A research study conducted by Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) and supported by Institut Wanita Berdaya (IWB) Selangor suggests there is an urgent need to increase the quantity and standards of domestic violence shelters in Selangor.
International best practices recommend a minimum of one family place in a women’s shelter per 10,000 people. Malaysia only has an estimated one family place per 72,538 people.
“We know that the number of shelters in Malaysia is inadequate. There are only 10 domestic violence shelters in the state of Selangor, for a population of around 6.5 million,” said WAO executive director Sumitra Visvanathan.
Despite this, available government-run shelters are not fully used by domestic violence survivors in need, suggesting a gap in existing response and referral mechanisms as well as services provided.
While the four-year average for domestic violence cases reported to the police for 2013-2016 was 4,935, only 38 women survivors on average used shelters run by Social Welfare Department (JKM) each year.
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“This discrepancy is worrying, since this suggests that many survivors are not getting access to temporary safe places,” said Sumitra.
The WAO research found that, while NGO shelters are often at or over capacity, JKM-run shelters are under-used. This divergence could be attributed to the more stringent intake criteria of the JKM shelters – which require filing a police report – or from rhese shelters being closed, meaning survivors are not free to come and go. Without this freedom of movement, survivors cannot go to work and their children cannot attend school during their stay in the shelter.
The WAO study also found that shelters vary widely in their intake criteria, services provided, security standards, and quality. This restricts domestic violence survivors’ choices and thus their ability to leave the abusive home.
Based on the findings of its study, WAO recommends that the government introduce minimum operating standards for shelters.
“Minimum operating standards would ensure that when a survivor seeks shelter to escape an abusive situation, the type and quality of service she receives does not vary substantially based on where she goes,” explained WAO senior research and advocacy officer Natasha Dandavati.
Another recommendation based on the research findings is for the government to provide sustained funding for shelters to increase the availability and quality of shelters for domestic violence survivors.
The researchers suggest that the government implement financial aid programmes for survivors and facilitate institutionalised collaboration between NGOs and first responders such as JKM and the police.
“The government and NGOs must work together to ensure that domestic violence survivors get the assistance and protection they need,” said Sumitra. “Close collaboration between key stakeholders and the availability of quality shelter services is critical – without this, many women are forced to remain in abusive situations.”