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Security strategies and features in shelter facilities

Last edited: September 14, 2012

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Facility security precautions are extremely important in a shelter both to provide protection and to support women to feel safe, allowing them time to reflect on their circumstances, overcome the effects of abuse and plan for the future. If women do not trust that they will be protected by a shelter or feel safe once inside the space, they are likely to avoid seeking support or leave the site. Where they have no other options, this may force them to return to the abusive environment, placing them at even greater risk for further harm.

Depending on the risks and threats facing women (and girls, where relevant) accessing the shelter, different security measures may need to be established within a particular facility. For example, shelters accommodating women fleeing domestic abuse may need to have specific partnerships with police to ensure orders of protection are enforced and perpetrators violating such orders are arrested. Shelters who accomodate girls fleeing forced marriage or ‘honour crimes’ may need to have special arrangements with the state agency responsible for child welfare to prevent forced returns to their families. In cases of trafficking, facilities may need to work with particular law enforcement officers and agencies to establish protection and alternative accommodation plans to ensure women are protected in the short and long-term against the criminal groups that first trafficked them.

General considerations for securing a shelter facility may include:

  • Keeping the location of the shelter confidential, or if the location is public, ensuring specific security features are in place.
  • Working with local police to develop, implement and periodically review a police security plan, which may involve:
    • Button-activated alarm systems to directly inform police of an emergency.
    • Direct emergency phone line to the police.
    • Providing police with a map of the layout of the shelter and surrounding grounds, including entrances, and facility locations.
    • Regular meetings with police to discuss security issues.
    • Fire prevention and regular fire safety checks.
  • Installing security features within and around the facility, where possible, such as:
    • Strong, secure doors, with safe entrances that cannot be forced open.
    • Establishing one location as the single main entrance to decrease security risks associated with having to monitor more than one entrance at a time.
    • Internally locked entrances and doors with monitored access to the building (ideally including technical monitoring system such as cameras).
    • Gratings (metal bars) on all windows that are accessible from outside.
    • Security of the land/area surrounding the facility, including:
      • Any outdoor space used by women (e.g. fenced and locked gardens)
      • Indoor and outdoor security cameras
      • Chain link fencing
      • Motion lights
      • Personal safety alarms for staff
      • Bullet proof or riot glass on windows
      • Visible parking areas, where relevant

WAVE - Women Against Violence Europe, 2002; Woodman & McCaw, 2008)


The IOM Handbook on Direct Assistance for Victims of Trafficking (IOM International Organization for Migration, 2007). This resource provides guidance on shelter security for shelters working with victims of trafficking, including information on shelter security, and security standards and procedures. Available in English.