In the United States, more than 12 million people are victims of domestic abuse each year. Many of these men and women are able to escape their abuser and start a new life — but for these survivors, it’s a long journey to feeling safe and secure, especially at home.
Taking certain safety measures can help give you a sense of calm and help you regain control of your life, no matter if you’re moving into a new home or rebuilding your life in a home you once shared with your abuser. From stepping up your home security to updating your digital devices’ privacy settings, here are some actions that will help you feel safer as a domestic abuse survivor.
Update Your Locks
You should update your locks any time you move into a new space that former occupants may still have keys to, so if you haven’t already, take this step as soon as possible. If you continue living in a space you once shared with your abuser after he or she vacates the property, you also need to change your locks as well as any access codes that grant entry into your home. However, it’s best to consult an attorney before making these changes. If you lived with this person and they are a signee of your rental agreement or are a co-owner of the property, they may be subject to certain legal rights that you’d violate by locking them out without due process.
Once you’ve changed your locks and updated your entry codes, periodically taking some time to check the locks on your home’s doors and windows will help you stay on top of maintaining and replacing them as needed. In addition to the exterior of your house or apartment, be sure you’re checking the doors inside your home as well. In the event of an emergency, it may be necessary to secure yourself in one of your rooms until help arrives.
Keep in mind that many rental apartments have keys that can’t be duplicated, and they don’t allow residents to change locks. Similarly, you may be in violation of your lease if you change the locks of an apartment, a home, townhome, or condo you rent from a private individual. However, it’s worth voicing your concerns with your property manager — they may be willing to make an exception to accommodate your special circumstances.
Invest in a Home Security System
Putting a home security system in your home, whether a professionally-installed model or a DIY home security system, is an important way to protect your family from all unwanted visitors, including anyone who’s caused you physical or emotional harm. Some features you may want to consider for your home include:
- Door alarms that sound when doors are opened
- Smart door locks that you can access using a smartphone or other mobile device
- Keypad entry locks
- Video doorbells
- Window alarms that go off when windows are opened or their glass is broken
- Outdoor security cameras
- Motion-sensored exterior lighting
- Apartment-friendly home security features, like door stop alarms and dowels inserted into sliding door tracks
It’s important to note that if you suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the abuse you endured, you need to be mindful of anything that will trigger your symptoms. For example, alarms that make loud noises or have a similar sound to a unit you used in a home you shared with your abuser may cause added anxiety. The good news is that there are plenty of options, so no matter your unique needs, you can find a system that works for your family and situation.
Buy a Portable Personal Alarm
In addition to equipping your home with an alarm, having a portable unit on your person can provide a sense of security even when you’re on the go. There are a variety of options. Some emit a loud noise meant to fend off dangerous people and alert anyone nearby that you’re in trouble. Others can be programmed to contact your loved ones or even local authorities with your GPS coordinates in the event of an emergency.
Personal alarms are available at just about every price point. They range in cost based on factors like their appearance (devices hidden in jewelry start at $100), ability to contact emergency and personal contacts, and other added features.
Create an Escape Route
Should your abuser or any other unwelcome visitors break into your home, you need to have a clear plan on how to leave the property safely. Be sure to include your children, pets, and any other family members in your plan, and practice it so everyone will stay as calm as possible when evacuating in an emergency.
Along with your plan, you need to have a go bag ready. Be sure to keep it somewhere within your escape route, and pack it with:
- An extra set of car keys
- Cash or a prepaid debit or credit card so your abuser can’t track your spending
- A change of clothes
- Any belongings you’ll immediately need for yourself, such as your driver’s license and an emergency cell phone
- Any items you’ll immediately need for a child, like diapers or baby bottles
- Any pet products you’ll need right away, such as a spare leash and harness and medication
Give Yourself a Way to See Your Home’s Entrances
Being able to see who is on the other side of the door will help put your mind at ease. If you don’t already have one, install a peephole in your front door so you can discreetly look out when someone comes knocking. You may also feel safer by adding a video doorbell, which will allow you to see who’s dropping by even when you’re not home.
You should also give yourself a way to see outside of side doors and back doors. Windows next to these entryways can give you a way to peek out, but it’s also not unreasonable to add peepholes and video doorbells to these doors, too.
Add Blinds, Shades, or Curtains to Windows and Glass Doors
Adding coverings over windows and glass doors makes it difficult for people to see inside, and it’s a privacy measure you should take even on those that aren’t on the ground floor. Make sure the blinds, shades, or curtains you select cover the entire pane of glass. If security is a major point of concern, you can amp up your privacy by installing blackout curtains or layering standard curtains over blinds or shades. Not only will these measures keep people from being able to see inside, it will also be hard for passersby to tell if the lights in your home are turned on.
Landscaping can be a powerful way to enhance your home’s security and privacy. Keep these features in mind when updating your front and backyard:
- Adding a fence around the perimeter of your home is a highly-recommended way to keep unwelcome visitors out, especially structures featuring lockable gates. You can also add a natural barrier by planting trees or shrubs along the edge of your yard.
- Keep your yard as open as possible, especially the space immediately surrounding your home. It’s important you keep a clear line of sight from your home to the edge of your property and that you don’t provide any hiding places for potential intruders.
- Remove plants that can be used to climb to your home’s higher stories, like tall trees and shrubs.
- Add lights along your driveway, along your sidewalk, or in spaced-out intervals in your yard to help it stay illuminated. Solar-powered stake lights are an inexpensive way to light up your yard, and they don’t require batteries.
Communicate with Your Neighbors
While you don’t have to share any personal details you’re uncomfortable divulging, getting to know the people who live near you creates a support system both when you’re at home and away. Your neighbors will be on the lookout for anyone suspicious around your home, especially if you tell them to be aware of a specific vehicle or even person. Similarly, if you live in an apartment or another unit in the city with a security guard or a doorman, you should provide a photo of your abuser and request they never be allowed entry.
Make Your Social Media Profiles Private
Making your social media content unavailable to the public is an added layer of protection many people don’t realize can play a key role in home security. By posting photos in and around your home and neighborhood, you open up the possibility that someone you don’t want to communicate with could figure out where you live. Make your profiles as private as possible, go through your existing friends and contact lists to remove anyone you don’t want to stay in touch with, and be very careful about the content you post, including photos that reveal details about where you live and times you’ll be away from your property (posting your vacation photos can wait until after you return home).
Update Your Entry Codes and Passwords
If you and your abuser shared any digital devices, like a smartphone, computer, or tablet, make sure you update your access codes and online passwords. If you shared any online accounts, you should remove yourself from them in favor of opening your own new accounts.
You’ve endured so much in your past life, and you deserve to embark upon your next chapter feeling secure and confident. These safety strategies are all great ways to help you rebuild your life with peace of mind.