Published: April, 2012| Kenya Fairley, Edited by Stephanie Avalon

While a number of shelter programs over the years have worked to address the complexity of rules and rule-making, the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence (MCADSV) took this work to the next level in 2007 by developing the Shelter Rules Project.

The project engaged shelter leaders from seven regions that comprise Missouri. Participants met and agreed to work toward reducing rules or implementing a voluntary services approach at their respective shelters.

The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV) funded the creation of a publication, "How the Earth Didn’t Fly Into the Sun: Missouri’s Project to Reduce Rules in Domestic Violence Shelters," a how-to guide for coalitions and local victim advocacy programs. The guide captures the history of MCADSV’s Shelter Rules Project, provides examples of challenges and successes, and suggests practical ways to reduce or eliminate rules. The step-by-step approach of the project's manual makes it easy to start a dialogue within organizations.

The guide acknowledges that rule-making is a common response to issues or conflict that arise within institutions. Victim advocacy programs, including shelters, have become more institutionalized since their small volunteer, grassroots beginnings. Larger programs with paid staff now face greater regulations and scrutiny from funders and communities.

Meanwhile, the goal of a safe shelter is to provide women an experience of autonomy despite the constraints of a communal living environment. In shelters, rules may diverge from the primary goal of welcoming, supporting and advocating with victims of domestic violence. Such victims had often suffered complete control by their partners.

Sometimes shelter workers create rules in response to unique situations. Sometimes workers create rules out of frustration with the challenges and difficulties of managing a community living environment. On page 7 of the guide, “Abusive Power and Control Within the Domestic Violence Shelter” (also known as a “power and control wheel”) illustrates some problems that can arise with excessive rules.

The guide offers tools such as this wheel to help promote discussions on how to improve services and support for the purposes of empowerment-based and social change advocacy.

The wheel was created by The Survivor Project’s Emi Koyama and Lauren Martin to depict how domestic violence shelters might inadvertently abuse power and control over survivors who seek services from them. Koyama and Martin said the wheel is not meant to discount the “extremely important and life-saving work” performed daily in shelter programs.

Studies from 2009 and 2010 showed that shelters were meeting many of the needs of their residents, and that non-resident victim advocacy programs were also effective.

Other resources that have informed this work include articles available on the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence website in resources, under “Advocacy”:

  • How We Gave Up Curfew (and a lot of other rules, too)
  • Moving from Rules to Rights and Responsibilities
  • Rethinking Punitive Approaches to Shelter
  • Rules: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
  • Model Policy on Shelter Rules: General Recommendations Regarding Shelter Policies

To learn more about MCADSV’s work, see their website and ask about these publications:

  • Thoughtful Documentation: Model Forms for Domestic Violence Programs
  • The Missouri Model

To order copies of this publication or for technical assistance, please contact Kenya Fairley, NRCDV Program Director at kfairley@nrcdv.org or the NRCDV Technical Assistance Team at nrcdvta@nrcdv.org. To reach MCADSV, please call 573-634-4161, or email mocadsv@mocadsv.org.