Victim Protection, Support and Assistance

Victim Protection, Support, and Assistance

Last updated 2019

NGOs and domestic violence advocates provide a wide variety of support services for victims of domestic violence and their families. Women who are victims of domestic violence need to work with trained advocates who understand their situation and will help them determine for themselves what they need to do. While an advocate can help a woman understand her choices and the resources available to her, only the woman can make the ultimate decision about what course of action fits her needs at the time. For example, although some may think that a woman should leave her abuser, leaving may not always be her 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 abuser will retaliate against her or her children.

Domestic violence advocacy should be victim-defined rather than service- or advocate-defined. In a service-defined approach, advocates provide each victim with the same strategy regardless of the victim’s priorities. An advocate-defined approach is one where the advocate asserts their view of the correct actions, regardless of disagreement with the victims.[i] Conversely, victim-defined advocacy is defined by providing “options, resources, and strategies that are relevant to each victim’s priorities, decisions, and risks.[ii] In their book, Jill Davies and Eleanor Lyon describe the relationship between victims and advocates as one where “victims know” and “advocates help” in order to improve victim safety:

Through the violence, the betrayal of trust, the pain and the chaos, victims know what they are experiencing and what would make things better…. With limited resources, no easy answers, and sometimes ineffective or even harmful systematic responses, advocates bring compassion, analysis, and access to options.[iii]

For an advocate to best assist a victim, the advocate must know the victim’s priorities and any existing plans.[iv] This includes any decisions about her relationship with her abuser and how to parent her children.

Advocates should be a part of the larger inter-agency response to domestic violence, coordinating with law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, healthcare workers, and other actors, and ensuring that victims’ needs are at the center of inter-agency action. Cooperation between advocates and systems actors has significant benefits for victims. Researchers have long recognized that “the involvement of advocates at the first sign of conflict in the home can be crucial to preventing future injury.”[v]

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 immigrant, ethnic, or religious minority groups may face economic disadvantages, language barriers, institutional racism, or deportation concerns. 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.

[i] Jill Davies & Eleanor Lyon, Domestic Violence Advocacy: Complex Lives/Difficult Choices 13 (2014).

[ii] Id.

[iii] Jill Davies & Eleanor Lyon, Domestic Violence Advocacy: Complex Lives/Difficult Choices 3 (2014).

[iv] Jill Davies & Eleanor Lyon, Domestic Violence Advocacy: Complex Lives/Difficult Choices 11 (2014).

[v] Rose Thelen, Gender Violence Institute, Advocacy In a Coordinated Community Response: Overview and Highlights of Three Programs 3 (2000),