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Safety planning is an intentional process that (1) removes barriers to safety and support, (2) creates a personalized, practical plan to reduce or avoid harm, (3) establishes rapport and sources of support, and (4) develops and identifies coping strategies (while avoiding speaking negatively against "unhealthy" coping strategies).
The focus is to not fix all of the needs of the individual, but to support them in identifying what they need in the short-term, long-term, if/when they may leave their exploiter and “the life” entirely or if their safety concerns are not specific to “the life” but they are instead identifying an abusive relationship or safety concern. It is important to keep in mind the survivor will likely have strong attachments to their exploiter (trauma-bonds). Be cautious with negative comments around the exploiter, allowing room for the processing of positive and negative feelings in a non-judgmental way will build trust in the relationship.
How do I help someone make a safety plan?
Survivors are the experts of their lives and some of the information or suggested steps provided here may not be relevant to an individual survivor. Safety is different to each individual and therefore all guidance should be adapted as needed. Avoid giving advice or recommendations, and instead ask questions, suggest various options, and help survivors weigh the pros and cons of those options.
Effective safety planning with sexually exploited individuals is best done by considering not only the relationship with the exploiter, but also the various compounding dynamics in the person’s life. Well known safety planning techniques alone do not typically suffice for this population given the complex nature of their circumstances. Identifying the diverse barriers is paramount to providing the best strategies.
A commitment to awareness of the individual’s experiences of trauma and oppression throughout their life. Only eliciting details of their story that are necessary for service provision to avoid re-traumatizing the individual. Creating a safe context by anticipating a variety of trauma responses.
They are resilient and experts in their own lives. Let them guide on what they need, not telling them what to do. Allow them to make as many choices as possible, no matter how small.
Highlight strengths and build on characteristics already present in the individual. Everyone has strengths; recognize, support and emphasize them.
Implementing practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with those who have experienced sex trafficking.
Stages of Change
Similar model to drug and alcohol treatment. Recognizing their need to move through the stages to make lasting change, and that running or going back into “the life” is part of the process.
A collaborative, person-centered form of guiding to elicit and strengthen motivation for change. Open ended questions, affirmations, reflections & summaries.
Hope and rapport building. Assume the individual is willing and able to make changes to their life in a self-directed and lasting way when they are ready. Be creative and persistent in meeting the individual where they are in the process, walk alongside them through their own process.
Recognizing cultural difference in the approach to safety planning. Something that works for one may not work for another. Adapt planning to fit the individual you are working with. Hire diverse staff and ensure interpreter availability. Connect the individual with culturally specific and relevant community partners if needed.
Trust is key. If you are a mandated reporter, let the individual know ahead of time before they disclose. Ideally safety planning would occur with a confidential advocate. If disclosure happens to a confidential advocate, ask the individuals permission to share it. If mandated reporting is required, think of creative ways for individuals to share, such as utilizing hypothetical stories when possible. If they still disclose something you must report, let them know “I do have to report this” and talk about the process and potential outcomes, invite them to participate.
When possible, collaborate with others in creating an individual safety plan. No one agency can meet all needs of an individual. Multi-agency collaborations allow for wrap-around services for the individual. Survivors typically have multiple needs that cannot be met by just one agency/service provider.
Safety Planning Tools
Verbal Safety Plan
Note: These prompts are only suggestions. Whenever possible, keep the verbal safety planning informal and personal to the individual and their situation.
“We have a few things to do today – what would you like to do first?”
“What are you going to do in the next hour to stay safe?”
“I hear that you want to leave tonight, where are you going to stay to be safe?”
“If your boyfriend (exploiter/pimp/abuser) is your safest option of where to stay tonight, what can you do to stay safe?”
“We do not need to go into the details while strategizing, does that sound ok?”
“How might you like things to be different?”
“When you go to visit that person (who is still in “the life”) what will you say if they ask you to come back?”
“I know last week you were struggling with wanting to go back to your partner, where are you at this week?”
“If you are in need of support, who are the people you can call?”
“What are some ways that will help you in being safe if you go back?”
“What are some strategies that have kept you safe so far?”
“What are some supports that have kept you from going back?”
“What are some things that relax you- even when things are stressful?”
“What places can you go to nearby in the event you end up in an unsafe situation?”
“What tools are available to help screen if someone is a safe person to be with or not?”
Written Safety Plan
A written safety plan encourages the individual to think through and document their responses.
View or download a printable worksheet (Note: this PDF document is hosted on multco.us, a government website)