A domestic violence shelter or refuge is a place where women and children who are being abused can seek safe haven. They are not intended to be a long term answer to abuse, but they provide short term accommodation and security. Staying in a domestic violence shelter can also be a very positive experience as living alongside women who understand and share your experiences brings a lot of support and relief from the feelings of isolation you may have been suffering.
What is a domestic violence shelter like?
Shelters vary from place to place, and providing organisation to providing organisation. However, typically they consist of a building or group of buildings, and within these buildings there are rooms, flats or studios able to accomodate individual women or women and their children. Some are arranged as private apartments, while others offer private bedrooms for a woman and her children but have shared facilities for cooking and bathing. In some cases, a woman may be housed in a private residence with a host family.
Shelters vary in the length of time that residents can stay. In Safe Horizon emergency shelters (New York), a typical stay is of anything up to 90 days, with a further 45 days possible in cases of need. After this, residents can move into transitional accomodation (up to 6 months), and the shelter staff then provide help to find permanent accomodation.
Any woman who is suffering abuse can call a shelter to ask for refuge. Every effort is made to accept all cases in need and to house a woman and her children together. If there are no places in the shelter that you call, the staff will work with you to find an alternative refuge or to create a safety plan that may involve staying with a friend, or leaving the city that she lives in to enter a refuge in a different area. Every woman can rest assured that if she is in danger help will be provided.
Domestic violence shelters are usually free of charge. They are normally run by charities or local authorities. Obviously, if any woman who does have independent means and can afford to make a donation to the charity wishes to do so it would be gratefully received.
What do you need to take to a domestic violence shelter?
If you have to make an urgent escape from violence you can of course enter a shelter with nothing. In this case, everything you need for day to day living will be provided for you and your children until other arrangements can be made.
However, if you have been able to plan your escape from your abuser in advance, the following items should be gathered to take with you:
- Passport (and your children’s if appropriate)
- Birth certificates
- Bank cards and cheque books
- One or two sentimental value objects like family photographs
- Clothing for a minimum of one week for you and your children
- Nappies and infant food if required
- Personal hygiene items
Normally, things such as high chairs, bedding and cooking utensils will be provided. It is also not advisable to take your mobile phone as your abuser may be able to use this to trace you. Dispose of it safely before you enter the shelter.
What services do domestic violence shelters provide?
Domestic violence shelters provide a range of services to women and children. Again, the services offered will vary from organisation to organisation. However, services offered will usually be:
- In addition to emergency living accomodation, most also offer help to find more permanant, safe accomodation.
- They will advise residents of their rights to state benefits and help with the paperwork and applications if necessary.
- Counselling services are offered to women and children to help them recover from the trauma.
- Information and help is provided for medical care.
- Legal advice is offered and a member of staff may accompany a woman to court sessions if required.
- Support groups are often arranged for residents and ex residents.
- Children’s support groups are frequently arranged.
- Activity groups can be arranged for children.
- Shelter staff will help to get a child into a new school if necessary.
- Emergency financial assistance is arranged where needed.
- Help and support to find a job is provided. Training can also sometimes be arranged. Every effort is made for residents to find employment and to become self sufficient.
How safe are domestic violence shelters?
Most domestic violence shelters are in confidential locations. Staff and residents are asked to sign an agreement to maintain the confidentiality. Any resident who divulges the information about the location of the shelter will be asked to leave. It is very important to maintain confidentiality as this is the only way to keep the residents safe from their abusers. Residents will also be advised on ways to keep their abusers from discovering their location.
How to find a domestic violence shelter?
There are a number of ways in which you can find contacts to get you into a domestic violence shelter. If you feel happy asking your doctor, social worker or other health professional they will be able to advise. If not, you can undertake an internet search using the keywords ‘domestic violence shelter’ and your city.
Details are also available from :
In the US:
- Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline on 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE)
In the UK:
- Call Women’s Aid on 0808 2000 247
- Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline on 1-800-363-9010
- Call 1800RESPECT on 1800-737-732
- Go to the webpage of the International Directory of Domestic Violence Agencies @
http://www.hotpeachpages.net/ to find your nearest source of help.