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General considerations

Most shelters are established and designed to support survivors of domestic violence, which may involve the provision of various legal, psychosocial, financial, housing, and personal services that may also benefit survivors of other forms of violence. Despite the general value of these services, they are often designed to meet the specific circumstances of women fleeing intimate partner violence, such as security issues focused on a single perpetrator; custody; and other concerns related to the change in relationship). These are not necessarily relevant for women experiencing other forms of violence (i.e. sexual violence, trafficking, harmful practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting, forced marriage, and 'honour-related' violence).

It is considered good practice to provide specialized services tailored to women’s specific experiences of abuse, which can offer a range of benefits including:

  • facilitating access to culturally-relevant assistance.
  • responding to the specific confidentiality and advocacy needs related to legal, financial, housing, and personal challenges relevant to the form of violence experienced.
  • ensuring that service providers have the knowledge and resources available to address the complexity and distinct causes and effects of the violence experienced.
  • promoting accessibility to shelter protection for women facing any form of  abuse.

Although specialized shelters for different forms of violence typically do not exist in sufficient quantity to meet the demand of survivors, shelter providers can respond to all women by:

  • providing training for staff on specific forms of abuse and specific situations to promote a knowledgeable and skilled response.
  • integrating policies and practices that allow all women, and where possible girls, regardless of the form of violence suffered, to receive some measure of protection, and ensure that shelter accommodation and services are offered, whether or not staff have specialized knowledge in the specific form of abuse (UN Division for the Advancement of Women, May 2009; Talens & Landman, 2003; United Nations Population Fund, 2007; and Wikström, 2010).

See also guidance on Shelter Planning and Design.