A women's shelter (often alternatively called a woman's refuge or other, similar names) is a place of temporary refuge and support for women escaping violent or abusive situations, such as rape and domestic violence. The managers of many of these locations have often expanded their efforts to deal with related issues such as housing victimized children, both male and female, fleeing abuse as well as providing legal aid for domestic violence victims, among many other services.
Having the ability to leave a situation of violence is valuable for those who are under attack. Such situations frequently involve an imbalance of power that limits the victim's financial options. The most dangerous time for a domestic violence sufferer is on the point of exit. A person in a domestic violence situation should create an exit safety plan, to leave the situation in a safe manner.
Initially a response to violence against women, a women's shelter may also serve as a place for women to organize for equality, which is an important distinction from standard government-funded service-based approaches to domestic violence. Many states and cities have domestic violence coalitions supporting women's shelters. In the U.S., the National Network to End Domestic Violence provides a national voice, supporting shelters for victims of domestic violence as well as other resources.
Women's shelters were created to house women, who have been abused in some way, that are seeking refuge from their abuser. Shelters for abused women are not a new concept. In feudal Japan, some Buddhist temples were known as kakekomi dera, runaway temples where abused women could take shelter before filing for divorce.
In the West, crisis accommodation has been available for women for some time. Chiswick Women's Aid, the first widely known shelter for battered women was opened in London, in 1971 by Erin Pizzey. Later others opened in places such as Christchurch, New Zealand, and Sydney with similar ideals in mind. There are various claims about the first homeless shelter specifically for women. Among them are, Rosie's Place in Boston, Massachusetts, was opened in 1974 by Kip Tiernan; and in Atlanta, Elsie Huck started a shelter for Atlanta Union Mission.
In America, the first hotline was established in St. Paul, Minnesota while the first women's shelter was established in Pasadena, California in 1976. By 1982, estimates placed the number of shelters somewhere between 300 and 700.
Most funding for Women's Shelters in the United States come from the Federal Government, at about an average of forty to fifty percent in 2010. These grants are administered through the Office on Violence Against Women, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Department of Health and Human Services. Many states have cut their funds for women's shelters. In 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger of California cut $16 million in state funding to domestic violence programs because of the state's budget deficit. In late 2011 Washington governor Christine Gregoire released a budget proposal stripping all state funding for domestic violence and women's shelters across Washington State. These types of budget cuts caused several women's shelters to close their doors, leaving women with no safe haven to escape violence. Local communities are now also taking it upon themselves to create a safe place for domestic violence refugees. In Grand Forks, British Columbia, a small community of less than 3,600, people organized the Boundary Women's Coalition, to support their local women's shelter.
Care for children and male victims
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Many victims of domestic violence seek to bring their children with them to remove them from the abusive situation. Women's shelters will often extend care for these children such as by providing housing, by clothing them, by feeding them, and by doing other such things.
Given the problem of domestic violence against men and boys, many shelter areas have tried to help them as well. In the U.S., for example, the Domestic Abuse Project (DAP) of Delaware County has campaigned to assist victims of both sexes for decades. DAP Executive Director Rita Connolly has remarked, "It’s a tough thing for a guy to come in". Around three percent of DAP supported individuals have been men. Conolly has also commented that men that do come on "usually come in to get a female abuser out of the home for the sake of children" rather than for themselves.
In the United Kingdom, many places have been opened to house male victims of domestic violence, or to house families barred from other shelters, such as women with older male children. The United Kingdom men's rights group Parity asserts that men are unfairly treated in the provision of refuge places, stating that in England and Wales there are provisions for 7,500 refugee women but only 60 for men. Other men's charities such as the DYN Project and the Men's Advice Line dispute the view that male-only refuges are necessarily wanted or needed by most victims, saying that the issue has been misrepresented out of misogyny rather than genuine concern.
In Canada, approximately 8 percent of women's shelters are also open to adult men.
In the United States, several women's shelters refuse refuge to men; this discrimination based on gender was challenged in the state of California (Blumhorst v. Haven Hills, et al., Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. BC291977). However, the case was rejected because the plaintiff lacked sufficient grounds for suing since he was not actually in an abusive relationship or needing shelter.
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