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Home / Special Collections / Open Doors: Alternatives to Shelter

Special Collection: Open Doors: Thinking Beyond Shelter (Or Alternative Ways to Help Survivors) (Part 2 of 2)

Many concerned community members want to help families experiencing domestic violence. This is PART 2 of a 2-part collection, which includes Domestic Violence Shelter Development (PART 1 of 2). PART 2 provides suggestions and ideas for building needed resources in your community for survivors of domestic violence, in lieu of opening a shelter or safe house.

Table of Contents:

Introduction | Back to top

While many individuals and communities across the country have succeeded in establishing shelters that serve the needs of countless survivors of domestic violence, one of the most vital considerations regarding whether to start a new shelter is that of need. In just one day in 2013, more than 66,500 victims across the country were served by 1,649 local domestic violence programs participating in the 2013 National Census of Domestic Violence Services. The vast majority of these programs (77%) included emergency shelter as part of their services (NNEDV, 2014). While most survivors access supportive nonresidential services only, according to the 2013 National Census of Domestic Violence Services – in which approximately 87% of identified local domestic violence programs in the U.S. participated – 36,348 domestic violence victims found refuge in emergency shelters or transitional housing provided by local domestic violence programs (NNEDV, 2013).

Despite large numbers of domestic violence survivors finding safety in shelters across the country, shelters are not equipped to meet the long-term needs of survivors, as most are designed to provide emergency, short-term housing. Moreover, many survivors utilize the numerous non-residential services provided by domestic violence programs, and have an interrelated range of needs. For example, a survivor may need legal advocacy for a protective order case against an abusive partner. Attempting to leave an abuser without legal protection may exacerbate an already dangerous situation. Or a survivor may need financial help in order to execute a carefully constructed safety plan.

Lyon, Bradshaw & Menard, 2011

Alternative Ways to Help Survivors

Based upon your particular background or area of expertise, choose a section below to learn about the unique ways in which individuals can assist survivors of domestic violence. Please note the following list is not exhaustive, and individuals are encouraged to help survivors to the extent they are able and under the guidance of their domestic violence victim advocacy program. To find a program serving your community, go to this list of state/territory coalitions. Each coalition identifies local domestic violence programs (also referred to as members) organized by county or region on their websites.

Many people find it fulfilling to give and reach out to others who may be in greater need than them, especially during the holiday season. Most hotlines, victim advocacy or shelter organizations will benefit from volunteer time, financial support, or other donations. The NRCDV's TA Guidance, Domestic Violence and the Holidays (December 2011) describes the needs of survivors during the holidays and how to expand organizational capacity to accommodate volunteer interests.


Many survivors and their children in shelter or other temporary housing have left their homes in a state of emergency or distress, or have managed to flee during a short window of time. As a result, they are not in possession of many of their personal belongings or household goods. When survivors leave shelter to move into a new home, they frequently do not have the necessary household items with which to start over. Shelters often collect donated items from individuals, businesses, and religious institutions to help compensate for those losses. These items are eventually presented as housewarming gifts and are sent home with survivors and children once they leave shelter to establish their own new homes.

While receipt of a household item may seem like a small gesture, it can help alleviate some of the stress associated with loss of belongings and starting over under changed circumstances. It can also make settling into a new space that much easier when basic items that are used on a daily basis are available. Many domestic violence programs maintain a list of frequently needed items, either for use by residents/survivors or the shelter itself. Below is a list of typical household goods that may be collected and donated for this purpose:

  • Pots and pans
  • Kitchen utensils
  • Silverware
  • Dishes
  • Drinking glasses
  • Small appliances (toasters, blenders, coffee makers)
  • Soaps & detergents
  • Sponges, scrubbers & dish towels
  • Shower curtains and bath mats
  • Storage containers (for food & supplies)
  • Cutting boards
  • Paper products (napkins, paper towels, tissue, toilet paper)
  • Foil, plastic wrap, zipper lock bags
  • Garbage bags
  • Trashcan/Wastebaskets
  • Cleaning products
  • Mops, brooms, buckets
  • Laundry baskets
  • Hand and bath towels
  • Personal and dental hygiene supplies
  • Hair accessories & hair care products for women of various ethnicities
  • Women’s and children’s underwear and baby diapers


Many survivors are in urgent need of legal resources and representation based on needs stemming from the abuse they have experienced. Oftentimes, the legal assistance needed may be above and beyond the capacity of local domestic violence programs. Not only are more attorneys needed to increase the legal services capacity of domestic violence programs but there are many ways in which lay people with some legal training (provided by the domestic violence program) can help, too.

How can someone with an education or interest in legal matters help?

Join a Pro Bono Directory

Survivors of domestic violence have a great need for pro bono representation. Many survivors cannot afford private legal representation, and civil legal aid organizations can only provide very specific legal services to a finite number of people who fall within specific income brackets. Frequently, this limited capacity is quickly exceeded.

National Domestic Violence Pro Bono Directory
This directory includes a comprehensive guide to volunteer opportunities in different states. At the top of the above-listed webpage, attorneys can find a link to the Domestic Violence Pro Bono Guide. Attorneys can then select the state in which they wish to offer their pro bono services. Located on each state’s page is a list of organizations where attorneys can volunteer. Also included is a list of information for potential volunteer attorneys specific to the organization, such as areas of law that are covered, whether training is required or provided, whether malpractice insurance is provided, whether volunteer attorneys must meet a caseload or hours requirement, and the types of projects in need of pro bono help.

Rural Pro Bono Delivery: A Guide to Pro Bono Legal Services in Rural Areas
Many large law firms are located in major metropolitan areas in the U.S., and therefore survivors living in rural parts of the country do not have the same access to these firms as do survivors living in more densely populated areas. To learn about providing free legal services in rural areas, please visit the above website., a project of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, is another resource that provides legal information and support to survivors of domestic violence. In addition to providing information on staying safe, preparing for court, and knowing the laws, provides information to attorneys seeking to represent survivors. Please visit the above website for more information on helping survivors through representation in legal matters.

Assist From a Private Law Firm

Attorneys presently practicing law in private firm environments are strongly encouraged to set aside resources in their firms for the purpose of representing and assisting survivors of domestic violence and their families. In addition to filing for protective orders, survivors' needs for legal assistance can include housing, divorce, child custody and visitation, and employment.

Serve as a Court Companion

Volunteer opportunities related to court cases are not limited to attorneys. Non-attorneys, including those with no prior education in the legal arena, can serve as court companions to survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault in many jurisdictions. Specifically, court companion volunteers act as an additional support to crime victims; they may also assist by helping a victim complete required paperwork and accompanying them to the subsequent court proceedings.

Moreover, survivors are often faced with additional layers of need. For example, without certain support, survivors who are pursuing civil or criminal action against their abusers may not be able to get to courthouses for multiple hearings or find child care so that their children do not have to attend court (Baker, Cook & Norris, 2003). Court companions can assist survivors with transportation to/from court, as well as help attend to the children during court proceedings.

Contact your state domestic violence coalition, domestic violence shelter, or rape crisis center in your community to learn about volunteer training opportunities in your area. To find the program in your community, access a comprehensive list of state coalitions across the country. Each state coalition has a list of local domestic violence programs (also referred to as members) organized by county or region on their websites.


Many survivors and their children are forced to choose between abuse in the home and life on the streets due to a lack of affordable housing and long waiting lists for government housing assistance. Some survivors are evicted from their homes because their abusers have caused disruption on or damage to properties. In fact, studies have shown that survivors of domestic violence are at a greater risk of eviction than those who have not experienced domestic violence (American Civil Liberties Union, Women’s Rights Project, 2006).

Several jurisdictions have enacted fair housing laws protecting survivors from discrimination in the form of eviction for disturbances stemming from incidences of domestic violence. Many of these laws protect survivors by allowing them to change locks on dwellings to enhance safety from an abusive partner or ex-partner or by permitting early termination of leases without penalty. The 2005 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act included protections for survivors living in federally funded housing. To learn more about state and federal housing laws affecting survivors of domestic violence, please see the State Law Guide, Housing Discrimination for Victims of Domestic or Sexual Violence, from Legal Momentum.

In addition to the many ways discussed below that property owners and landlords can help increase safety and options for survivors, real estate agents can help survivors secure safe and affordable housing. An agent may have the connections necessary to locate donated or free home, office, or warehouse space in the community that can benefit survivors and programs alike.

How can a property manager or landlord help?

Maintain a Secure Property

Landlords can help reduce opportunities for a crime to occur, such as domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, by taking basic steps to ensure that their tenants are living in the safest and most secure environment possible. First, landlords should conduct routine surveillance of their properties and surrounding areas to identify potentially unsafe conditions, such as non-working lights in common areas and parking lots, non-working smoke and fire alarms, or broken security gates that surround community property. Once all potentially dangerous conditions are noted, they should be resolved immediately. Additional security features such as peepholes, deadbolts and security alarms should be installed in all individual residences.

Post Awareness Materials

Landlords are encouraged to raise awareness of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking by inviting the local victim services program into the housing community to give presentations. Skilled advocates can discuss warning signs for abuse, ways to reduce risk of harm, safety planning and resource information for those seeking help with abuse. Landlords may also provide informational brochures, hang awareness posters or magnets, use coffee mugs and show video PSAs in the leasing office or community clubhouse for residents to privately obtain needed safety information. Displaying awareness materials on healthy relationships may also help those that use violence and abuse in their relationships seek help to change their behavior. The NRCDV’s Domestic Violence Awareness Project, A CALL TO MEN, the Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs: Home of the Duluth Model and NO MORE offer a variety of awareness raising products and materials.

Increase Access to Helping Resources

For landlords that offer use of computers in their leasing offices, this opportunity for tenants to access the Internet during times of crisis, and without fear of being tracked by an abusive partner or ex-partner, is invaluable. The availability of phone lists with emergency contacts, such as police and fire departments, local domestic violence and sexual assault victim services organizations and national hotlines, can be incredibly helpful to those seeking safety from abuse. Landlords should also encourage tenants to report suspected incidents of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking to the local police.


Abusers often sabotage their partners’ efforts to become financially independent. An abuser may confiscate and destroy documents and other materials a survivor needs in her quest for employment; inflict visible signs of abuse so as to embarrass the survivor and discourage her from attending a job interview or work upon hire; and interfere with her ability to work once she has obtained a job by harassing her at her place of employment. Studies have documented high rates of work-related lost productivity and job loss directly related to experiences of victimization (Workplaces Respond to Domestic and Sexual Violence: A National Resource Center).

Employment provides a wealth of benefits, including healthcare, employee assistance programs, basic social interaction, intellectual stimulation, and greater confidence and self-esteem. To realize these benefits, survivors often need support to enter or re-enter the workforce. Since abusers tend to limit or sabotage their victims' job seeking and employment opportunities, survivors may be in need of job skills training, interview and resume writing practice and tips, and resources to find jobs. Further, some survivors may have been out of the workforce for an extended period of time and will need guidance on current trends related to job seeking (for example, use of search engines to locate job opportunities, increased use of email communication to secure job interviews or offers, social media engagement to increase marketability and search for job openings).

How can you help improve opportunities for survivors to re-enter the workforce?

Donate Professional Clothing, Become a Job Coach/Mentor

Dress for Success
For those individuals who do not have the time or resources to dedicate to job skills training, resume writing, or interview skill development, donating an interview suit or general business attire can help a survivor of domestic violence start over in the working world. Individuals can organize clothing drives, or simply donate their own work clothing to survivors through Dress for Success. Founded in New York City in 1997, Dress for Success is an international nonprofit organization offering services designed to help women find jobs and remain employed. Each woman receives one suit when she has a job interview and can return for a second suit or separates when she finds work. In addition to providing clothing, Dress for Success also developed a Professional Women’s Group, which offers women ongoing support as they enter into the workforce, as well as a Career Center, where women are offered career guidance and technology skill development. More information on how to start a “Dress for Success” program can be found at the above website.

Career Gear
Career Gear is a nonprofit whose mission is to serve men living in New York City, Cleveland, Miami, and Houston who are economically disadvantaged and underserved. The organization oversees three programs, including a job readiness program, a professional development series, and a mentoring program. Men interested in participating in the program must be referred by a partner agency (see New York partner agencies). Program participants are all ages and ethnic backgrounds, and include recipients of public assistance, people with disabilities, recovering addicts, veterans, former foster care children, recent immigrants, the formerly incarcerated, or those who face other disadvantages that make job acquisition and retention a challenge. Individuals can become involved by donating money, time, or clothing, or by holding a suit drive.

Support Educational Scholarships

Empire Beauty School
Empire Beauty Schools, one of the nation's largest systems of cosmetology schools, has created an educational assistance program to help survivors of domestic violence. The Empire Gives Back Endowment Program allots money for clients of domestic violence relief organizations across the country. The endowment provides up to $3,000 towards attending any Empire Education Group beauty school. The goal of the fund is to help abuse victims afford a cosmetology education, which can mean a path to financial independence. Learn more at the website listed above.

Linda Lael Miller Scholarships
Linda’s scholarships are awarded annually to women who are 25 years or older, non-traditional students who have a difficult time finding scholarships for which they qualify. As in previous years, the scholarship funds may be used not only for tuition and books, but also for childcare, transportation and other expenses not covered by traditional scholarships. Find additional information and to download the application form, please visit the website listed above.

Women's Independence Scholarship Program (WISP)
The Women’s Independence Scholarship Program, Inc. began as a program of The Sunshine Lady Foundation and provides scholarships to women survivors of intimate partner abuse who are changing their lives through education. WISP was created in 1999 with the primary intent to help single mothers with young children who have the greatest financial challenges to gain work skills so they can support their families. Funds target women who are in desperate financial situations and absolutely must have both an education and supplemental funds to assist them. Find additional information and/or download the application form at the website above, or call the program at 910-397-7742.

Promote Financial Literacy & Vocational Training

National Financial Educators Council
The National Financial Educators Council (NFEC) is an independent organization that teaches best practices in financial literacy, and is “focused on providing practical, real world, education solutions that empower participants with the knowledge they need to make the right financial decisions.“ The NFEC offers training programs to individuals interested in teaching financial literacy to others. Those individuals interested in teaching financial literacy can receive financial literacy certification training through the NFEC. For detailed information on NFEC’s Certified Financial Education Instructor coursework, please visit the website listed above.

Purple Purse is designed as an online shopping magazine, but its real purpose is to encourage people to talk openly about domestic violence and financial abuse. Since research shows that the issue of domestic violence is difficult to discuss, this site was created to make it easier to bring up the subject.

Work4Women, a project of Wider Opportunities for Women, provides “tools, strategies and a community to help increase women and girls' integration and retention in high-wage jobs that are considered nontraditional for women.” The project is an excellent resource for individuals interested in assisting survivors of domestic violence in attaining these types of career opportunities. Included on the above website are links to helpful resources, one of which is entitled “Work 4 Women Resources for Seeking Nontraditional Occupations.” This resource includes comprehensive information and advice regarding pre-vocational training, tips to find and obtain high-wage nontraditional employment, and addressing challenges to obtaining and remaining in these careers.


Many survivors in shelter are recovering from acute physical, mental, and emotional trauma at the hands of their abusers. Survivors are therefore often in need of wellness and healthcare services, including but not limited to therapy, rehabilitation due to an injury or acquired disability, and general medical examinations. Learn more about the preventive health services offered to women under the ACA on this FVPSA Fact Sheet: The Affordable Care Act and Women’s Health. The NRCDV, working with key partners, has developed a special collection of resources that address the intersection of Domestic Violence and Healthcare.

Support existing health/wellness related awareness programs and medical services for those injured as a direct result of experiencing domestic violence. Futures Without Violence has created an online toolkit of resources and materials for providers, health plan administrators, domestic violence victim advocates, and others seeking to implement effective strategies to identify and support victims of violence. Visit the Health Cares About IPV: Intimate Partner Violence Screening and Counseling Toolkit for more information.

Survivors can also benefit from engaging in activities that are designed to nurture and relax the mind and body, such as experiencing healing touch after they have been exposed repeatedly to damaging touch and physical abuse. Many survivors view self care as a luxury they cannot afford or are not entitled to as many victims of abuse are often forced to put the needs of their abuser before their own.

How can someone skilled in personal care and wellness help?

Raise Awareness at the Hair Salon

Many survivors of abuse are not able to maintain a professional hair style or cannot afford salon appointments to help maintain their hair and help with a professional appearance. Some abusers will viscously pull their victims hair, cut out or pull out chunks of hair, beat them about the head, or cause other damage to their scalp and hair. This may impact a survivors ability to appear professional in the workplace or at job interviews, and may impact her overall self-esteem. A hair dresser that actively supports the growth and healing of survivors can promote and create survivors' access to self care activities, in this case, hair care, scalp massage and professional grooming. Hair dressers can lift up spirits and increase self-esteem, while at the same time ensuring that survivors have a professional hair style that can be an important piece in their journey to find employment and start a life free of violence.

There are a number of salon facilities across the country joining in the fight against domestic violence. CUT IT OUT is a program of the Salons Against Domestic Abuse Fund started in 2002 in Alabama and quickly taken to the national level. The program is “dedicated to mobilizing salon professionals and others to fight the epidemic of domestic abuse in communities across the United[ing] awareness of domestic abuse and train[ing] salon professionals to recognize warning signs and safely refer clients to local resources.”

Individuals employed by salons can call (866) 871-0656 for more information on how to introduce the program into their own facilities. Moreover, individuals can make a donation to the program by sending a check to: Salons Against Domestic Abuse Fund, 15825 N. 71st Street, Suite 100, Scottsdale, AZ 85254. Please visit the website listed above for more information.

Hairdressers Take a Stand Against Domestic Violence | HTML HTML
by National Public Radio (December 8, 2008)
This podcast spotlights New York hairdressers who are partnering to fight domestic violence by learning the warning signs and extending help to clients who may be suffering in silence by participating in the Beauty Salon Awareness Project. + View Summary

It Takes Guts To End Abuse Campaign
In addition to helping raise money for local domestic violence shelters through participation in the “It Takes Guts” campaign by Beauty Brands, salon professionals can become involved on a personal level by donating directly to their local shelter, by providing supplies for shelter clients and by volunteering. The “It Takes Guts” campaign was created not only to raise money for the cause but also to raise awareness of domestic violence and offer solutions for those in need. Useful links and information are provided year-round for those who need help and those who want to help at, including local, state and national crisis telephone numbers.

Screen for Abuse and Refer

Domestic Violence Screening Tips, Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness
Doctors in private practice can offer free health screenings to survivors, and can also partner with shelters by providing check-ups, gynecological health screenings, and fulfillment of pharmacy needs onsite. Doctors unable to conduct exams at shelters can still collaborate with them by providing transportation to and from shelters, so that survivors can be seen in fully equipped offices. For more information on screening for signs of domestic violence, please visit the above website. A link to a PDF entitled “Domestic Violence Screening Tips” can be found under the heading “Handouts for Health Care Providers.”

Futures Without Violence
Futures Without Violence (FWV) works to prevent and end violence against women and children around the world, and is the recognized national technical assistance provider on health issues affecting survivors of domestic violence. FWV trains professionals, including doctors and nurses, on improving responses to violence and abuse. Please visit the website above to find resources such as an interpersonal violence screening and counseling toolkit and information on the National Health Resource Center on Domestic Violence. Take Action with five simple steps designed to improve the lives of patients.

The Healthcare Response to Domestic Violence: Information for Healthcare Providers | PDF PDF (16 p.)
by the Maryland Health Care Coalition Against Domestic Violence (2011)
This guide for health care providers conveys important information related to addressing domestic violence in health care facilities. Topics include preparing the healthcare facility, screening in a medical setting, indicators of abuse, pregnancy, reporting and confidentiality, and documentation. + View Summary

Donate to Medical Programs Specific to Survivors

FACE TO FACE (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence)
FACE TO FACE is a program that was started in 1994 by the Educational and Research Foundation for the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. The FACE TO FACE Program offers facial plastic and reconstructive surgery to domestic violence survivors to repair injuries on the face, head and neck caused by an intimate partner or spouse. The toll-free number for the FACE TO FACE Program is 1-800-842-4546. NCADV works closely in partnership with this program to assist survivors of domestic violence who cannot afford the cosmetic and reconstructive surgery and dentistry needed to repair the injuries they have received from an intimate partner.

Give Back A Smile (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence)
Give Back A Smile (GBAS) is a program that was started in 1999 by the National Humanitarian Program of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD) and the AACD Charitable Foundation. The GBAS Program offers cosmetic dentistry to domestic violence survivors to repair injuries to the front teeth in the "smile zone" caused by an intimate partner or spouse. The toll-free number for the GBAS Program is 1-800-773-GBAS (4227). NCADV works closely in partnership with this program to assist survivors of domestic violence who cannot afford the cosmetic and reconstructive surgery and dentistry needed to repair the injuries they have received from an intimate partner.


As technology advances, so does the use of technology as a means of abuse. Abusers may use or deny access to technology to maintain control over and monitor survivors' lives. They may hide cell phones, tablets and computers, or threaten to harm their victims for using those devices and other forms of technology without their knowledge or permission. Abusers may prevent survivors from having contact with friends and family through these means, and survivors may avoid using technology because of the risk of being monitored. Even more importantly, survivors are often unable to use technology to plan for their safety – as a means to access emergency contacts and resources.

How can someone with a technology background help?

Teach Basic Tech Skills

Many survivors of domestic violence need training on the use of computers and other technology. Due to the isolation and control often exercised by abusers, many survivors have not had much experience using the Internet. Survivors residing in shelters are able to seek various services and resources online, such as employment opportunities. Individuals well versed in technology are encouraged to donate their time by teaching a computer skills class to survivors. Volunteer instructors can assists survivors with computer basics including resource searching and information management, using applications like Word, Excel, and email, and privacy protection and security, depending on individual needs.

Train on Safe Use of Social Media

Many survivors of domestic violence have been, and continue to be, stalked, harassed, and violated through the misuse of social media. In the wake of these incidents, more and more women are discouraged from using social media and networking in positive, enjoyable, and helpful ways. It is imperative that survivors feel safe and empowered to utilize social media. Not only can social networking help survivors feel reconnected with the world from which they were most likely once isolated, these channels can also connect survivors with systems of support.

Individuals well versed in social media and networking tools can reach out to domestic violence organizations and women’s shelters to offer education on the safe and appropriate use of these platforms. Recommended topics include managing privacy settings on social networking sites, adding security options to mobile devices, understanding methods of surveillance such as GPS tracking, and managing password protected accounts. Those engaged in Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels can also connect to anti-violence organizations and share information and resources that may be helpful to survivors within their own networks. Learn more by visiting VAWnet’s special collection, Safety & Privacy in a Digital World.

Social Networking & Privacy Tips for Domestic & Sexual Violence Programs | PDF PDF (1 p.)
by the NNEDV SafetyNet Project (2010)
This one page handout introduces a few important safety risks and confidentiality considerations for advocates and organizations participating in social media. + View Summary

The Safety Net Project
A project of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), the Safety Net Project addresses how technology impacts the safety, privacy, accessibility, and civil rights of survivors through education, training and advocacy. In addition to conducting trainings through the Safety Net Project, NNEDV has created a wealth of resources to help individuals learn about and respond to the many ways that technology impacts survivors of domestic violence.

WSCADV Technology Safety Project
In response to the technology needs of survivors, the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence launched the Technology Safety Project in 2005. This program was designed to educate domestic violence and sexual assault advocates about the benefits and risks of technology, with the ultimate goal of helping survivors access needed resources and plan for their safety. To access their Survivor’s Guide to Technology Safety guide, contact the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault at 360.754.758.

Donate Tech Equipment

The Verizon Wireless Hopeline encourages customers to mail in or deliver their old cell phones and equipment, which are then reprogrammed or refurbished through environmentally safe means and delivered to survivors. Individuals can send in their own phones and advise their friends, family, and co-workers to do the same. On a larger scale, individuals can organize a phone drive by advertising and gathering phones to send to Verizon that are ultimately delivered to shelters for use by survivors. Click here for more information on phone drives.

Individuals can help survivors of domestic violence access valuable information and resources by simply donating computers, tablets or other tech equipment to their local domestic violence shelter. Survivors who have left their abusers, or are on the run, can benefit from the use of devices such as global positioning systems (GPS) or home alarm systems. In 2010 a medical student named Maria Georgen created Safety PACS (Preventing and Confronting Stalking) after her sister was the victim of a stalker. Safety Pacs provides victims with free backpacks that contain cellphones, door-stop alarms, personal emergency alert devices and a book about stalking and safety planning.

Fund Technology Projects

Technology impacts the safety, privacy, accessibility, and civil rights of survivors. Initiatives like Safety Net, highlighted above, address these impacts through education, training and advocacy with support from funders including Verizon. With these funds, NNEDV has been able to recruit and train a network of technology safety advocates at domestic and sexual violence coalitions who are ultimately available to help determine how technology impacts survivors in different communities.

Be a Program Volunteer | Back to top

Becoming a volunteer can be an impactful and fulfilling experience. There are a large number of volunteer opportunities at local domestic violence programs and in the communities they serve. Often there is a lot of work to do, but not enough staff to complete it all. Sorting donations, answering phones, cleaning, landscaping, and leading support groups are just a few of the volunteer options that might be available at your local program.

If you are considering becoming a volunteer there are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • Training on the basics of domestic violence as well as background checks can seem overwhelming, but is important and necessary before you start to volunteer. Domestic violence shelters have rules and guidelines that are easy to follow that can reduce the likelihood that a victim will be found by her abuser.
  • Because confidentiality is extremely important, you might not be able to work directly with clients.
  • Your job as a volunteer may not seem like much, but it can provide a valuable opportunity for staff to sit down for lunch or dinner, complete a report, or have an uninterrupted talk with a shelter resident.

What roles can a program volunteer play?

Administrative Support

Many domestic violence programs lack sufficient clerical support. In most cases the available staff has to focus on making sure the crisis line or phone lines are answered and that the front desk is staffed at all times. Because of this, non-emergency clerical tasks may often be put aside. As an administrative support volunteer, you could assist your local program by performing numerous administrative tasks such as filing, copying, data entry, record keeping, stuffing envelopes, article & photo archiving and other general daily office duties.

Group Counselor/Facilitator

Domestic violence is a traumatizing experience. Having the opportunity to speak to a counselor helps survivors process feelings, thoughts and fears. Many local domestic violence programs are fortunate to have licensed counselors on staff that can provide individual or group therapy to help survivors process traumatic memories or experiences on their journey towards healing. However, many programs lack the necessary funding to hire counselors to meet all the program participants' needs.

A volunteer shelter counselor can provide support to staff, help facilitate/co-facilitate group or individual counseling, lead art therapy sessions, and provide support and advocacy to women and their children residing in the shelter. These individuals may be licensed counselors, clinical social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists or other active or retired mental health professionals that have a passion for the cause. They possess much needed skills that include: talking with survivors in crisis, performing suicide risk assessments, offering individual or group therapy, addiction counseling, life transition support, mental health assessments, and developing treatment plans.

The National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma and Mental Health has developed many materials that provide tools and information for mental health providers on how to be responsive to domestic violence. The Special Collection, Trauma-Informed Domestic Violence Services offers guidance on this practice.

Hotline Operator

Most domestic violence programs manage a 24-hour hotline. Hotlines are the primary means of contact for victims of abuse and others in crisis needing information and support. Volunteers are trained to answer hotline calls, assist callers with safety planning, accessing shelter, or other services, and making community referrals. Some agencies may offer hotline volunteers the ability to work from home and shifts may be as short as one hour.

If you would like to learn more about the experience of being a hotline operator, read A Day in the Life of a Domestic Violence Hotline Operator from Verizon Wireless. This interview highlights the experiences of the Director of Hotline Services for the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Translator or Interpreter

Translators and interpreters help break language barriers that prevent many from accessing much needed services. Interpreters and translators are an integral part of any organization that provides services to diverse populations. An interpreter in a domestic violence program can enable effective communication not necessarily by translating every word, but by conveying the ideas that are expressed in a way that is socio-culturally accurate. Translators can help enhance the accessibility of documentation and outreach materials by offering culturally appropriate translations. Some of the responsibilities of a translator or interpreter include acting as a liaison between non-English speaking, Deaf, or hard of hearing clients and advocates during intakes, counseling sessions, or court hearings or translating forms, documents, and outreach or training materials.

Language Access and Domestic Violence: Communicating with Limited English Proficient Individuals | PDF PDF (3 p.)
by Encuentro Latino (2011)
This document provides recommendations for service providers for working with domestic violence survivors with limited English proficiency. Ethical and legal considerations are discussed, as well as tips for working with interpreters. + View Summary

Resource Guide for Advocates & Attorneys on Interpretation Services for Domestic Violence Victims | PDF PDF (122 p.)
by Chic Dabby and Cannon Han for the Asian & Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence (August 2009)
These guidelines from the Interpretation Technical Assistance and Resource Center focus on court interpretation for domestic and sexual violence victims with limited English proficiency. + View Summary

For more resources on interpreters and translation, see the Special Collections Violence in the Lives of the Deaf or Hard of Hearing and Domestic Violence in Latin@ Communities.

Event Planner

Volunteer event planners can organize special events for women and children receiving services from the local domestic violence program or for the communities they serve. Examples may include pizza parties, talent shows, job fairs, and health fairs. An event planner can also help with fundraisers and commemorative events to raise community awareness about sexual and domestic violence.

For guidance on how to organize awareness events visit the Domestic Violence Awareness Project (DVAP). The page includes a section about key considerations, a searchable events database, and instructional handouts for event replication.


If you are a savvy shopper you can volunteer as a weekly shopper for your local safe house. Since the majority of shelter residents are in an undisclosed location for their safety, the staff usually does all the household shopping. As a volunteer shopper you can help alleviate some of the workload for the safe house staff.

A volunteer shopper may collect grocery lists and grocery gift cards from the safe house staff, research where to find the best prices for the needed items, and then purchase them. The volunteer shopper must be able to make independent decisions regarding the cost and brands of food items. For example, selecting an alternative brand or close substitute of a food request if there is a sale option available, or substituting an item when a requested item is unavailable. For more information on the food-related needs of survivors in shelter, access the NRCDV TA Guidance, Domestic Violence and the Holidays: What's Cooking?

Child Advocate

Childcare is among some of the most important needs of survivors of domestic violence. In one study conducted in Kansas at the Docking Institute of Public Affairs, a significant correlation was found between not getting services and not having access to childcare (Zollinger et al., 2007). Research suggests that early childhood intervention can help to prevent or reverse early harm to young children from exposure to domestic violence (Cohen & Knitzer, 2004). Volunteer child advocates can support and reinforce the parenting role of the survivor, and promote effective coping that might reduce the need for child placement or for more formal mental health interventions.

Individuals with an interest or background in working with children can consider donating their time and services by volunteering as a child advocate at a domestic violence organization or appropriate childcare center in their area. Activities may include leading storytime or playtime, facilitating support groups, coordinating field trips or outings, producing a talent or art show, or helping to organize a summer camp program for children exposed to domestic violence. Before working or volunteering, individuals who have little to no experience in the domestic violence arena are strongly encouraged to connect with their local domestic violence programs to learn more about this kind of work.

How can I help a child exposed to domestic violence?
The TA Question of the Month for January 2013 explains how you could be the person that makes a key difference in the life of a child exposed to domestic violence, and provides key resources for supporting that process. The April/May 2013 eNewsletter: Focus on Children highlights ways that individuals can help build brighter futures for children.

Honor Our Voices: Children’s Perspectives of Domestic Violence | HTML HTML
by the Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse (MINCAVA) and the University of Minnesota Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare with support from the AVON Foundation for Women (October 2011)
This online learning module features the diaries of three children in different age groups, sharing their experiences of exposure to domestic violence and offering related best practice themes for shelter advocates and other social service providers. Includes a downloadable guide for practice and a digital library of short audio programs. + View Summary

Pet Care

Many domestic violence programs are unable to provide shelter for pets. Because of this, survivors may delay their decision to leave their abuser or return to their abuser in fear for the welfare of their pets or livestock (Ascione, 2007). Pet sitters can provide support for those programs that are not equipped to handle pets. Volunteer sitters can provide alternatives to giving up a beloved pet, leaving a pet behind in a potentially dangerous environment. Some shelters are equipped to accept families along with their pets through the SAF-T™ program, Sheltering Animals and Families Together. Volunteers at these programs can help with meeting pets' basic needs and by keeping the living facilities clean and comfortable for pets.

Sheltering Animals and Families Together (SAF-T)
Sheltering Animals & Families Together (SAF-T)™ is the first and only initiative guiding domestic violence shelters on how to house families together with their pets. The SAF-T™ Start-Up Manual sets forth three housing styles and answers questions about how to safely house pets on-site at a domestic violence shelter.

Sheltering Animals and Families Together | mp4 [1:41:29]
by Allie Phillips, Sheltering Animals and Families Together Program (SAF-T Program), hosted by the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (2013)
This webinar describes the linkage between the urgent need to protect domestic violence victims and their pets from further abuse and the comfort that pets can provide, especially in times of stress and trauma. + View Summary

Safe Havens, a Project of the Animal Welfare Institute
View the Safe Havens Mapping Project for Pets of Domestic Violence Victims. The entities included in this listing either provide sheltering services for the companion animals of domestic violence victims, have a relationship with an entity that does, or provide referrals to such facilities.

Public Speaker

Public speakers can help educate the community and normalize the conversation about domestic violence by presenting information on the issue and services provided by local programs. Local programs may invite speakers to present at various community outreach events including health fairs, local seminars or conferences, and other community-wide events.

Speakers who identify as survivors can offer a unique perspective that can be particulary impactful. With guidance and support from a local domestic violence program, survivor speakers can gain the tools needed to deliver a powerful and hopeful message to the community.

From the Front of the Room: A Survivor’s Guide to Public Speaking | PDF PDF (24 p.)
by the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV) (September 2011)
This guide provides a basic overview of the issues that face survivors who desire to speak publicly about their experiences with intimate partner violence. It provides guidance for the survivor speaker to maximize their physical and emotional safety and ensure the overall success of the speaking engagement. + View Summary

NO MORE is a national campaign and unifying symbol designed to galvanize greater awareness and action to end domestic violence and sexual assault. NO MORE encourages people to speak out against violence and harassment in families, communities, workplaces, and schools by saying "No More." The NO MORE website provides access to an activist toolkit.

It's Time to Talk Day
Hosted by Break the Cycle's Love Is Not Abuse Campaign, It’s Time To Talk Day is an annual awareness day that aims to generate conversations about healthy relationships and prevent teen dating violence and abuse. Resources and tools to faciltiate discussion include a Conversation Guide and Talk-a-Thon Guide.

HELP AT THE DV Thrift Shop | Back to top

Many domestic violence programs have thrift stores as a source of income. People in the community may donate clothing, home goods, furniture, and other items for resale. These items are resold and in most cases 100 percent of the proceeds generated by the store fund the critical services provided to survivors of domestic violence.

In many cases, families accessing program services can shop for free in the program-run store using a voucher system. Many victims and survivors that seek services from a domestic violence program come to a safe house with only the clothing that they are wearing. The stores provide a dignified option for survivors to select items they prefer in order to start a new life.

Fashion Retail

Having experience in fashion retail can be an asset for the domestic violence retail/thrift shop. Volunteers can sort and price donations according to the value of the items. They have a keen eye for brands and are able to identify if an item is in good condition for resale. Volunteers at the store can also help with running the cash register and greeting guests. In addition to assisting clients to find clothing that fits and looks good, volunteers can keep the store organized and stocked. Other responsibilities may include retail sales assistance to customers, set up/take down of merchandise displays and creating, planning, and implementing promotional and sales events.

Donations Management

Local domestic violence programs retail/thrift shops receive numerous donated items each day. Volunteers may be in charge of receiving and sorting these donations, assisting with inventory, sorting, laundry, moving, organizing, and stacking donations. These volunteers may also retrieve donations from donors' homes or other pick-up locations. Volunteers responsible for donations management may also run donor drives or other initiatives to promote giving.


A person with sewing experience can assist retail/thrift shops in making minor repairs on quality garments such as fixing buttons, seam repair, or other alterations. They can also provide tailoring for garments purchased by the safe house residents in order for them to obtain a proper fit.


Interior Designers or Decorators

Many families impacted by domestic violence find themselves spending weeks to months in a domestic violence safe house before securing a permanent home. Domestic violence shelters are responsible for offering a space that is comfortable and safe to survivors and their families. In A Safe Place to Start Over: The Role of Design in Domestic Violence Shelters, Sarah M. Kesler explains the importance of having spaces that promote a sense of security, privacy, and a sense of “home” and comfort. Programs can think about elements that strengthen these concepts in order to accommodate victims’ needs while staying in shelter. The reality is that many domestic violence programs don't have the funding to hire interior designers and decorators. As a volunteer interior designer or decorator, you can assist programs in creating a thoughtful design that dignifies survivors by meeting their needs.

In 2006, the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence began developing the Building Dignity Project. This project aspires to show that through the design and collaboration process, domestic violence housing programs can shape their environment to reflect and compliment their mission and values. The Building Dignity Project serves as a common reference for anyone involved in building or designing emergency housing for survivors and their families: advocates, fundraisers, architects, designers, and builders.


Many find gardening to be a therapeutic experience. Gardening activities that involve survivors in all phases of horticulture – from planting, tending, and/or selling products – can be a means of income as well as a coping mechanism and healing strategy for survivors.

The Green House 17
A community driven and community supported domestic violence organization in Kentucky, the GreenHouse17, provides each program participant with the opportunity to work on a farm. What makes GreenHouse17 truly special is the opportunity to be out in the fresh air on a beautiful 40-acre farm, growing flowers and fruits, vegetables and herbs while growing strong in body and mind. Residents can harvest herbs, create produce baskets, bottle honey and make floral bouquets for sale. These activities have been proven to be both satisfying and a boost to self-esteem of each participant.

If you are an avid gardener thinking about volunteering, we recommend you to take a look at the document Guidelines for Starting a Horticultural Therapy Program by Partnering with Volunteers by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension.

Planting and maintaining a Tribute Garden is a great way to remember those that have been affected by domestic violence as well as bring awareness to the cause. This permanent tribute can serve as an important reminder that domestic violence exists and that the lives devastated by domestic violence should be remembered with dignity, love, and respect. Volunteer gardeners can also assist with attending to landscaping around the memorial garden, safe house, and administrative offices.

Handy Workers

A volunteer handy worker can help provide a well-maintained, safe environment at a domestic violence program. Some of the ways a handy worker can make a difference is by painting, helping with minor plumbing issues, performing minor repairs, cleaning for special events, and taking on other tasks related to facility maintenance.