A special report

Victims of severe domestic violence are among the most vulnerable in our society. Thanks to the courageous efforts of tenacious advocates, an estimated 1,200 domestic violence shelters are now located throughout the United States.1 For domestic violence victims, these shelters are considered a bulwark for protection and treatment.
Without a doubt these shelters have done much good. But three decades after the first shelters were established, we need to ask: “Are these programs reaching the persons who are most in need? Are they providing the necessary services? And are they effective in helping victims break the cycle of violence?” This Special Report sheds light on these questions.
Far more troubling were the corrupt practices of Tiffany Carr, former director of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, who received $7.4 million over three years as part of her compensation package.2 As a result, the Florida Coalition had to be placed into legal receivership.3 The Miami Herald also revealed the experience of a former shelter worker who lamented, “I saw so much stuff that just wasn’t appropriate. It was physically making me sick.” The Herald noted it had received reports from “dozens of former domestic violence staffers who submitted hundreds of complaints.”4
This report is based on an extensive review of research articles and reports, interviews with former employees and residents of abuse shelters, analyses of federal tax returns, and an analysis of over 75 shelter websites. Information about the Economics of Abuse Shelters is found in Appendix A.

What is the historical origin of abuse shelters, and what happens within the confines of the shelter walls?
Historical Background
The first abuse shelters were established in the United States in the 1970s.5 These programs were established, often at great personal sacrifice, to provide refuge, safety, and comfort to the victims of intimate partner violence.
Over time, many shelters began to shift their focus.
Psychologist David Fontes recounts the experience of the woman who founded W.E.A.V.E. (Women Escaping a Violent Environment), a Sacramento domestic violence shelter established in the mid-1970s. “She told me that about two years after she started the shelter, she had to leave this place that she herself had founded,” Fontes explains. Why? Because “radical feminists got on their board of directors and replaced her family system approach of treatment with a gender-feminist model.”6
The gender-feminist model views domestic violence as a consequence of sexism in patriarchal society.7 Research portrays a far more complex reality, however.8

For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has compiled a listing of 29 risk factors for domestic violence.9 Only two of the factors relate to gender dominance.
Nonetheless, the gender-feminist ideology came to supplant the humanitarian and pragmatic focus of the early shelters. By 1988, a national survey found that 45% of shelters viewed their main role as promoting feminist political activism, while only 25% of shelters accorded first priority to providing treatment and support for victims of abuse.10
Services and Daily

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