Domestic Violence Shelter
Domestic violence is an ongoing problem affecting 10 million people every year and accounting for 15% of violent crime, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence [NCADV] (n.d.). Not only does it affect the men and women who are the physically and mentally impacted, but the children who must witness it as well. A domestic violence shelter designed to address the needs of all those impacted by domestic violence can provide the first steps to regaining control of one’s life through counseling, case management, victim advocacy, medical and behavioral health referral, and vocational, legal and educational support.
Domestic violence is rarely a single event, but more often a slow decline for the victim into physical and mental abuse, isolation, financial and emotional dependency, and loss of direction and control of one’s life (Rootcause, 2011). It is frightening for domestic violence victims to step into an unknown even if it is one which may offer safety. Recognizing the fear and uncertainty many victims face, volunteers and staff at our area domestic violence shelter work very hard to make it easy and safe to access services. In coordination with emergency and social services personnel including law enforcement, emergency medical services and fire departments, as well as the local Department for Children and Families and area emergency room and community mental health providers, victims of domestic violence can access services and be provided transportation to the shelter with a single phone call and no questions asked. Upon arrival, victims become guests and are welcomed by people who understand the needs and concerns of domestic violence victims.
The intake process begins with an emergency medical assessment conducted by volunteer medical professionals available around the clock. If medical services are needed, guests are accompanied to the hospital.
Once any immediate medical needs are met, the guest and a staff member work together to assess for other needs: Are their children involved? Are the children present or do they need to be transported as well? Was the victim able to secure clothing and toiletries before leaving? Volunteers assist the new guest in securing an emergency protective order against the abuser. Following the initial intake our guests are assigned a room and allowed to settle in to a safe environment.
Within the first twenty-four hours after arriving, guests and their children will be assigned and meet with the case manager. Our case managers carry a small caseload to allow them to devote the time and attention families need in order to begin to recover from their former life and begin a new one. Case managers are trained to identify educational and vocational needs, assist with legal issues and make necessary referrals for services. They work daily with local agencies, adult education, community employers, and the court system and legal aid offices to ensure guests have access to the appropriate resources, many of which can be made available onsite in situations where the safety of the victim is at too great a risk to leave the shelter. Services through the shelter extend to transportation assistance and help identifying safe housing options, including area safe houses, or providing ongoing housing at the shelter when necessary.
Our volunteers serve as advocates to our guests in many specialty areas. Hospital advocates are trained to provide support to physical and sexual assault victims and their families at the hospital emergency room. They are on-call around the clock and will be notified by emergency room staff when needed (Sanctuary, 2015). Our court advocates work with guests through any court proceedings and offer support and information as they navigate family and/or criminal court. The shelter has children’s advocates as well. These volunteers plan activities for children in the shelter, facilitate groups where children can begin to process what they have experienced, and offer childcare and tutoring services (Sanctuary).
Security is one of our primary concerns at the shelter, and guest safety is our priority. Visitors are not allowed in the facility unless they are agency-affiliated and properly vetted. Entrances to the building are limited and require visual confirmation by on-site volunteer staff through our camera system. The location of the shelter itself is not publicly shared for safety reasons.
Services for domestic violence victims cannot end with the immediate need to address physical and emotional trauma, however. The goal at our shelter is also to help our guests leave an abusive relationship and avoid returning to in the future. This is much harder than many people understand. If services are not available to help our guests cope with their new lives and plan for success in it, they are likely to return to their former abusive relationship (Rootcause, 2011).
The shelter is funded solely through private donations and grants, and staffed largely by volunteers. There is no limit on how long a guest can remain at the shelter, but most find other accommodations within a week of arrival. The shelter is able to safely house up to thirty women on-site. Additionally, volunteer safe houses exist throughout the community, each of which can accommodate an adult and a minimum of two children. The shelter coordinates with domestic violence organizations throughout the country, creating a network of resources that allow families to move to other areas of the country if they choose while maintaining the support necessary for them to be successful.
The importance of a domestic violence shelter in any community cannot be overstated. Victims of domestic violence often suffer significant physical and emotional consequences (Rootcause, 2011). Domestic violence victims often suffer with depressive disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. In these cases, long after the violence has ended, victims still feel the effects. Their ability to work, attend school or vocational training, raise their children and ultimately live a productive and happy life may be negatively affected for years to come without appropriate intervention (Rootcause). Victims of domestic violence often require ongoing group and individual counseling to rebuild their physical, emotional and spiritual strength.
The effects of domestic violence reach far beyond the victim, however. Children forced to live in domestic violence situations also have both immediate and long-term consequences. Like their adult counterparts, children can suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. They may be more prone to violent behavior among their peers. Studies show that boys exposed to domestic violence are twice as likely to be violent towards their partners in adulthood (Rootcause, 2011). Of children who have lived in domestic violence situations, Rootcause cites statistics suggesting 63% struggle to succeed in social settings, academically, and behaviorally compared to their counterparts who did not witness domestic violence.
Our local domestic violence shelter was built on the premise that all people deserve to be safe, have the opportunity to succeed, and live autonomous and empowered lives. Our goal is to provide safety, guide success, and empower others so they do not have to continue to live as victims. We strive to provide the support necessary to help victims of domestic violence overcome their fear and self-doubt and take control of their lives so they can become independent and productive. Every member of our community has both an obligation to help those who cannot help themselves as well as a right to the opportunity to seek happiness and health. As a community, we can and do support those efforts among those who long for safety, peace and independence from fear and abuse.
If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities or wish to make a donation to support our mission, feel free to contact us at (###) ###-####.
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (n.d.). Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.ncadv.org/learn/statistics
Rootcause. (2011). Empowering victims of domestic violence. Social Issue Report. Retrieved from http://www.rootcause.org/docs/Resources/Research/Empowering-Victims-of-Domestic-Violence/Empowering%20Victims%20of%20Domestic%20Violence-%20Social%20Issue%20Report.pdf
Sanctuary. (2015). Sanctuary, Inc. (website). Retrieved from http://www.sanctuaryinc.net/d-v/