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Last edited: September 14, 2012

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Empowerment through individual advocacy requires responding to a woman's individual needs and situation by informing her of her rights and supporting her to access available resources and services, while upholding her right to self-determination and decision-making in all areas of her life. Skilled staff providing individual advocacy in shelters empower women through a combination of information, accompaniment and guidance (Kelly, 2008).

Individual advocacy practices commonly implemented by women’s shelters assist women and girls to access services by:

  • Communicating and working with, or, if necessary, going around, the gatekeepers of public services and with others responsible for offering and arranging services for women.
  • Making telephone calls with the woman.
  • Attending visits to offices where services are arranged or accessed. 
  • Role playing with the woman or girl to support her in advocating for access to services.
  • Helping to repair relationships with service providers or gatekeepers of services in order to increase her ability to access services.
  • Advocating on her behalf for access to services.
  • Checking with the woman or girl to see whether she is following up on referrals made and services scheduled, and if not, discussing the barriers to follow up and supporting her to address these barriers (Dozois, 2007).

Illustrative example: Council of Europe Minimum and Aspirational Standards – Advocacy

Minimum Standards

Aspirational Standards 

Advocates should have sufficient knowledge of available services and should be able to provide information, advice and referrals on the following:

  • Support and health services
  • Law enforcement
  • Legal rights and remedies
  • Welfare rights, education, job training
  • Safe short-term, transitional and/or permanent housing
  • Child care services and parenting education;
  • Child protection
  • Alcohol and drug services
  • Services for persons with disabilities
  • Translation services and/or immigration assistance
  • Asylum/immigration status"

Service providers should strive to maintain a current list of contacts that include:

  • Criminal justice
  • Local, state and national resources for resources in addressing complex legal issues including immigration
  • Lawyers, including those providing services on a pro bono basis, and those knowledgeable in violence against women


Advocates should be able to clearly explain:

  • Criminal and civil justice processes
  • Reporting options
  • Women's rights

Advocates should have working knowledge of the local court rules, and justice responses.


Funding for advocacy services should not be provided in a way that compromises their independence.



  • In response to a crisis (particularly with sexual violence), every women should have access to an advocate prior to evidence collection or a law enforcement interview.
  • Advocates should be able to respond to police and victim requests for assistance.
  • Advocacy should include accompanying women to meetings with other professionals.
  • Advocates should assist women in creating, reviewing and updating a safety plan.
  • Holistic services should include a helpline, drop-in sessions, support groups, casework and long-term support.

Advocates should receive a minimum of 40 hours of training in topics that include:

  • Gender analysis of violence against women
  • Crisis intervention techniques
  • Maintaining confidentiality
  • Communication skills and intervention techniques
  • How to make appropriate referrals
  • Trauma, coping and survival
  • Criminal and civil justice systems
  • Updated relevant state laws
  • State and community resources available
  • Non-discrimination and diversity
  • Empowerment

See also Providing Staff Training

Excerpt from Kelly & Dubois. 2008. “Combating violence against women: Minimum standards for support services”. Council of Europe. Strasbourg.

Shelter representatives can play a key role in providing individual advocacy for women through coordinated community responses. Two forms of individual advocacy are commonly provided within these models:

  • Advocacy immediately following police involvement in the home in response to violence. This involves:
    • Developing and implementing protocols to ensure that an advocate is contacted immediately following police involvement in domestic violence situations. The advocate is provided with basic information regarding the situation including the name, address of the offender and the victim, the charges filed, and the length of time the offender will be held.
    • Meeting the woman at her home or elsewhere (e.g. emergency accommodation), if the abuser is arrested. The on-call advocate provides the woman with various forms of information and support which may include:
      • Information regarding domestic violence and patterns of power and control.
      • Support to explore her feelings, develop a safety plan and access community and agency resources.
      • Support to access funds (where available) to change her locks and install security doors and windows.
      • Provides support and information regarding available community resources (i.e. support groups and professional resources).
      • Legal proceedings and the woman's options and role in regard to legal proceedings, including the legal processes that will occur during the next few days, what is expected to happen and when.
      • The advocate assists the woman to review the civil court options available to her and apply for a civil protection order in a timely manner, if she wishes to do so.
      • Informing the woman that her wishes will be considered in legal proceedings and relays her wishes to a legal advocate, who takes them forward to court representatives, if the woman wishes and consents (i.e. the probation officer, the individual responsible for making recommendations to the court regarding conditions of release).
      • Informing the woman of her other rights, which may include her right to attend any court hearings, and transportation and accompaniment by her advocate to court hearings.
    • If the perpetrator is not arrested, the on-call advocate calls the woman and arranges to meet with her in a public or safe place to provide these services and supports.


Illustrative examples of shelter participation in coordinated community responses to domestic violence (United States)

Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (Minnesota)

The Duluth Model was the first model used to coordinate all criminal justice agencies in one location to respond to domestic violence cases. The Model brings justice and human service agencies (i.e. area shelters and women's coalition groups) and interventions together into a process of creating specific and organized public responses to protect victims of domestic violence from ongoing abuse. This model has been evaluated, developed and expanded to a growing number of communities over time. It is considered a good practice in coordinating community responses to domestic violence, particularly in medium to small-scale communities (PAHO). This model has been adapted for various contexts, including developing countries. Read the Case Study on the Duluth Model.

SAFE House On-Call Services (Michigan)

The Domestic Violence Project provides services to victims of intimate partner violence and their children, including emergency shelters, non-residential counselling, support groups, home-based services, prevention, social supports, and 24-hour on-call response by advocacy teams available in law enforcement jurisdictions and emergency rooms.

Advocacy services are provided for women in three ways:

  • On-call advocacy provided in the home or community immediately following police involvement in a domestic violence call.
  • Advocacy for women who are arrested in a domestic violence situation.
  • Legal advocacy to support women through legal proceedings (Thelen, 2000).

Domestic Violence Emergency Response Teams for Zero Tolerance

Domestic Violence Emergency Response Teams for Zero Tolerance (Santa Barbara, California). This program of shelter services for women works in cooperation with the police department and Sheriff's department. Shelter advocates provide counselling and follow up advocacy services for women in situations of domestic violence. Program partners work collaboratively to promote education and awareness in the community and by institutions and government.