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Seeking asylum is the main issue for a person, who has experienced domestic violence. Indeed, where to go, when it is impossible to stay at home, which should be the safest place? What to do, when aggression comes from the closest people? Answers to those questions might be found in shelters for domestic violence victims.  They give a chance for a reprieve, recoup and prompt. Perhaps, it’s time turning a new leaf.


Sometimes asylum is the only choice for those, who have suffered from violence. Many people find it difficult to make a decision and leave the aggressor. Even if they are psychologically ready for that, they will still face an open question where to go and hesitate in making that step. Assets and housing dependence are the reason due to which many victims of domestic violence keep on sitting on thorns.


Sanctuaries, which are often called shelters and asylums, have been established in order to help women facing hardships. A shelter is a safe place for temporary accommodation. It is attended by the people in the crunch, who have been subject to psychological or physical violence, trafficking in human beings or other criminal offence.


According to global statistics, 95% of violence victims are those of the domestic violence. According to Council of Europe data for 2010, almost 45% of women in Europe have at least once experienced violence in their life. From 12% to 15% of all women over 16 stay in the conditions where they suffer from domestic violence. According to UN data, 50% of all perished women have been killed by their previous or current partners. One out of three women has experienced violence from her partner throughout her life. Therefore, the main attention of women rights’ champions should be focused on counteracting domestic violence.


“Different types” of violence


According to UN data, four out of five 18-60-year-old women in Belarus have experienced psychological violence in their families and 25% of them have been subject to physical violence with different frequency, while 22.4% of women are victims of economic violence and 13.1% of sexual violence from their husbands or permanent partners. Results of the same survey undertaken by the Centre of Sociological and Political Research of the Belarusian State University in 2008 have shown that men are also subject to violence from their wives and partners. 79.7% of men have at least once experienced psychological violence and 12.5% and 5.7% - physical and economic violence, correspondingly. In late 2012, a survey, which covered 700 men and women, was undertaken in Brest province (‘oblast’) – a pilot region for the international technical assistance project on counteracting domestic violence. According to the preliminary results, the trend has maintained.


Although the figures for the both genders are compatible, women have got more serious damage resulting from violence. Men-practiced violence is psychologically, motivationally and situationally different and stems from the established cultural and historical traditions. Men can cause bigger physical damage, given that the motivation of predominance, control and punishment prevail in them. Usually women do not care much about becoming winners in a conflict situation and will rather express their emotions but not aggression or emotional weakness, i.e. tears. Women are less capable for causing serious physical injuries, or sexual coercion or lethal outcome of a situation. Moreover, many international cultures treat male violence as a male-embedded feature, while women should be timid. That common gender trend was reflected through the surveys of the participants from 25 countries and quoted by E.P. Ilyin in his book “Differential Psychology of a Man and a Woman” (‘Дифференциальная психофизиология мужчины и женщины’). Thus, male aggression manifestation is taken as granted. Differences in intentions, frequency or level of caused damage and outcomes of male and female violence should be considered by the society in order to understand the real situation and render assistance to victims. Historically, those specifics have been acknowledged and therefore asylums have been set up primarily for women. For instance, in feudal Japan shelters for women were placed in bonzeries.



Sanctuary, shelter and asylum


Sanctuary, shelter and asylum are different words used for describing almost the same thing. It is a place established in order to provide physical safety and conditions for psychological and mental rehabilitation. It should be noted that even the fact of asylum existence may inspire the victims with the willingness of breaking through the circle of violence.


In international practice there have been asylums established by public organizations, individuals, confessional associations and women, who have already gone through rehabilitation. For instance, in Australia women have rented houses for establishing sanctuaries for violence victims. Presently, almost 50% of asylums in the UK are administered by confessional organizations.


Some asylums are financially sponsored by Governments, while public associations might be assigned with the executive authority. Some other shelters partially cover their costs by themselves. Some shelters in US practice might be maintained exclusively through private donations. In Africa there are shelters for women, who have been victims of domestic violence or required rehabilitation as a result of raping during tribal conflicts. In some of them women work (cultivate land) and thus assist in maintaining shelters.


Some of existing asylums satisfy the needs of particular focus groups, for instance, victims of trafficking in human beings, or black women, or representatives of ethnic minorities, or disabled women, or women of a particular confession, or refugee women, who have suffered from gender violence. According to the report by UNFPA international expert Julia Girardi published in 2012, current procedures in Austria, UK and Israel might be taken as best practices.



At the initiative of the Belarusian Women’s Union the first Anti-crisis Rehabilitation Centre for female and children victims of domestic violence was established in Belarus in October 1998. Centre of social support to women functioned under the Union since 1996. During its work (until 2002) the Centre rendered assistance to more than five thousand women. Project under the name “Establishment of an Anti-crisis Centre for Women in Minsk” was prepared by the Belarusian Association of Social Workers Public Organization and launched in 2001. It was carried out with the support from the BESO – British volunteer service, Norwegian and Icelandic associations of social workers and TACIS Programme using the facilities of a territorial centre of social services (TCSON) in Minsk. In addition to psychological and legal assistance, female victims with children have got provisional accommodation and whenever necessary they have been attended at home. Accommodation was provided in a countryside home but that option turned out to be inconvenient because of a long distance from the shelter towards working and studying places of children tenants. In October 2002, the anti-crisis centre for women and children was put under administration of the registered at that time RADISLAVA Public Association and existed till 2006. A classic shelter, i.e. two-room apartment in Minsk suitable for simultaneous accommodation of up to three people, was established within the framework of the project.


Presently, in all administrative centres in Belarus there are territorial centres of social services (ТCSON). All around the country they total 149, including 2 centres of assistance to families and children. According to the Model Provisions on a territorial centre of social services, approved by the Resolution No. 114 of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Republic of Belarus as of 17 September 2007, departments of social adaptation and rehabilitation shall be included into Centres’ structure. In such Centres victims of domestic violence get psychological and legal assistance and social follow up. A so-called “anti-crisis room” is set up in a department of social adaptation and rehabilitation for assisting people under crisis conditions (dangerous for their life and health, in conflict with other family members, victims of psychological/physical violence or trafficking in human beings).


There are different forms of services to victims, arising from the domestic experience of anti-crisis rooms’ performance. An anti-crisis room is a specially equipped premises in the Centre, with all household facilities (preferably, with a separate entry), and aimed at providing – whenever necessary – a provisional accommodation to persons under crisis circumstances. Such accommodation is granted for a period of up to ten days, or even longer, at Centre administration consent thereabout. Alongside with domestic violence victims, accommodation in anti-crisis rooms is often provided to social orphans, victims of economic violence or other persons in need as, for instance, in Gomel, where in accordance with a local government decision, accommodation was provided to a family, which house was burned down.


Moreover, asylums in Belarus are established under publics associations and confessional organizations. For instance, under the Union of Sisterhoods of Charity of the Belarusian Orthodox Church there is an asylum in the city of Lida in Grodno oblast. SOS-Children Village Public Association shelters women with children in Mogilev.



Heavy bags


Belarusian situation is specific in the sense that local women gradually approach to a decision on changing their situation under and do not make spontaneous decisions as is seen from applications in Western Europe. Psychologists believe that Belarusian women have “heavy bags”. It may take them a month to make a decision. Firstly, they call and ask for counselling. A week later they call again to clarify some issues and approximately a month afterwards are ready for the asylum.


Currently, there are no accepted international standards on establishing shelters for domestic violence victims. However, non-government organizations apply the following working standards:


·Place safety,




·24-7 operational mode,


·Possibility for adults to stay together with their children,


·Free accommodation,


·Rendering of psychological and legal assistance,


·Acceptance of all victims, irrespectively of their faith, social status, ethnic origin or disability.


According to WAVE – Women Against Violence Europe (a network of European women's non-governmental organizations) in July 2011 there was not a single shelter in Belarus, comprehensively satisfying needs of female victims of domestic violence. In November 2012, a network of non-commercial organizations dealing with domestic violence and functioning within the “Developing National Capacity to Counteract Domestic Violence in the Republic of Belarus”, has conducted a review on anti-crisis rooms’ capabilities.  Its results reflected specifics of each of such rooms. For instance, according to the information received from 39 territorial centres of social services, 29 centres are capable to provide around-the-clock accommodation and 9 of them have already practiced it. Lack of separate exists, adjusted accommodation mechanisms and anti-crisis room functioning stage have been quoted as major reasons for such differences.


As is known, domestic violence takes place either in the evening, when family members return home from their work, or at weekends. Therefore, with 5-days-per-week working schedule it is not possible to react promptly to a situation. Accommodation conditions are different in all anti-crisis rooms – some can accommodate only one person while the others can accept ten persons. Some of them accommodate exclusively women with children while the others focus on women, only.


In the Ukraine, according to the Women’s Informational-Cultural Centre women’s non-government association, there are no officially accepted standards applied to shelters’ current services. Nevertheless, there is a demand for such standards and public organizations have launched broad discussion of that topic. Some recommendations on standards of women’s support services have been published in the European Union. However, those recommendations are not legally binding. Council of Europe has stated that “consenting and implementing of standards at the national level should take place through negotiations between the Governments, experts on violence against women and other stakeholders…”  Well-adjusted interdepartmental interaction between several state agencies and authorities should be a prerequisite for a quick and high-quality reaction to applications.





International technical assistance projects “Developing National Capacity to Counteract Domestic Violence in Belarus in the Context of Increased Gender Equality” and“Developing National Capacity to Counteract Domestic Violence in the Republic of Belarus” designed for three years have been launched in Belarus in June 2012. Ministry of Labour and Social Protection and Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus are the executive agencies of those projects.


City of Brest (Moskovsky rayon), city of Kobrin and Kobrin rayon and city of Kamenets and Kamenets rayon have been preselected as pilot regions for the project. Support to anti-crisis rooms and a shelter functioning in the premises of an Orthodox sisterhood in Lida is scheduled inter alia within the scope of the project. Working with male assailants and improving the system of rendering assistance to female victims of domestic violence will also be tested for the first time within the project.


New measures on counteracting domestic violence are being developed at the legislative level. They envisage set up of safe places for victims’ accommodation. Draft Law “On Basic Activities Aimed at Offence Prevention” is being discussed in the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus. Article 16 of the draft Law “Major Preventive Measures Aimed at Preventing Domestic Violence” stipulates establishment of places for domestic violence victims. Particularly, “local executive and administrative authorities, public associations or citizens shall take measures on establishment of social asylums for the persons, who have suffered from domestic violence”. Social asylums’ activities are regulated as follows: “citizens, who have suffered from domestic violence, shall be entitled to psychological, social/pedagogic, medical, legal and material assistance in accordance with the Legislation. Place for provisional accommodation, including sleeping places and food, shall be provided, whenever possible.”


Article 27 of the draft Law introduces a new preventive measure called a “defensive injunction”, provisioning placement of citizens-victims with children into safe places unknown to the assailant. Defensive injunction is a measure of individual prevention of assaults against a citizen, who has committed an act of domestic violence, following an official warning to him/her, and aimed at protection victim’s rights, freedoms and legitimate interests. An assailant may also be forbidden receiving information about the location of the person, who has suffered from domestic violence.



Knowing that such a place as a shelter does exist is most important for domestic violence victims. They may receive information about that opportunity from officers of specialized institutions, who are not directly connected to a shelter but whom domestic violence victims may apply to. They are public health workers, police officers, representatives of educational system, psychologists and lawyers. In Belarus there is a hot line 8-801-100-8-801 for domestic violence victims, which provides comprehensive information to the victims and, if necessary, re-directs them to other specialists. Hot line provides information about the shelters but there have been only a few inquiries, yet. Since introduction of a national hot line for domestic violence victims, i.e. August 2012, six persons have been re-directed as to the information about the shelters.


SOS-Children Village Belarusian Fund Public Association plans to establish a shelter for women and children at Borovlyany. INTERCESSION (‘POKROVA’) support centre to families and motherhood is setting up a shelter in Bobruisk. RADISLAVA Public Association intends to establish a new shelter in Minsk.


Working with domestic violence victims is an important development for the society. Supporting victim’s proprium in hardship is the main objective of such work as well as fostering of intolerability attitude towards any demonstration of violence. Expansion of anti-crisis rooms’ capacities and set up of shelters in Belarus will promote consideration of domestic violence problem both at government and personal levels.



Background. Development of shelters’ system for domestic violence victims in Belarus.


Based on the materials of the presentation “Experience of Women’s Anti-crisis Centres for Domestic Violence Victims in the Republic of Belarus”, prepared by Ms. Olga Gorbunova, a psychologist and Chairperson of RADISLAVA Public Association.


1994– At its International Congress “Women – Family – Society”, the Women’s Christian Democratic Movement (ZhHDD) for the first time in Belarus raised the issue of violence against women.


1996 - Centre of Social Support to Women was established. Counselling services (legal and psychological) and training programmes on different aspects were provided in its premises. It is located at the Belarusian Women’s Union.


1998 –ZhHDD set up the Women’s Training/Counselling centre. It was rendering legal and psychological services (including “trust telephone line”) to female victims of violence. Over 500 women approached the Centre in two years.


1998 – First in Belarus Anti-crisis Rehabilitation Centre for female and children victims of domestic violence was established by the Belarusian Women’s Union. Over 5,000 women approached it till 2002. It worked jointly with the employees of the ENVILA Women’s Institute and rendered inter alia medical (gynaecologist) assistance to sex violence victims.


2001 – Anti-crisis centre for women was established in Minsk. Its project was developed by the Belarusian Association of Social Workers Public Organization (prior to its re-registration in 1999 – Belarusian Union of Social Teachers and Social Workers). The project was carried out with the support from the BESO – British volunteer service, Norwegian and Icelandic associations of social workers and TACIS Programme using the facilities of a territorial centre of social services (TCSON) in Minsk. In addition to psychological and legal assistance, female victims with children have got provisional accommodation.


2001 – Department of emergency assistance to female and children victims of domestic violence (Anti-crisis department) was established under Mozyr City Centre of Social Services to Families and Children. It was established by the activists of the Belarusian Organization of Working Women, HOPE (‘NADZEYA’) Mozyr Club of Families with Many Children and administration of the Centre of Social Services to Families and Children (CSOSiD). 4 February 2000, the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus has approved “Model Provisions on a Territorial Anti-crisis Centre Rendering Assistance to Women” and the Anti-crisis Department was commissioned on 27 March 2001. Its main activities are as follow:


-Rendering psychological and legal assistance (trust telephone line, individual counselling, social patronage, support groups and leisure),


- Training (workshops, trainings and work with volunteers),


- Awareness rising;


- Interdepartmental interaction, and


- Actions aimed at prevention of trafficking in women.


2002 – RADISLAVA Public association was registered. It maintained the Anti-crisis Centre for female and children victims of domestic violence till 2006.  During that period the Anti-crisis centre implemented a number of projects aimed at helping victims of domestic violence and trafficking in human beings. It was carrying out the following activities:


· Trust telephone line,


· Face-to-face counselling,


· Groups of mutual assistance,


· Social/psychological follow-up,


· Shelter (simultaneous accommodation of up to 5 victims),


· Accommodation with children,


· Training and awareness campaigns, and


· Interdepartmental interaction.



2005 – First anti-crisis rooms for victims of domestic violence and traffickingwere set up.


2007 – Anti-crisis room was set up under the Pervomajsky rayon territorial centre of social services in Minsk. It was established within the structure of theService of assisting citizens, who have suffered from violence (joint project between RADISLAVA Public Association and TCSON). No accommodation took place there in five years.


2007 Social Anti-crisis Centre for Women was set up in Mogilev. The project is using the facilities of the SOS-Children Village. Over 600 women and 1,100 children have got assistance since 2007. Two in-patient departments – “My Baby” and “Shelter for Female Victims of Domestic Violence” were opened under the Anti-crisis Centre in 2010. Each of them is designed for four families. Mothers with children may stay there from one day up to one year, depending on the situation.


2008 – 2009 – Specialists of Kobrin TCSON designed and implemented the project called “Anti-crisis centre for Women and Children”. It was aimed at improving access of Kobrin rayon population to rehabilitation and prevention services in domestic violence sphere through establishing an Anti-crisis centre for women and children.


184 adults and 28 children approached the Anti-crisis centre at that period. Its main functions were as follows:


- 24-7 “responsiveness telephone line”, psychological and legal counselling, group and individual psychotherapy, gym, groups of physical exercises and book/audio/video library “Psychological literacy”. 3 premises have got furniture and household appliances. Anti-crisis room for 2 persons was established there;


- Awareness campaigns, and


- Interdepartmental interaction.


2009 Anti-crisis Centre of Assistance to domestic violence victims and a shelter were opened in Lida on 1 December under the custody of the Orthodox sisterhood in honour of Saint Euphrosyne, Reverend Mother of Polotsk. In average, 10-16 persons (6-8 women and 4-8 children) per month find here assistance. The asylum gives women and children an opportunity of sheltering under emergency circumstances, if their lives are endangered, and get social, psychological, mental and before-doctor services.


2010 – Radislava Public Association opened a shelter for female victims of domestic violence in a house in Minsk. It was the only shelter in Minsk. Women could be provisionally accommodated both for a short term (24 hours) and a long term (up to 12 months). There they could get psychological assistance, social follow-up and counselling, organization of leisure, help with employment, finding housing and support at litigations. There was also a function of a mediator between a woman and her partner. The shelter was also accommodated children aged from 7 days (!) up to 14 years.


2010 and up till now – Some organizations and programmes, for instance, LaStrada (BAMHZh and then Gender Prospects YPO) have practiced the other format of a shelter. They provided a service of temporary accommodation to a woman and her children through placing them into hotels. They have also provided psychological and legal assistance, social follow up, help with a child in mother’s absence, etc. Such activities could ensure better safety, but because of their high costs accommodation term is most limited. PROVINCE (‘PROVINCIYA’) Women’s Public Association in Borisov has got a house in a village, which can be used as a shelter, whenever necessary.