Enhancement of safety and security of victims of domestic and partner violence in the safe houses in Serbia

Enhancement of safety and security of victims of domestic and partner violence in the safe houses in Serbia

The goal of the project “Enhancement of Safety of Women and Girls by Increasing Performance of Shelters for Victims of GBV and Domestic Violence,” which “Atina” implemented in 2023 with five safe houses in Kragujevac, Niš, Leskovac, Vranje, and Priboj, was to improve structural and functional standards of work within these safe houses. During the visits to safe houses, discussions with directors and professional workers, and direct insight into the existing situation, specific development plans for each safe house follow their actual needs. Activities were aimed at increasing the structural capacities of the safe houses, the visibility of service in the local community, the development of necessary support programs, and the improvement of service provision standards, both in terms of existing services and in the support needed for the operation of the safe houses.

Photo from the meeting held in Arandjelovac, "Safety of girls and women in public space," June 2023

Enhancement of structural and functional standards of safe houses

As the functioning and operation of safe houses largely depend on the local self-governments, this significantly influences the differences in their needs and possibilities of providing services in the local communities where the project was implemented. To improve the safety and security of women and children staying in safe houses, and under the conducted analyses and needs assessments, a partial adaptation and reconstruction of the safe houses was carried out. The adaptations and reconstructions of the safe houses included works aimed primarily at increasing the safety of all beneficiaries, creating a space tailored to the women and children who are staying there, as well as social workers. The scope of work varied depending on the safe house, from installing magnetic locks and sensors, reflectors, and other equipment, renovating the bathroom, building partition walls and protective fences, expanding the space to make better use of it, adapting the driveway to enable access for women with disabilities, to other necessary adaptations.

Creation of a package of internal documents and specialized support programs for safe houses

During the analyses of the conditions and needs of safe houses, one of the outstanding needs was the revision of existing and creation of new packages of internal documents, which would facilitate professional work but also enable the provision of clear and precise information to women and children about the institution they are entering after suffering trauma and other negative consequences of violence.

Following the expressed needs, “Atina” has, based on its twenty years of experience in running a safe house for women and girls victims of human trafficking, created and offered to all safe houses a set of internal documents they can adapt to their needs. Within this activity, the documents created were consent for data processing, information on the safe house for women and children, child protection policy within the safe house for women victims of domestic violence, as well as a document containing basic principles and procedures that are age-appropriate for children accommodated in the safe house. The prepared documents met with positive reactions and acceptance by representatives of safe houses. They emphasized informing children in a language adapted to their age and informing women in their mother tongue, Roma and Albanian, among others, as particularly important.

For the needs of safe houses, two specialized programs have been developed - An economic empowerment program intended for women with the experience of violence and Psychological counseling for women, which rely on Atina's twenty-year experience of providing these forms of assistance and support to women victims of violence. The economic empowerment program was developed to support women in gaining financial independence in a safe and supportive environment and the freedom to create their own lives. To achieve this, they need the support not only of professional workers in safe houses but also of the entire community. The representatives of safe houses are recognized as critical actors in the National Employment Service and various business entities that can employ women and provide different training and vocational education. However, women need more support from other institutions and private entities to the extent they need economic empowerment to increase their inclusion in the labor market. As a positive aspect during the presentation of the Economic empowerment document, it was pointed out that it will represent a starting point not only in the economic empowerment of women but also in advocating for the inclusion of other significant actors, primarily firms and companies at the local level that can provide employment, to a greater extent than has been the case so far.

As psychological support is a crucial element in empowerment, coping, and ways of dealing with trauma and the consequences of violence, which has its frameworks, ways, and reasons why it is implemented, the presented program of Psychological counseling for women with the experience of violence can be helpful for future approaches in the work of safe houses.

Flyers, info-leaflets, and posters were created within the project in different languages and placed in safe houses. They were also delivered to institutions such as centers for social work, health and educational institutions, and other public institutions. The campaigns were also carried out during the 16 Days of Activism, aimed at raising awareness of the existence of violence and its consequences, but also the responsibility of all members of society to recognize and report violence and help the victims as much as possible. 

This text was developed under the project “Safety of Women and Girls in Serbia,” implemented by UN Women Serbia in cooperation with the Coordination Body for Gender Equality and Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs, with the support of the British Embassy in Belgrade. The views in this text are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of UN Women and the British Embassy in Belgrade.