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Coordinated response responds to victims/survivors holistically

Last edited: January 14, 2019

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An important function of a coordinated response to violence against women is to provide holistic, well-integrated support to victims/survivors that maximises their safety and well-being.  Women who have experienced violence are often seeking help for a range of needs that are not contained within the domain of one service sector (Allen et al., 2004).  For example, a detailed evaluation in Quincy, Massachusetts of a flagship domestic violence coordinated response concluded that victims/survivors wanted to enhance their safety, maintain economic viability, protect their children and have the perpetrator attend a programme (Hotaling & Buzawa, 2003).

 

“There seems to be a national - local - regional belief that splitting people off into issues to be dealt with in a variety of places such as alcohol/drugs etc. is beneficial rather than accepting that the impact of violence and abuse is to fragment the person and fragmented service provision enforces this.”

(Quote from rape service provider in UK cited in Consult Research (2010) Developing Stability, Sustainability and Capacity for Specialist Third Sector Rape, Sexual Violence and Abuse Services, Survivors Trust, available in English)

 

A variety of strategies have been developed internationally to improve the immediate care of victims/survivors of violence against women through a more collaborative, coordinated response between the agencies likely to come into contact with them.  The intention is to provide a wider range of support and assistance options, often from a central access point so that victims/survivors are linked with the resources they need without having to navigate an array of separate services. 

Many holistic support models for rape and sexual assault victims are centres based in a health setting with multi-disciplinary links to other internal or external agencies, such as police, counseling and advocacy services.  Some of these centres have combined services for intimate partner violence.  Some models operate in conjunction with criminal justice agencies to improve the experience of pursuing a formal complaint by providing access to advocacy, support and forensic services in a non-police setting.  In other examples, the overall process is managed by an NGO that provides some forms of support and coordinates others from external agencies.  What all have in common is that they seek to facilitate greater access to a wider range of services and adopt a victim/survivor-centered approach.

Shelters, also known as refuges, developed through the women’s movement of the 1970s in the US and UK, are one of the earliest response designs to intimate partner violence and are now a global model.  Refuges/shelters have always provided safe housing, mutual support and advice, but many also encompass outreach, counseling, sign-posting to wider services, advice and advocacy, practical and on-demand support, children’s services, second-stage accommodation and resettlement support (Coy, Kelly & Foord, 2009).  Refuges/shelters have often been key founding members or vital partners in many coordinated responses to intimate partner violence.

International examples of models for delivering a more holistic response to victims/survivors, some of which may be implemented in combination, include:

?      One-stop centres;

?      Comprehensive care models;

?      Shelters/refuges;

?      Advocacy [Accompaniment by an advocate]; and

?      Referral networks.

One area where victims/survivors often find their needs not well attended to is the criminal justice system.  The needs of victims/survivors of violence and the focus of criminal justice agencies can often be at odds (Fleury, 2002; Herman, 2005; Dylan et al., 2008).  For police and prosecutors, reporting of the violent incident, evidence collection, investigation and prosecution are paramount, whereas victims/survivors may have other pressing needs, such as treating and recovering from injuries, concerns about sexual health (pregnancy or contracting Sexually Transmitted Infections), psychological trauma, safety concerns for themselves and their children, financial and/or housing concerns etc. They may also need to communicate with a range of professionals or service providers (doctors, schools, employers, housing or social services) in connection with the violence they have suffered. They may be ambivalent about the criminal justice process (Allen et al., 2004), particularly if their past experience with the justice system has been negative, and/or they lack trust that the system is interested in or able to meet their needs, or are fearful of being re-victimised by discriminatory attitudes and practices of police and prosecutors.  Minority and immigrant women may be particularly distrustful of the legal system based on their past experiences.  They may be balancing their own safety with the need to avoid a criminal record and/or deportation of their intimate partner who may be the father of their children and/or the economic provider.

Coordinated responses can improve the experience of those seeking help and lead to more positive outcomes for victims/survivors, particularly those who have multiple, complex needs. The coordinated response can connect the different service providers that are accessed by victims/survivors, and also connect the service providers to the criminal justice system. With better coordination, victims/survivors are more likely to have a more positive overall experience, including more quickly and effectively obtaining assistance for their specific needs and accessing support. Timely and effective assistance in turn helps lead to greater trust in law-enforcement and social services, and encourages more reporting of violence.

 See also the justice module on this site for additional justice sector mechanisms.

 

In Her Shoes (USA)

To increase awareness of the difficulties faced by women experiencing violence, and to highlight the way violence against women is a community issue, the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence developed a training exercise called ‘In Her Shoes’.  Based on the real-life experiences of women from various cultural backgrounds living with domestic violence in the USA, the exercise enables those taking part to imagine what it is like to be in the situation of a victim-survivor.  Following the provision of some brief background information, participants are introduced to some of the choices, obstacles and barriers women have to confront, both in living with the violence and in seeking help.  This leads to discussion and increased insight among participants.  The aim is to demonstrate that domestic violence is not just a private problem but a community issue, and that everyone – health workers, justice system officials, religious communities, neighbours and friends – has a role to play in addressing domestic violence.  A Latin American version in Spanish, ‘Caminando en sus zapatos’, was developed in partnership with the Intercambios Alliance in 2006.  The Gender-Based Violence Prevention Network in collaboration with over 100 Network members adapted the In Her Shoes Toolkit for the sub-Saharan African context in 2011.

Tools and resources:

Sources: Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence website, Intercambios website, and Raising Voices website.