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Outreach to raise awareness

Last edited: September 14, 2012

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It is important for shelters to raise awareness of their services among the diverse groups of women and girls in the community to increase identification of women in need of support as well as to increase the demand for services. Awareness of the seriousness of violence against women together with knowledge that assistance is available increases willingness of survivors to disclose abuse and seek help.

Though there are many barriers preventing women and girls from seeking assistance, the decision to receive shelter, protection, medical, legal and psycho-social supports may also depend on her first experience disclosing the abuse or acessing related services. It is critical that shelter or hotline service providers, among others, are able to effectively engage and offer appropriate support in their interactions with women and girls, which may be the only opportunity to engage with a particular survivor and offer life-saving information and referrals (Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines, 2009).

Outreach is a proactive approach, often provided by shelters to identify victims in various community settings. Shelters provide outreach to women who have not yet accessed formal professional supports, which may be used to encourage women to seek assistance, and or to support safety planning with women who remain in a situation of violence (e.g. with an abusive intimate partner) (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Secretariat, 2009; UN Habitat, 2010).

Effective community outreach should particularly engage groups of women who are ‘hard to reach’, such as adolescents, migrants, women with disabilities, those living in rural areas, sex workers, those in prison and others known in the specific context.

Outreach practices may include:

  • Providing help-lines to engage both abused women and those at-risk.
  • Establishing awareness-raising opportunities for survivors or women at risk in the community to meet with trained staff, either in group settings or on an individual basis (i.e. the woman's home if the perpetrator does not live there, or other safe public space where they can talk privately). 
  • Engaging settings were young women and girls can be reached, such as through dissemination of literature and presentations at schools, youth clubs and other relevant venues.
  • Disseminating written or audio-visual materials with resource information which can assist abused women understand and feel encouraged to access the support services available to them, (Kelly, 2008).
  • Providing systems advocacy (i.e. strengthening Coordinated Community Responses to improve survivor services provided by other sectors (e.g. health, security, justice, housing, etc.), which can assist in reducing barriers to victim identification;
  • Supporting women in their transition into the community after staying in a shelter or transitional housing.


Example: The Stop Violence against Women! Project (Kazakhstan)

The Stop Violence Against Women! project implemented by Sana Sezim (Legal Center for Women's Initiatives) in Kazakhstan from May 2004 through May 2005 aimed to increase public awareness of domestic violence using psychological, legal, and educational programmes. It sought to decrease the number of assaults and prevent suicide, alcohol addiction, crime, and other negative behavior, and decrease familial psychological discomfort, while improving the quality of psychological and legal assistance for domestic violence survivors. The project resulted in the development of a more effective institutional base for domestic violence; a more informed community; increased awareness among women and the increased use of organizational mechanisms (including legal).  Psychological aid was provided to approximately 1,000 women via the confidential telephone hotline with an additional 300 psychological consultations in person.

Information provided should help increase women’s and girl’s awareness of their rights and how to access resources available to them. This may cover:

  • What constitutes abuse and different forms of violence, as well as related issues such as the prevalence of violence in the community and effects of violence.
  • Women’s and girl’s rights, by improving 'legal literacy' on local laws, ways to access the legal system and protect one's rights (OSCE, 2009).

Social isolation and ineffective community responses to domestic violence contribute to women’s risk of abuse by partners and ex-partners (Aguirre, 1985; Barnett & LaViolette, 1993; Corwell & Burgess, 1996; Greaves, Heapy, & Wylie, 1988).