this might affect you.
- LGBTQ+ Specific Concerns – Do all your documents match/have the same personal details? Do they represent your name and identity? Is it comfortable or uncomfortable for you when accessing a specific service? If you are accessing medical affirmation, can you access your medication, your appointments, and your clinicians? Will you be supported to access the bathroom facilities of your choosing? If you are socially transitioned or transitioning, can you access all of the material supports you need to feel affirmed in your presentation? How will this service uphold your confidentiality, whilst also prioritising your safety and comfort, should you wish to disclose or discuss your gender/sexuality to anyone else you come into contact with through their service? How will they act as allies and intermediaries, should you be required to access an external service provider through them?
- Keep a Record – Keep a record of all interactions with the services you access. You may also record any relevant policies or procedural information. Should you desire, you can also access your service record through the Freedom of Information Act.
- Asset Mapping – When you have a clear idea of how a service can support you, you can add them to your asset map and to other sections of your Safety Planning Tool.
Now that you have read more about safety planning, try using our safety planning tool where you can enter information specific to your situation, save it under password protection or even download or print it to keep hidden in a safe place.
The majority of LGBTQ+ people who are trying to leave abusive relationships will look to their friends and family for a safe place to stay.
However, finding a suitable place is often not easy for many reasons, such as the fact that many sexuality and gender diverse people have lost the support from their networks as a result of their identity.
Another reason is that confidentiality can be hard in small communities. An individual may not be ready to tell their friends and family what is happening, or may fear that the abuser will find them easily. For these reasons, sometimes formal, public housing options are the best option.
In Australia there are no specific domestic violence refuges for men escaping abuse.
The main options available for men are:
- Commercial establishments such as hotels/motels/Airbnb
- Make sure that the staff at your accommodation do not email you an invoice or receipt in case the abuser has access to your emails. Create a new Airbnb profile if you need to.
- Tell the staff not to give anyone your room number or details.
- Homelessness services
- A homeless service is not ideal for someone escaping domestic violence, however they will have staff onsite who should offer you safety and be able to refer you on to other options. Most homeless services will not take children or pets.
LBTQ+ women, cisgender or transgender, can access women’s services and women’s refuges. Contact one of the services on our Find a Service page for accommodation referral options.
Trans and Gender Diverse (TGD) People
Many transgender and gender diverse people are hesitant to access services due to a fear of discrimination, harassment or refusal of service from providers and other clients.
There are very few services that offer accommodation specifically reserved for transgender or gender diverse people. Many transgender women fear, or actually experience, transphobia when accessing some services. Additionally, many women’s services specifically state that their service is for women, so if you do not fit into a binary category of “woman”, then finding a service that is inclusive may be challenging. Go here for services that can support you.
Religious-Based Support Services
There are exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act (contained in Sections 37 and 38) for religious bodies, which include “any other act or practice of a body established for religious purposes that conforms to the beliefs of that religion”.
This exemption is quite vague (not to mention problematic) and is a catch-all provision designed to cover any situation where discrimination may be deemed necessary in the interests of upholding religious values. This may mean that a religious-based domestic violence service may be able to discriminate based on their religious values. Although most religious-based domestic violence services will not uphold these exemptions and will offer their service to sexuality and gender diverse people, it might be safer to inquire up front about their level of inclusion.