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Coordinated response exposes gaps where services are needed

Last edited: January 14, 2019

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When a woman or girl is affected by violence, many different agencies and organizations can intervene to help her and her children by providing legal, health and social assistance, and ensuring safety from repeated violence.  Sometimes there are good channels of communication between these service providers but, historically, in many countries, cooperation has been lacking or absent. In fact, coordinated responses were developed partly in response to this fragmentation of the system response to violence against women (Klevens et al., 2008). The fact that the various points of service are rarely coordinated can be frustrating and challenging for victims/survivors, and may deter them from continuing to seek the support they need. 

Creating links among agencies can help to ensure that victims/survivors do not fall through the cracks, as well as expose important areas of support that may be missing. For example, a woman who has been raped may go to the hospital to treat her injuries, but may not report the rape to the police out of lack of trust or fear of being blamed. If the hospital does not have a channel of communication to the services she needs, the woman may be at risk of further harm, and the perpetrator free to act with impunity. Further, the woman may be suffering from serious psychological trauma, needing support from another point of service, such as psychosocial counseling, which the hospital does not provide. In a coordinated response, the hospital could help identify the assistance needed by the victim/survivor and refer her to the appropriate legal and social services.  This support may also increase the likelihood of her testimony being available to the criminal justice system if and when she decides to pursue this type of recourse. 

A benefit of a coordinated approach is maximisation of the opportunities and settings victims/survivors have to speak about violence and access specialized support. For instance, because of the health risks associated with violence against women, healthcare settings are a key entry point for detecting and assisting victims/survivors (Colombini et al., 2008). Women may attend hospital emergency departments and health clinics for treatment for violence-related injuries, or visit their local doctor for advice about depression and other psychological or physical impacts.  For example, FGM/C, with its implications for reproductive health and childbirth, can be detected during contact with traditional birth attendants, midwives and physicians. These encounters are opportunities to directly address the issue and allow for women to be referred to appropriate support services. Furthermore, health professionals consistently make routine enquiries about violence when they can immediately refer victims/survivors to services – whether inside or outside the health setting (Regan, 2004; Feder et al., 2006; Coy & Kelly, 2011).  These connections are much more likely with a coordinated approach.

A lack of coordination can directly put women and children in harm’s way.  For example, where an agency is unaware of the full history in an intimate partner violence case, they may unintentionally take actions that put the victim/survivor and/or her children in danger, such as allowing the violent partner to have unsupervised contact with children after separation or divorce or suggesting mediation to resolve issues about contact with children (Shepard & Pence, 1999).  Communication among agencies and safe, appropriate information sharing that respects confidentiality, can not only deliver more comprehensive support to victims/survivors, but can also increase protection and save women’s and children’s lives. 

Services that specialize in meeting women’s needs post-violence were established precisely because of the failure of state agencies to respond appropriately when women did report violence or seek help. In Latin America, for example, the concept of the ‘critical pathway’ (ruta critica) has been used to describe the help-seeking process that victims/survivors go through.  It describes a series of factors in their experience that can either encourage or dissuade them from accessing the support that they need.  One barrier frequently found to inhibit women from initiating a critical pathway is encountering inadequate institutional responses, including prejudice and other negative attitudes from service providers, as well as a lack of basic services that meet their needs (Velzeboer et al., 2003; Sagot, 2005). It is vital that responses are based on listening to and believing women, so as not to deter them from seeking further support (Campbell et al., 2001; Sagot, 2005; Ahrens, 2006).

See holistic support for victims/survivors and the survivor-centred approach.