Not even 30% of the necessary places in safe houses is available in Serbia!

Not even 30% of the necessary places in safe houses is available in Serbia!

Photo: Sanja Knežević, Journalists against Violence

Research done by “Atina” has shown that there are only 190 places in safe houses for victims of gender-based violence in Serbia, when there should be at least 670 (according to the EU standards). There are no expected standards in the Rulebook for this service, such as the mandatory support of a psychologist, but a hairdresser is, in fact, envisaged...

If the competent ministries and institutions in Serbia decided to finally, seriously and comprehensively, approach the suppression of gender-based violence, it would be enough for them to meet with specialized organizations that have decades of experience in work with women and children victims of violence, as well as to read all the research that has been carried out by those organizations so far. Numbers sometimes say nothing, but in this case they speak volumes.

In Serbia, there are only 190 places for victims of gender-based violence in 13 safe houses and one shelter, according to a research conducted by association ATINA. Per the EU standards, every country should have one place for the accommodation of victims of violence per 10,000 inhabitants[i]. If we bear in mind that Serbia now has around 6.7 million citizens, this means that we should have at least 670 safe places for women and children who have left the abuser.

Simple mathematics shows that the existing 190 places are only 28.3% of the necessary number. Not even a third of what is needed! This information alone is enough to understand why many women stay with the abuser for years, some until their own death. Because - where would they go?! If they had a place, many would leave...

Andrijana Radoičić Nedeljković, one of the authors of Atina's research "Functioning and work of safe houses for women victims of violence in Serbia - analysis of the current situation", spoke about the other consequences of the lack of about 72% of places in safe houses for the Fenomena website:

- Consequences are certainly a limited availability of this service, but also an undeniable impact on the quality of the service. It is necessary to say that even the number of 190 places is uncertain, as it also includes the capacities of safe houses that do not have a license. If we were to measure only the capacity of those who have a license, this number would be drastically lower. In addition, beneficiaries are faced with the fact that this service is, unfortunately, available to them for a short period of time, sometimes even shorter than expected. Also, the professionals who provide the service, due to constant pressures and fluctuation of beneficiaries, are not able to deal with the problems and challenges women face in a better and deeper way.  

Although 13 of the 14 institutions included in the research were founded by the state - only 5 have a license to work! Among them is the only one (in Belgrade) run by a non-governmental organization. Other safe houses have been in the licensing process for years, because they either do not have the necessary staff, or do not meet all the technical requirements.

- The greatest deficiency in standards is definitely the lack of specialized standards for the functioning of this service. Minimum standards (structural and functional) are prescribed, but they regulate the implementation of this service to such a limited extent that they do not even recognize its main specificities: the need to ensure the safety of women, to have all activities directed at the empowerment of women, the need to apply feminist principles of care, etc.

After the research, Atina prepared and submitted to the competent Ministry a draft rulebook that would define the quality of the service, that is, which would be used to specialize this service. Unfortunately, we have not yet received a response about the future of this document – said Andrijana Radoičić Nedeljković.

The way in which the Rulebook on closer conditions and standards for the provision of social protection services “tailors” the standards is also illustrated by the fact that psychological support for beneficiaries is neglected. Of course, there can be a psychologist among the professional staff in the safe house for victims of violence, but if there is none, the Rulebook does not foresee the possibility of hiring an external psychologist. On the other hand, the Rulebook foresees hiring of hairdressers and tailors as needed... Fortunately, in 82.6% of safe houses, the surveyed staff said that “beneficiaries have access to individual psychological counseling and psychotherapy thanks to the personal involvement of professionals who, by investing in their own education, acquired knowledge from the field of psychotherapy”.

Graphics from the research "Functioning and work of safe houses for women victims of violence in Serbia - analysis of the current situation" - ATINA

Reading the data on the number of professionals working in safe houses and what they do, one gets the impression that they are overburdened (many institutions do not have a license because they lack staff), particularly when it comes to managers; in addition to managerial work, they also do professional work, they are mostly very experienced (71% have more than 10 years of experience), but as much as 40% of the employees have 0-4 years of experience. This means that managers, whether they wish to or not, also educate younger staff... This type of overload can not only lead to burnout, but also raises the question of the quality of services provided to the accommodated women and children.

Graphics from the research

However, sexual violence suffered by women is generally not discussed and additional education is needed for such work; on the other hand, as much as 82.6% of safe houses do not have special protocols for victims of sexual violence.

Many recorded shortcomings stem from the fact that, except for the one in Belgrade, safe houses in Serbia are not based on feminist principles. If they were, it would be difficult to ignore the importance of location secrecy (violated in 100% of safe houses), then the fact that 43% of institutions do not have defined security procedures, and that 70% do not have round the clock security in the facilities.

It is highly beneficial for the safety of women and children, and their sense of security, to be able to move to a safe house in another city, and this is a positive practice implemented by shelters around the world. It is not forbidden in our country, but it turns out to be very complicated due to financing from different budgets.

Also, if these institutions were based on feminist principles, it would hardly have happened that 90% of them insist on reporting violence, and 34% of them reported violence even without the consent of the victim! We remind you of Article 18 of the Istanbul Convention, para. 4, “The provision of services shall not depend on the victim’s willingness to press charges or testify against any perpetrator”. The pressure on the victim to file a report can already have the effect of a blackmail, and the woman can feel it is a condition for staying in a safe house.

- Reporting violates the confidentiality rule. In addition, it is also worrying that the beneficiary's opinion is not taken as a priority one in making the decision to leave the accommodation. The lack of a feminist approach, as illustrated by these data, speaks of the passivation of women who are seen as beneficiaries and whose participation is not valued nor expected ultimately. This is why we come to situations in which, after exiting that situation, a woman sometimes returns to violence, believing that there really is no other solution.

The lack of choice, lack of participation in decision-making, disregard for the integrity and dignity of another person are the mechanisms of patriarchal systems. Until there is a radical change and abandonment of these principles - all existing and new services will face chronic inefficiency.

That is why, based on the data obtained from the research, Andrijana Radoičić Nedeljković warns and recommends:

- The situation is alarming, because so many risks have been observed in the functioning of these services that the very quality of the service has been called into question. On the other hand, the condition is repairable. With a more adequate approach - by separating this service from other social protection services, by prescribing the principles it must be based on, by defining the training that persons providing the services must undergo, and by better networking with resources in the community, above all with women's non-governmental organizations - this service could experience a positive transformation.

The research Why women do not report domestic violence[i]conducted by CeSID in November 2022, shows the importance of safe houses for women who have experienced violence. We are emphasizing the fact that a representative sample of respondents gave the highest rating to safe houses when asked about trust in institutions. It is also significant that 75% of respondents believe that fear of abusers is the most common reason why victims do not report violence, and 50% believe that they do not report it because they have nowhere to go. For both of these reasons, safe houses are the solution. Therefore, it would be extremely important for state institutions to consider the results of the research conducted by ATINA:

- The results were presented at a roundtable attended by representatives of state institutions, and are publicly available. So far, we have noticed the interest of the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality and the Protector of Citizens, but none of the state institutions have subsequently contacted us. We hope, however, that the results will also reach those who are interested in improving the accommodation in safe houses, as well as the approach to the issue of women with the experience of violence, and establish it on feminist principles.

Most likely, we will continue waiting for that. The example of safe houses, as well as the National SOS hotline, shows how much resistance state institutions in Serbia have towards the women's non-governmental sector: throughout Europe, safe houses are run by non-governmental organizations and are financed from the local or state budget. After all, safe houses were created both in Serbia and in the world under the auspices of the feminist movement, based on the experience and knowledge of women's organizations in providing assistance and support to women who suffer violence. Unfortunately, that heritage is not respected in Serbia, so we have as many safe houses as we now do, which function as they do.

[i] Zasto-zene-ne-prijavlju-nasilje-u-porodici-kljucni-nalazi.pdf ( str. 3

[i] European Parliament resolution of 5 April 2011 on priorities and outline of a new EU policy framework to fight violence against women, str. 5

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The original article can be found at Fenomena website: