The most common shelter services provided to survivors of domestic violence include:
Case Study: Oranje Huis (the Netherlands)
Blijf Groep, a Dutch women’s shelter in Noord-Holland and Flevoland (the Netherlands) has been working on domestic violence for nearly 40 years and offers varying services. Blijf Groep has two temporary shelters for women in crisis, which are linked to 5 shelters where they can stay for up to 9 months. In 1998 the group developed Domestic Violence Support Centres in several cities, to provide non-residential services for survivors. Both women and men can come to these support centres for individual help or for counselling with their partners, as well as for information and advice. Through these support centres, social workers first came into direct contact with the perpetrators, primarily the husband or boyfriend of the woman seeking help. Challenges identified over the years related to how to find more effective ways of addressing domestic violence, prevent repeated cycles of violence and engage women sooner to minimize the long-term consequences of the abuse, recognizing that the same women were coming to the shelters over and over again.
The Oranje Huis (Orange House) pilot was developed from 2008 to mid-2011, in cooperation with the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, with a main purpose to develop a new approach in women’s sheltering. This followed a study in 2006 that showed improvements could be made in response to women and men who wanted to end the violence but not necessarily the relationship. The initiative has demonstrated positive results and was designed based on the experience of the shelters, and insights learned through engagement with both victims and perpetrators, which was confirmed by research, academic knowledge, and international experiences in domestic violence; a survey conducted in Dutch women’s shelters, and literature on child abuse, intergenerational transmission of violence, parenthood and parenting.
The Oranje Huis uses a new approach in which the shelter is visible in a disclosed location. The building is labelled “Oranje Huis”, information is included in the telephone book, there is active promotion of shelter services, and the media as well as many guests have been invited to the shelter. There is a Domestic Violence Support Centre on site to provide services collectively under one roof in order to improve support for domestic violence survivors. Research has shown that women who enter a shelter have experienced domestic violence for an average of nine years. The Oranje Huis model aims to be convenient for individuals coming from different locations, to increase its accessibility and help reduce the downward spiral of domestic violence sooner. Every client gets a tailored programme, which is supported through the model’s five main features: 1) an open setting; 2) all services under the same roof; 3) a new approach to safety (including specific attention on children); 4) family programs involving perpetrators (and specifically addressing parenting issues); and 5) separation of accommodation from help and advice.
Read the full Case Study.
Source: Margje de Jong for Blijf Groep.
Although there are few dedicated shelters for survivors of sexual violence, women and girls may require shelter support in various circumstances. For example, this may include: settings where their physical security cannot be guaranteed or they face continued risk of exposure to the perpetrator; when they have experienced rejection by their families or community (e.g. especially relevant for young women and girls); if the trauma suffered from the experience has reduced their ability to maintain their home, employment, or live independently; and where they need support beyond what is available at home to pursue justice or recover from their experience.
Survivors who are homeless may also seek accommodation in shelters, and who may be at increased risk of sexual violence due to factors such as: participation in high-risk behaviours to survive; fear of authority figures and reporting; insecurity of sleeping spaces (homeless shelters, streets, etc.); and institutional barriers related to accessing services (e.g. limited shelter capacity or lack of services for sexual assault survivors) (Victim Rights Law Center, Presentation for Second World Conference of Women’s Shelters, 2012).
In addition to the general protection and supports frequently provided in domestic violence shelters, specific services which should be provided alongside accommodation for women who have experienced sexual assault or rape include:
Medica Zenica is a non-governmental women's organization founded in Bosnia in 1993 to address the effects of systemic rape against Bosnian women during the war. The primary goal of the organization is to provide shelter, psychosocial support and therapeutic counselling to survivors of rape and trauma. The model of service comprises:
Source: Medica Zenica website. Safe House
Case Study: Asociación Calidad de Vida, Casa Nova: Managing cases of incest and sexual abuse (Honduras)
The Asociación Caldidad de Vida in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, through its shelter for survivors of violence (Casa Nova), has developed a comprehensive care programme to manage cases of incest and sexual abuse against girls under the age of 16. The shelter supports an average of 400 girls and boys and 120 women annually. The intervention involves physical, mental, educational, moral and spiritual components to improve the girls' quality of life, helping them to develop life skills in a variety of areas, take ownership of, understand and learn to live with their experiences. The methodology also works to improve and restore family relations (with the mother) and create safe spaces for the girls.
The initiative has developed in response to the complex physical and emotional circumstances affecting girl survivors of incest and sexual abuse, who are often pregnant and have mental health conditions, such as signs of low self-esteem, lack of empathy and depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, aggression, behavioural problems, difficulties in adapting and learning, nightmares, anxiety, and rejection of their mothers. Given this context, the shelter provides psychological, medical, social and spiritual care for the girls, covering human development; conflict resolution and anger management; fear and forgiveness; recreation and occupational therapy. Educational and legal assistance is also included, and all girls must be accompanied by their mothers or an adult caretaker, given their status as minors.
The multidimensional programme methodology has contributed to the following outcomes, as demonstrated by specific results from a sample of 25 cases supported by the shelter:
A case example highlights the process of recovery supported by Casa Nova. Mirna (name changed to protect identity), a twelve-year old, was referred to the shelter by a nun, because she needed special care and treatment which was different than she was receiving in the public hospital. As a result of sexual abuse by her step-father, she became pregnant, was severely malnourished and anaemic, and suffered blame, rejection and discrimination from her community, including expulsion from school. Although she arrived without her mother, the Office of the First Lady paid for her care so she could receive support.
The shelter first focused on stabilizing her health and providing psychological and social first aid, which included accompanying her to the hospital on a daily basis; assisting her to receive three blood transfusions by identifying an appropriate blood donor; and providing a special diet to improve her nutritional status. A specific plan was established for her in partnership with the Honduran Institute for Childhood and the Family (Instituto Hondureño para la Niñez y la Familia) the State Office for Childhood (Fiscalía de la Niñez), social workers and doctors, and the nun who had referred her.
Once her health began to improve, the staff began the therapeutic work, involving coordination among a team of female psychologists, social workers, doctors and teachers. With preparation and support over time, the shelter was able to connect the girl with her mother who had also experienced domestic violence. When her mother and two sisters left the abusive step-father, they came to live in the Casa Nova, with the process focused on providing emotional support to the family, given the anger the girl felt toward her mother.
Since her stay at the shelter, Mirna (now 19) has continued with her education and will graduate from secondary school, with hopes to become a nurse. Her mother adopted the baby and she has been able to participate in regular social adolescent activities.
A standard series of steps is followed in cases such as Mirna’s, which involves:
This process aims to develop skills which the girls can use to manage their situation during their time in the shelter and when they return to their communities.
Sources: Ana Lisseth Cruz, Executive Director of Casa Nova and Anna-Maria Neppel, Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters and Transition Houses. 2011; and Associación Calidad de Vida website.