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Last edited: September 14, 2012

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Advocacy services provided by shelters enable women to leave their abusers and avoid future violence. Advocacy efforts can be undertaken with individual survivors and through engaging the broader coordinated response systems to ensure the individual is receiving all supports necessary from relevant sectors and departments (e.g. health, justice, security, social welfare). By supporting women to navigate and access various legal, economic, health, and housing services that are critical for living independently and protecting themselves from further abuse, and linking with service providers to address their needs and the needs of their children, shelter advocacy can assist women to move forward in achieving their goals.

The use of systems and individual advocacy, alongside coordinated community responses to violence against women is widely accepted as promising practice. The model brings together individuals and agencies from various sectors (e.g. health, police, judicial, shelters and protection services, schools and other education institutions, and religious or cultural groups, among others) to plan and develop local approaches that promote timely and sensitive responses for victims of violence. In order to meet the range of needs that typically exist for survivors of violence, engagement, information sharing and collaboration between a number of professionals and agencies is often needed (OSCE Secretariat, 2009; Seftaoui J. (Ed.), 2009).

Models of coordinated responses are similar across many forms of violence, and involve various actors (usually at the local and at times, national level) in establishing processes and protocols to promote the safety of women and girls in the community and support access to the services needed by those escaping violence.

Women’s shelters can contribute to this model by ensuring the system uses a gender-responsive analysis in reviewing cases; dispelling myths and educating the other partners to promote a survivor-centred approach; and by helping to build a shared commitment to prioritizing women’s safety and perpetrator accountability.  For example, shelter workers are often the first point of service contact for a woman leaving an abuse situation. In this context, shelter workers are acutely aware of the increased risks of continued or escalating violence faced by survivors during the early period of relationship separation. Shelter advocates can bring understanding of the issues surrounding this period of risk to police and criminal justice personnel who often have a role in enforcing safety measures such as no contact or orders of protection during this period.

Through their participation in Coordinated Community Responses and Referral Mechanisms, shelters can advocate within various systems for changes in access and/or quality of services (e.g. health, justice and social service responses and procedures) provided to survivors as part of the process of empowering women to access their rights and resources. This advocacy can help to inform institutional service providers who frequently come into contact with survivors, of the indicators of abuse and how to recognize violence against women, supporting them to develop the skills to assess the situation and offer appropriate services or referrals.  Shelter advocates can also support planning and implementation of inter-agency protocols that ensure women have access to supports and processes that promote her safety when criminal justice agencies are involved (Thelen, 2000).

See more about coordinated responses in Main Strategies to End Violence Against Women, including a summary of key strategies and elements of these models, lessons learned and resources with a link to the full programming module.

Both systems advocacy and individual advocacy are integral to the development and ongoing implementation of coordinated community responses. Shelter providers play an important role in coordinated community responses  by providing information that supports understanding of abused women's needs by various institutional representatives; by advocating for and supporting responses that meet those needs; and by keeping the focus on the woman’s safety and perpetrator accountability.

Shelters can work with other systems and agencies to ensure that strategies and protocols are in place for women to receive support and assistance from an advocate as soon as they are identified as a victim of violence. This generally involves the development of agency protocols (e.g. established between law enforcement and NGOs) that promote victim identification, and support immediate referrals to an advocate.