January 26, 2018 Breaking Barriers in DV, Domestic Violence and Disabilities Tags: 0 Comments

In this article, Freedom House team members explore methods for measuring safety.

Individuals and families fleeing domestic violence can find safety and support at BFL’s Freedom House Emergency Shelter—but their life-long journey to living a ‘safe’ life free of abuse only begins there.

A key component of the overall healing experience at Freedom House involves comprehensive safety planning. Whether it’s developing a preparedness plan (always know where vital identification information and important phone numbers are); or building an inner knowledge of red flag warning signs (a new partner is acting in a way that’s signaling potential abuse), safety planning is crucial.

In 2011 Freedom House partnered with Dr. Alisha Ali, Associate Professor of Applied Psychology at New York University to develop new, state of the art methods to measure safety.

An interdisciplinary team was formed including directors, social workers, housing/entitlements staff, and occupational therapists. The team conducted focus groups over a period of two months with residents and staff to identify attitudes, skills and behaviors related to five areas of safety: travel, electronic (such as cell phone, GPS, stalking devices, computers, internet use, facebook, twitter), finances, location, and safety in relationships.

Working together and focusing on these five targeted areas of safety, the team developed a unique safety survey. (For more on the safety survey: [email protected]).

The survey is completed by a Freedom House resident at several points during their 135 day stay, including:

Within the first two weeks of arrival at Freedom House

After being at Freedom House for 8 weeks
During their week of discharge
When they return to Freedom House for a support group called “Beyond Freedom”. This group focuses on maintaining safety after leaving a domestic violence shelter.
As a resident completes each survey, the Freedom House team evaluates the responses, measuring the level of understanding and comprehension around safety. The survey is reviewed with the resident to discuss their knowledge of safety and how it has evolved.


Clara entered Freedom House with her three young children—ages ten, seven and four—to flee an abusive relationship.

Throughout the years Clara had relied on support from her mother-in-law (Ms. B) who was very close to the children. When Clara finally left her abusive husband after 12 years and entered Freedom House she was very angry, confused, and felt alone. She had lost immediate contact with her support system (which included Ms. B and friends) because she could not disclose Freedom House’s confidential location.

One of her greatest supports had been her mother in law (Ms. B). Ms. B helped Clara in many ways. She was the primary caregiver in the home when Clara was at work. Ms. B also helped pay some of the bills and bought the children basic needs such as food when Clara was struggling with money.

Ms. B, however, was aware of the abuse and condoned her son’s behavior, sometimes even blaming Clara for being hit. When Ms B. found out that Clara left the home she was constantly calling Clara on her cell phone asking her to re-consider the separation.

Clara knew that returning home would be very dangerous. In spite of being aware of the intense abuse, Ms. B continued calling and began to harass Clara. This made Clara feel depressed and confused.

Working with her Freedom House counselor, Clara acknowledged that safety was a crucial part of her new journey. She noted that she had become increasingly uncomfortable traveling around town in fear of being found. Her husband had made threats to kidnap the children.

Clara was one of the Freedom House “safety survey” focus group participants. When the team looked at the first survey Clara completed, it was noted that she scored low in the areas of electronic and travel safety.

Through individual counseling and domestic violence support groups Clara learned how to stay safe in her travels. She chose to not use the train her abuser frequented and she changed her phone number for electronic safety.

When the team looked at the second survey eight weeks into her stay, Clara had scored higher in the areas of travel and electronics which indicated a better comprehension of safety guidelines. When Clara was discharged from Freedom House she was more assertive, empowered and knowledgeable around safety.

Clara attended the Beyond Freedom support group where she continued to learn how to stay safe while living in her new community.

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