Victim Protection, Support and Assistance
last updated February 1, 2006


NGOs provide a variety of support and assistance to battered women. Many women who seek help are ashamed of their situation and feel responsible for what is happening to them. They need to work with advocates who understand their situation and will help them determine for themselves what they need to do. Individual advocates counsel women and assist them in providing for their own safety. Advocates with legal expertise can provide advice that is not only helpful but necessary for victims seeking relief from the court system.

 While an advocate can help a battered woman understand the choices and options that are available to her, only the woman herself can make the decision about what course of action is best to her. Leaving an abuser may not always be the best choice, or there may be obstacles to leaving. She may not be able to support herself or her children or find alternative housing. She may fear that her batterer will retaliate against her or her children.

To work effectively with battered women, an individual advocate need not be a professional psychologist or social worker. The role of an advocate is to assist a woman in making her own decisions and providing for her own safety. Advocates around the world work successfully with battered women by following simple, but important, guidelines. One of the most important rules is to keep the information a battered woman provides confidential. Confidentiality is essential for the advocate to create a relationship of trust. Advocates must believe the women they work with and affirm their ability to address their own problems. They must respect differences in background without judging. Advocates should listen actively and assist women with problem solving. Well-trained advocates can work in paid or volunteer positions. They are an important part of serving women victims of violence.

The support of an advocate can be critical for a battered woman. Advocates help women navigate the often frightening and disempowering criminal justice system and can link them with needed services and referrals. Without the support of an advocate,

victims often find themselves feeling like they made a mistake. This increases the likelihood that they will not feel able (or be coerced not) to cooperate with prosecution and/or will drop or disregard their restraining orders. If they feel overwhelmed and unsupported by the process, they will be hesitant to use the legal system again. And if they are not connected with the necessary resources, they may find that the obstacles they face are insurmountable.

Research indicates that if a woman seeks help from the legal system but does not receive the assistance that she needs, she may face retribution from her batterer, the result of which is that "she learns that it is dangerous to act; and she becomes more isolated which leads to her further entrapment and loss of home." From Rose Thelen, Advocacy in a Coordinated Community Response: Overview and Highlights of Three Programs, Gender Violence Institute.

 

Advocates in CEE/FSU and around the world have sought to address victims' need for safety in a variety of ways. In many countries around the world, NGOs have created shelters and safe home networks to provide temporary housing and other services to battered women and their children. Shelters generally are permanent structures with living facilities that provide a place for women to live with their children while they decide what to do about a violent situation. Often the addresses of shelters are confidential to keep the women in the facilities safe. In some countries, NGOs have begun to operate shelters with public addresses. The theory behind a public address is to acknowledge the violence in the community and to avoid adding to shame women may feel by staying hidden. Even shelters with public addresses, however, keep the identities of the individual women using their services confidential.

An alternative to a shelter is a safe home network. A safe home network is group of people who are willing to take battered women into their homes on a short-term basis. Generally, people commit their homes for a defined period of time. The shift to different homes within the network helps ensure confidentiality.

Crisis centers and hotlines are another way in which advocates around the world have organized to provide battered women with support and assistance. Crisis centers and hotlines provide a variety of services that can include safety planning, lethality assessments, legal advice, referrals, and counseling. Crisis centers offer these services in person; women can come to the crisis center to speak with a trained advocate. Hotlines, in contrast, offer these services over the phone; women can call a hotline number and speak with an advocate. Hotlines and crisis centers also often respond to inquiries from friends, family members or neighbors concerned about a woman in crisis.

As the Network Women's Program reports, NGOs in many countries throughout the region, including Croatia, Russia, Hungary and Poland, "have successfully set up networks of hotlines, shelters and counseling centers. Networks are beginning to emerge in several Central Asian countries. Women in Uzbekistan are seeking ways to sustain women's shelters by linking them to micro-enterprise projects." From Network Women's Program, Bending the Bow: Targeting Women's Human Rights and Opportunities, Open Society Institute 24 (2002).

Around the world, advocates for battered women have formed cooperative relationships with actors within the criminal justice system. For example, some communities "have developed policies that provide for immediate advocacy initiated by the advocacy program upon notification by law enforcement." The advantage of such a response is that advocates can initiate contact with victims (while, of course, respecting the victim's decision to talk to the advocate once contact has been initiated). As Rose Thelen notes, "[w]hen communities rely on the battered woman to initiate contact, without understanding why she often fails to do so, they deprive her of the advocacy she needs to better assure her safety and she becomes more vulnerable to her abuser's influence." From Rose Thelen, Advocacy in a Coordinated Community Response: Overview and Highlights of Three Programs, Gender Violence Institute.

As Stephanie Avalon explains, cooperative relationships between advocates and law enforcement can take many forms:

These crisis response or first responder teams have been configured in a variety of ways. In some areas, advocates ride along with the police. In other communities, the advocates are paged and come to the scene after police have secured the area. Sometimes police hire advocacy staff, sometimes local advocacy programs employ advocates for first responder positions.

From Stephanie Avalon, Advocacy and the Battered Women's Movement (October 1999).

 

Such alliances can have significant benefits; advocates can help ensure that women are immediately provided with needed services and referrals. Research indicates that "the involvement of advocates at the first sign of conflict in the home can be crucial to preventing future injury." From Rose Thelen, Advocacy in a Coordinated Community Response: Overview and Highlights of Three Programs, Gender Violence Institute. At the same time, however, Avalon emphasizes that advocates must also be aware of the way in which these alliances may be perceived. She explains that as advocates, "when we operate within a system, we lose the perspective we gain if we could stand outside. Different skills are required to challenge allies than to confront enemies. Some alliances threaten to blur the distinction between advocates and the criminal justice system altogether." These alliances can not only create a perception of collusion between advocates and police, prosecutors or hospitals, but can also make it difficult for advocates to criticize the actions and policies of those actors. Avalon notes, however, that training on confidentiality rules can help ensure that advocates do not share information with the criminal justice system without the victim's authorization. In addition, these alliances can be organized to maintain the distinction between advocates and police—for example, by advocates arriving on the scene after police have left.

In addition to advocacy on behalf of individual battered women, advocates also engage in systems advocacy. Rose Thelen describes systems advocacy as "an effort to reform institutional responses to battered women, collectively, so that the totality of their experience is taken into account, leading to greater safety for victims and greater accountability for batterers." From Rose Thelen, Advocacy in a Coordinated Community Response: Overview and Highlights of Three Programs, Gender Violence Institute.

Advocates are also working to develop new approaches that will ensure women's safety while allowing them to remain in their homes. One approach that has been tried in Great Britain is to provide women who have obtained protective orders with alarms or other security devices that allow the victim to immediately notify the police if they are in danger. Such programs may also have "indirect effects through publicity and ensuring that the police worked with other agencies to ensure an effective response." A similar approach has been tried in Sweden. Although such approaches may have benefits, the effectiveness of these programs depends wholly on the consistent and timely response of the police to calls by domestic violence victims. From Reducing Domestic Violence . . . What Works? Policing Domestic Violence, Policing and Reducing Crime Unit, Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate (January 2000).

Finally, outreach to vulnerable groups of women is particularly important. Women in rural areas, minority women, and women with disabilities may have limited access to support systems. Women in rural areas may be geographically isolated; women who are members of ethnic or religious minority groups may face economic disadvantages, language barriers, or institutional racism. Because of the additional barriers facing these women, services designed to address their particular needs and concerns is a critical part of any domestic violence advocacy effort.

For a list of research and reports on victim protection, support and assistance, click here. See also the 2008 United Nations expert group report entitled "Good practices in legislation on violence against women" Section 6 on protection, support and assistance to survivors of violence against women. For the Russian version of the recommendations of "Good practices in legislation on violence against women," click here.