Domestic violence shelters are a relatively recent development in the modern world. They are independently run transitional living situations for women and children who need a place to hide out and recover from family abuse. Almost all are nonprofits, receiving operating funds from a combination of donations, local, state, and federal grants. There is never a charge to the women who use the services.
Because they are connected only by referral networks, each one has a personality, rules, and services different from other shelters, but they do share some things in common: they are free, they are secret in that no one knows where they are and occupants pledge not to tell where they are living, and safety and confidentiality are high priorities.
The most basic service provided by domestic violence shelters is to hide women in danger, when something about a family breakdown escalates to the point where moving in with a friend or relative, or moving to a different location won't keep a woman safe. Children are included both because mom is their primary caregiver or because they are being abused as well -- don't forget that witnessing abuse is considered child abuse even if the child is not the one being attacked.
HOW DO I FIND A SHELTER? There are several ways to access a domestic violence shelter. One is to get a referral from police who answer a domestic violence help call or talk to you at the police station about an incident that has frightened you. The other is to call a domestic violence hotline, a 24-hour telephone number which can connect you with places to live in safety while you decide what to do next. There are such hotlines around the world. The internet is the best place to look - and please do your looking on a safe computer, one to which your abuser has no access.
CALLING A HOTLINE: One of the scariest things in life is calling a domestic violence hotline. Not only is it embarrassing to share you personal problems with a voice over the phone, what if they tell you you are exaggerating or lying, or they have no place for someone like you.
While it is possible to have a bad experience with a DV hotline, it is far more likely that you will be glad you called. Shelters are not connected to any law enforcement or immigration agency. You do not have to give your real name or any other personal information. Everything you might choose to tell a hotline counselor is confidential, with the possible exception of instances of child abuse where the agency may be a mandated reporter. If you think this might apply to your situation, ask what the policies are and what help the agency offers.
MYTHS ABOUT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SHELTERS:
1. I have to be sure I want a divorce before they will help me. Severe family dysfunction is a very complicated situation. It is typical for women to leave several times, hoping the acute problems will die down, then reconcile and return to the home to see if things will be better. No one will be surprised or angry with you if you return to your partner. The shelter will be there for you if you need it in the future.
2. I have to have a police report to be taken seriously. Domestic violence advocates and support organizations understand far better than the "outside world" that abuse doesn't have to be physical to be destructive, frightening, and overwhelming for adults and children. Hotline counselors can help you decide if a shelter is what you need at this point.
3. I have to be poor and without other resources to qualify for shelter. The reason for going to a domestic violence shelter is because you are not safe from being stalked, harassed or attacked in an ordinary living situation. If your abusive partner could show up at the homes of relatives or friends if you stay with them, staying in a place where you cannot be tracked down is an important option to know about.
While at the shelter you will have a safe place to live and access to counseling, legal services, and assistance with planning your future. You can also access these services from the organization that runs the shelter without actually staying at the shelter.
4. I have special needs, a disability, keep kosher, can't leave my pet, etc. Talk to hotline counselors about your situation. You aren't the first person with needs. There are solutions for them all.
5. I called a hotline and they were rude, uninformed, or said they couldn't help me. Please, please, please call another hotline, and keep asking until you get the information you need and are treated in a way that makes you feel comfortable and safe.
6. Do I have to be in crisis to call? Absolutely not! Call with your questions, concerns, or just to be heard by somebody who understands what you are going through and will keep your conversation confidential. A DV advocate can also help you formulate a safety plan to help you weather the next outburst or blowup in your relationship.
There are lots of links about domestic violence on the web. Here's one WNL particularly likes.
There is help out there. You deserve it!