Historical Growth of Domestic Violence Shelters in U.S.

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Shelters for abused woman were rapidly established in the U.S. in the early 1980s. Through the sponsorship of an Al-Anon group, Haven House, the first shelter for abused women in the U.S., opened in Pasadena, California, in 1964. Shelters for abused women numbered less than 10 in 1974, and 79 by 1979.^ In a 1985 Senate hearing on “Recommendations Proposed to Help Victims of Violence Resulting from Health-Related Crimes.” Dr. Anne H. Flitcraft, New Haven, CT, Chair of the Workshop on Prevention of Spouse Abuse, testified:

since 1972, over 700 shelters for battered women have opened their doors in the United States. These shelters have largely been started by battered women, for battered women; they are a grassroots movement. They arise from the community.^

In a book published in 1991, Evan Stark and Flitcraft stated:

In the effort to prevent domestic violence, the Battered Women’s Movement has been unique in its community base, in the importance of abused women in its development, and in its attempt to combine direct service to victims with “empowerment.” The emergence of almost 1,000 shelters for battered women in the United States since the early 1970s has probably been the single most important stimulus to the response of lawmakers, service providers, and researchers (101). In 1988, these shelters provided emergency services to an estimated 350,00 women.^

{ref. 101} Schechter S. Women and male violence. Boston: South End Press, 1982.

In 1993 in Salt Lake City, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary held hearings on “Violent crimes against women.” Kimberly K. Hornak of the Salt Lake County Attorney’s Office testified:

There are presently 1,200 shelters throughout the Nation for abused women and 3,800 shelters for animals. Now, I’m a bigger animal lover than probably anyone in the room, but I think that’s a sad commentary on our society when we have three times as many shelters for animals than we do for women.^ ^

The 2004 National Directory of Domestic Violence Programs listed 1,980 domestic violence agencies.^ Data are also available services provided to domestic violence victims and hotlines and shelter beds per 100,000 women ages 15 and older in the U.S. from 1976 to 1996.

Domestic violence shelters are strongly associated with the movement to protect abused women. While hundreds of thousands of men per year are victims of serious domestic violence, gender stereotyping has prevailed for decades in public discussion of domestic violence. Almost no domestic violence shelters have been created for men. Domestic violence shelters in practice provide separate and unequal victims services for women and men.

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