Why is the safe housing service important for women victims of domestic violence?

Why is the safe housing service important for women victims of domestic violence?

Illustration: Existential sunflower/Instagram


Safe housing is defined by the European Institute for Gender Equality as “emergency, transitional or permanent shelter that is confidentially located to respond to critical situations, usually related to domestic violence”. But beyond being a measure to respond to urgent situations, safe housing can be beneficial for victims on many other levels as well.

For victims of domestic violence, their home is one of the most dangerous places on earth. Many have suffered murder attempts and are at constant risk of physical, emotional and verbal abuse. Therefore, to have the chance to find peace in a safe location is a huge relief. Usually, safe houses also entail trained professionals, social workers, and psychologists who can help the victims focus on the next steps to start a new life without violence. This means that, for victims, a safe house can become not only a way to fulfil an urgent need – find shelter – but also an opportunity to receive structured, empathetic and individualized support and care which they may not have in other situations (e.g. if they stay with friends or family members).

It is also important to note that many victims of domestic violence are not alone, but with their children, which adds another layer of stress and concern. Knowing that a safe house is potentially available for their children as well is extremely important for mothers who worry that entering a safe house might mean losing contact with their children. Leaving a violent and abusive environment behind, and reaching a safe and empathetic one is also incredibly important for the development, health and safety of both mother and children. Although safe houses might also seem daunting at first, they are a secure location that allows the family to breathe, take time to think and plan, and try to recover a sense of normalcy away from the constant threat of abuse and violence.

One of the benefits of safe housing is that it provides a much-needed alternative to women who have suffered domestic violence. Studies in the United States have shown that between 22% and 57% of homeless women were victims of domestic violence. It is very difficult to recover from life in a street situation, and women with children might actually risk losing custody of their children. Victims of domestic violence are always concerned about what might happen to them, and for many of them risking homelessness can seem like reason enough to stay in a situation of violence. Especially in the case of victims who suffer economic violence as well – meaning, they are not allowed to work or have access to their own money or bank account and are therefore unable to pay for alternative housing. 

Another reason why safe housing is so important for victims of domestic violence is precisely because they miss being safe and secure in the space they occupy. Safe housing structures have strict rules to ensure that their location is not known and that abusers cannot reach the victims. Considering how leaving the abuser is considered to be the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence, staying at any location known to the abuser might prove deadly. Safe housing should offer important emotional, psychological and legal support to victims.

Despite all the benefits of safe houses, there are still numerous concerns that accompany this service. One is the lack of space for all the women who are in this type of need, which is why many women victims of domestic violence end up without access to this service. Available housing, even a temporary or emergency one, is crucial for victims to assert their independence and have a glimpse of a future in which their every move is not dictated by their abuser. When victims know that this resource is not available to them, it can seem impossible to exit the situation of abuse. Also, displacing women from a place where they had a job, and moving children from kindergartens or schools, might be a great obstacle to their further recovery from the violence they suffered. 

Due to all these reasons, the provision of wide access to safe housing for all victims of domestic violence should be a priority in the fight for the rights of women and children, and against gender-based violence. The accommodation can be considered as the first step towards freedom for many victims of domestic violence, and its importance cannot be underestimated. The ultimate goal of the entire society and community should be to learn from different practices and understand what solutions work better for victims, and how we can implement and provide equal access to housing to all women who survived domestic violence.

This article was created within the project "Better support for women and children victims of violence - improving the accessibility and capacities of safe houses in Serbia" NGO ATINA is implementing in cooperation with the United Nations Agency UN WOMEN, and with the support of the European Union, within the framework of the EU-UN Women regional program to stop violence against women in the countries of the Western Balkans and Turkey entitled "Implementing norms. Changing minds", financed by the European Union.

The content of this article is the sole responsibility of NGO ATINA, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union, UN Women, their Executive Board or the member states of the United Nations.