6. Victim Protection,
Support and Assistance
NGOs provide a variety of support and assistance to battered
women. Battered women are faced with violence, sometimes on a daily
basis. 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
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 psychological professional. 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 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.
Women are usually the best judges of the dangers their abusers
pose to them. An advocate can help a battered woman assess the risk
the batterer poses to her and develop a practical plan to keep herself
safe. While evaluating risks and creating safety plans can help
a woman, safety planning is no guarantee that she will not be injured.
A safety plan is a
plan a woman makes in which she identifies ways she can protect
herself during a violent incident and reduce the risk of serious
harm. The woman will follow the plan if she finds herself in immediate
danger or if she must leave her home to preserve her safety. When
counseling a woman on the issue of safety, an advocate must discuss
whether the woman plans to stay in her home or plans to leave her
abuser. If the woman wishes to stay in her home, she should plan
to protect herself in the case of an incident to avoid injury or
death. A woman must make other arrangements if she plans to leave.
Does she have money? Is there a safe place she can stay? Has she
considered that her husband may look for her? An advocate must discuss
different approaches with a victim because she may change her mind
before fully implementing any safety plan. She must also be prepared
to change and revise her plan if something does not work.
Lethal and Extremely
Violent relationships often become more violent over time.
While it is impossible to predict with any degree of certainty when
relationships will escalate to lethal violence, researchers have
identified some common factors.
Lack of the following circumstances does not necessarily indicate
that violence will not become lethal. Battered women and advocates
should always use extreme care in planning for safety and should
rely on their own instincts in determining appropriate responses
to violent situations.
The advocate can help the battered woman assess the risk
the batterer poses to her and develop a practical plan to keep safe.
While safety planning can help a woman, safety planning is no guarantee
that she will not be injured because women cannot insure their own
safety on all occasions.
Several factors have been identified to predict when batterers
may use lethal violence. These include excessive jealousy or depression
on the part of the batterer, stalking of the victim, threats of
homicide or suicide in the past, drug or alcohol abuse. A risk of
lethal violence has also been associated with the batterer’s possession
of or access to weapons, the use of weapons or threats of such use
in prior incidents, and escalation of the violence in frequency
or severity. Legal professionals have identified the abuser’s prior
“choking” or “strangling” of the
victim as an indicator of extreme danger.
Research indicates that the most dangerous time for a battered
woman is after she ends the relationship. In the United States,
research indicates that women who leave their batterers are at a
75% greater risk of being killed by their batterers than those who
stay. From Julian Center, Women
in the US; Casa de Esperanza, Myths
and Facts. It is very important for a battered woman to make
her own decision to leave a relationship because she is in the best
position to assess the potential danger.
Shelters and Safe
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
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
Crisis centers and hotlines
provide support and counseling services to victims of violence.
In many parts of the world, crisis centers and hotlines rely on
trained volunteers to work with battered women. This type of assistance
is based on the theory that women are the best judges of their own
situations and support from peers rather than professional psychologists
is an effective method of assisting the women in determining her
best course of action.