NY Daily News
By Ariel Zwang
October 24, 2018
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but unless there is a viral news story — Rob Porter, Ray Rice, Rihanna — there won’t be enough conversation about this issue. Yet nearly 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner in the U.S. every minute. So it is imperative that we keep working to improve our responses to domestic violence survivors, including those that have long been effective, like shelter.
The first domestic violence shelters appeared in the 1970s. Over more than 40 years, these shelters have saved countless lives. Usually, in a secret location that the abuser can’t know, they have provided many with the safest option available.
The confidential nature of domestic violence shelters has been a critical component of keeping survivors safe, though it comes at a high price: Even friends and family cannot know the location of the survivor who is there.
This is why Safe Horizon — the victim assistance organization where I am CEO — is pressing to pilot the first non-confidential or “open” domestic violence shelter model in New York.
Three years ago, we began a needs assessment to learn how we can better support residents in domestic violence shelters. One finding emerged clearly: Many survivors need and want to remain engaged with their families and communities, but the current regulations in New York make that nearly impossible.
Those seeking shelter are placed in a “safe” borough, which cannot include the borough where either the victim or the abuser currently resides or works. That often means being far away from the very support network that’s especially vital in the midst of a family violence emergency.
The open domestic violence shelter model would allow residents to have loved ones visit the facility to help with grocery shopping, babysit during medical visits — or just connect together.
For some survivors, being in a place where they cannot be found is critical for their safety. For others, circumstances like custody issues or other court matters prevent them from disappearing.
Even when they can’t really hide from the abuser, however, domestic violence survivors need a refuge, which also provides specialized services for them and their children to heal and rebuild their lives — to get safety planning, supportive trauma-informed counseling, housing assistance, and assistance with food and income.
For example, Zee (not her real name), a resident at a domestic violence shelter in New York, fled a four-year abusive relationship with her child’s father, because the violence was escalating dangerously and she became increasingly concerned for her child’s safety. Choosing to go into domestic violence shelter helped to keep her and her child alive, but unexpected problems arose.
“You have a life outside of the shelter, but the confidential model makes that hard,” Zee told us. “I don’t see the people I’m close to, because I need to make sure I am back by curfew.”
And the confidentiality requirement means that, though Zee’s friends and family used to be a source of child care for her, they can’t stay with her daughter at the shelter.
Confidential shelters are absolutely critical, but there are sometimes other needs to be met. We believe survivors should have a choice based on their individual circumstances and safety concerns. They are telling us that they could benefit immensely from an open shelter model, and so we must listen.