Saturday, May 16, 2009

Are Domestic Violence Programs Still Meeting the Needs of Survivors?

 Domestic violence programs have a rich and inspiring history of selfless volunteers sacrificing time, resources and money to help battered women find safety and support. Early on, some women just opened their homes to victims The first shelter for women in the United States was started  in California in 1964. In the seventies and eighties, shelters were funded by feminist groups and newly formed foundations but the government, the police, and the media outlets still paid very little attention to interpersonal violence.

  Out of this grassroots era of advocacy there have evolved structured organizations sanctioned by national and state associations. Laws have changed to incorporate rights and services to crime victims, further validating the professionalization of domestic violence agencies. There are ethical standards in place and accepted best practices. Government funding sources require reporting of demographics, outcomes and fiscal compliance. A great deal of energy is put into compliance with many different grantors, coalitions and commissions. Less and less energy is directed to survivor’s daily needs and practical, ground level victim advocacy.


This concern has been addressed by others:

 From Disloyal to Feminism: Abuse of Survivors within the Domestic Violence

Shelter System

by Emi Koyama

  “…Only a short time after the Feminists had fallen asleep, mainstream

professionalism infiltrated battered women’s programs, bringing forth a new and

unpleasant hierarchy within the movement, a hierarchy that undermined the

Feminists' effort to eradicate the root causes of domestic violence. Shared power

among employees was quickly discarded and ethical practices that included the

voices of battered women, basic training on the dynamics of domestic violence, and

the power of shared experience among women was frowned upon… Unqualified

executive directors were brought in from the mainstream to tell shelter staff and

court advocates that they were not as important to the program as the licensed

professionals… Battered women seeking refuge were held captive by the never-ending

shelter rules that were put into place by the mainstream professionals who thumbed

their noses at the original founders. Many safe houses now seemed more like prisons,

or ‘social’ bed and breakfasts, that prevented the disabled and women of all races,

ages, classes, and religions and ethnic groups from entering. Victims were referred to

as ‘crazy’ and whips were cracked upon the backs of advocates or victims who dared

question the professional task master’s authority… Shelter programs were no longer a

safe place for all battered women.” (Gaddis 2001, p. 16)


Nancy J. Meyer of the Washington, D.C. Coalition Against

Domestic Violence defines “de-politicization” as “a reframing process that directs

attention away from (and recreates knowledge about) sexism, male dominance,

patriarchy, and female subjugation.” “There is nothing inherently wrong with trying

to improve the conditions in which battered women live,” Meyer argues, “but when

putative efforts to just 'make it better' become the end goal, the political vision and

motivation to address the real exegesis of male violence becomes sublimated… The

political disappears and domestic violence becomes a naturalized part of what

appears to be an unchanging or unchangeable social landscape.” (Meyer 2001, p. 23).

 While there will always be unwarranted and completely off-base criticism from groups such as “father’s rights” or right wing factions there is a growing and very vocal community of survivors who feel re-victimized or at least dissatisfied by the domestic violence services they attempted to access. Some are local individuals and some are organized via the internet, some are forming organizations and movements of their own.

The reasons are varied from blatant mistreatment to the lack of resources to accommodate family pets. As becomes true in many institutions, the lowest paid, entry level personnel spend the most time doing the real work…in this case one-on-one interaction with survivors and their children. There is often an elitism among the credentialed administrators hindering free flow of information and support of the staff on the ground. This results in rapid staff turnover and advocates who do not feel empowered or appreciated .

The current economic climate exacerbates the problem.  Resources have diminished. There are less training opportunities. New technology for both staff and survivors is critical but costly. Battered women have less need for temporary shelter due to improvements in the court system in the area of personal protection orders, domestic violence arrest policies and pretrial release conditions but greater need for support services. Survivors are now more desperate for real economic assistance, something that is not possible in the current structure of most programs and funding sources.


The time has come for domestic violence programs to assess which services are effective advocacy and which are simply based on time-worn  tradition rather than current needs of women and children. Domestic violence agencies still save lives every day. There will always be a primary need for a safe haven. The majority of advocates are selfless and hardworking and in it for all the right reasons but are confined to the policies of their agencies. A successful program will continually evaluate, update and re-evaluate to ensure the best quality services and safety of those who come to them for help.




  1. This speaks volumes to many situations that are occuring right here and now! Thank you for your research and well written entry. I am sharing it everywhere I can.

  2. Thank you for your very well written article on the diminishing resoures for women who are victims of domestic violence. Law reform also needs to happen which will reinforce protective orders against the abusers as well as tougher sentencing to keep them in prison. Victims should not have to be forced to leave their homes because they fear retailiation. Other options are home security systems and alarms to protect women and their children from break-ins. Women also need to protect themselves by taking self defense classes and carrying a personal protection device on them such as a taser, stun gun, pepper spray and mace, laws permitting. There are many available options for women today to protect themselves if outside resources are not available. Women need to educate themselves on these additional opportunities to keep themselves and their children safe from harm. Visit for more information.

  3. Wow. I have much to say. Thank you for posting this and I will be back.

  4. Please give more information on the subject of "the professionalization of family violence programs." Also, please address the misunderstanding of shelters trying to provide more professional type/quality servies and the traditional/legal/proper terminology of being a "professional" in the truest sense of the word.

    Please compare the mission/purpose/model differences: @ the empowement model of domestic violence shelter/agency programs veresus the medical model community of healthcare, social work, mental health, etc as well as other professional models used by law enforcement, legal services, etc.

    To the best of my understanding, most family violence programs/shelters are for domestic violence EDUCATION, ADVOCACY & SUPPORT/SAFE HAVEN. They refer victims OUT for professional help: @ legal representation, healthcare, child protection, etc. While they work everyday to provide services in a 'professional' manner, they are not - as of yet - mandated or constrained by any law to be comprised of or retain "professional" staff (licensed, certified, LPC, LPN, MSW, etc). Most are non-profit and do not charge a fee for services like professionals do.

    For instance, while a doctor or attorney can donate their services on a non-profit program's missionary trip project, that non-profit missionary program is not necessarily required to have a licensed doctor or attorney on staff UNLESS they are providing a certain level of healthcare or legal services (@ immunizations, surgery, legal representation, etc).

    Typical domestic violence shelters/programs do not attempt or even purport to provide professionalized services: clinical therapy/counseling, clinical healthcare/mental health/addictive disorder assessments, legal advice/representation, suicide prevention, child protective services, etc. To the contrary, they refer out, take victims to and advocate for those resources while providing a safe haven atmosphere of understanding, empathy and empowerment.

    An Executive Director of a Family Violence Program

  5. I worked for a domestic violent shelter for five years and I had to leave before they took the little bit of self steem I had left. Abusive behavior between management towards staff (Executive Director and other management) exist in many shelters but it is not often talk about.

  6. Thank you for being a resource for us out here doing the work. Please do some research on whether the justice centers are really helping victims ( culturally, victim defendants, etc) or are they the reason cummunity/cultural based programs are closing their doors for lack of funding. It seems that a lot of funding is going into some FJC because of politics. Do not get me wrong, any services that will help victims to be safe I am all for it, but sometime the community based service providers are the best to do the job. Also, are the FJC working Collaboratively with community agencies.

  7. I agree, there must be a balance in between accessible resources to victims. Each has an important role. Whether FJ Centers are overshadowing shelters is something that likely varies from program to program. I am aware of some community-based agencies who apply for and receive all funds simply because they are established and have a history so it is difficult for any new program to establish themselves. There are no FJC's in Michigan so my exposure is only via the 'net. I do know that there are gaps in service that I see now that could potentially be eliminated with a FJC approach. I also know the much of the funding for Family Justice Centers comes from the DOJ Office of Violence Against Women and they are rigid and specific regarding the role of community-based advocates/ programs. From one of the rfp's:
    "In addition, all applicants are required to enter into a formal collaboration with nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations serving victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and/or stalking. This may include faith-based or community organizations. Nonprofit, nongovernmental sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking victim service organizations must be involved in the development and implementation of the project.
    Victim service organizations should meet all of the following criteria:
     Provide services to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence,
    and/or stalking as one of their primary purposes and have demonstrated history of
    effective work concerning such issues;
     Address a demonstrated need in their communities by providing services that create
    options for victims seeking accountability and safety from perpetrator violence,
    promote the dignity and self sufficiency of victims, and improve their access to
    resources; and
     Avoid activities that compromise victim safety;
    In developing an application for the Community-Defined Solutions/Arrest Program, applicants are encouraged to consider some important distinctions among the following:
     Victim assistants who work for government agencies (e.g., the police department or
    the district or city attorney’s office);
     Victim advocates who represent nonprofit, nongovernmental sexual assault,
    domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking programs (e.g., shelters, rape crisis
    centers, advocacy groups or coalitions); and
     Legal representatives (e.g., students from law school clinics, paralegals, attorneys
    working for legal service agencies or independent attorneys).

    While there is an important role for all victim advocates to play in the creation of a coordinated community response/multidisciplinary response to sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking, the participation of nonprofit nongovernmental sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking programs, whether faith-based or community organizations, is required in development and implementation of the project. This does not preclude applicants from requesting support for government agency victim services and legal Representatives in limited circumstances, but the budget and budget narrative must distinguish between these roles and should include compensation for the contributions of nonprofit, victim service agencies. In addition, if funding is requested for both governmental and victim assistance and advocacy, the project narrative must explain how these different entities will collaborate."


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