State Coalitions Work to Reduce Rules in Domestic Violence Shelters

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Abusers often control victims of domestic violence by imposing rules. Then survivors may go to shelters where they encounter more rules. To improve the experiences of survivors and to help them regain autonomy, state domestic violence coalitions across the country are working to help domestic violence shelters reduce or eliminate rules.


Indiana Coalition Against Domestic ViolenceThis past summer, several dozen domestic violence victim advocates, shelter staff, program directors and batterer intervention specialists from across Indiana gathered at the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence for a workshop called “Shelter Rules Reduction and Elimination.” Advocates learned about different service models being integrated into domestic violence shelters nationwide.

At the June 27 workshop, Kenya Fairley, director of programs for the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence shared with advocates the history of the shelter movement, information on the development of shelter rules, advocacy skills and program alternatives, and of particular importance, trauma-informed services.

“Thank you for such a wonderful training in Indianapolis,” said a case coordinator from a local domestic violence shelter. “I not only learned a lot from your stories and the discussion, but I feel very inspired to create change in our shelter!


Cover of How the Earth Didn’t Fly Into the Sun The Indiana workshop was developed following wide dissemination of “How the Earth Didn’t Fly Into the Sun: Missouri’s Project to Reduce Rules in Domestic Violence Shelters,” a manual published by the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence with support from the resource center.

Beginning in 2007, in response to concerns from advocates working in domestic violence shelters, the Missouri coalition started a pilot project to “focus more on advocacy and less on rules.” Leaders from shelter programs across Missouri met and agreed to plan and implement a reduced rule or voluntary services approach within their programs.

“How the Earth Didn’t Fly Into the Sun” resulted from the pilot project. In addition to building upon work done by other state coalitions, the manual includes the history behind the project, an examination of problems associated with shelter rules, project implementation, and challenges that arise when shelters reduce rules.


Tiny yellow house in a handBefore the launch of the Missouri Coalition’s manual, the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence began working with programs across the state to rethink and reframe shelter rules. The coalition gathered resources, articles and illustrative videos into its “Shelter Rules Toolkit.”

In the article “Moving from Rules to Rights and Responsibilities,” author Molly Curren, program coordinator for Hickman House, a transitional living program in Washington, discusses how her program redesigned its rule structure, beginning with early conversations, through the establishment of three core values–safety, community, and self-determination. The Washington coalition’s toolkit also includes “Model Rights and Responsibilities for Shelter Residents,” which offers guidelines for creating shelter rules, as well as a model set of rules that places emphasis on the rights of survivors staying in shelter.

“As increasing numbers of state coalitions begin to offer advocates opportunities to learn about shelter rules reduction and elimination, as did the Indiana coalition, more programs across the country can begin to adopt practices that serve to support the developing autonomy of survivors in shelter,” says Marylouise Kelley, director of the Family Violence Prevention and Services Program.

The Family and Youth Services Bureau’s Family Violence Prevention and Services Program funds state domestic violence coalitions that provide technical assistance and training to local domestic violence programs and serve as critical partners for coordination of statewide services and emerging issues such as domestic violence and home visitation. State domestic violence coalitions improve domestic violence intervention and prevention in their states by ensuring cross-coordinated, best practice solutions are implemented and sustained. Every state and some territories have one federally recognized coalition.