Crisis rooms: assistance to the victims of domestic violence

The notion that domestic violence happens only in dysfunctional families is nothing more than a myth. People encounter it regardless of their position in society, education, and income level. Most commonly, women suffer from such violence, but what is even worse, the youngest and most defenseless family members– children– suffer from it, too.

Crisis room is a place equipped for the temporary round-the-clock residence of those who found themselves in a difficult situation. During their stay in the crisis room, those in need of protection are kept at the expense of the local budget, the funds derived from income-generating activities, donated (sponsored) assistance, and other sources not prohibited by law.

At the moment, the law does not limit the duration of stay in a crisis room (previously, the service was provided for up to 10 days, but could be extended by the decision of the center director). In practice, the average length of stay in such a room is about two weeks.

The development of the crisis rooms network is provided by the National Plan of Actions to Ensure Gender Equality in the Republic of Belarus for 2011-2015. Since the beginning of 2011, the number of such rooms has increased 3.5 times and in January 2016 there were 109 crisis rooms in the country (as of January 1, 2011, there were 31 crisis rooms). In the Viciebsk, Mahilioŭ and Minsk regions crisis rooms are open in all districts. The total number of beds counts 361, including 111 of those for children.

24/7 access to crisis rooms is ensured by informing the operators of the 102 police phone service about the phone numbers of the territorial centers’ of social services specialists that are responsible for rendering assistance to the victims, including during off-hours.

There is a national hotline for victims of domestic violence 8 801 100 8 801, which, according to Irina Alkhovka (NGO "Gender Perspectives"), has received 8,000 calls since the moment of its launch (August 2012), including  389 calls for the incomplete first 4 months of 2016. In 81% of the cases, those who call the hotline are the victims of domestic violence, in 17% those are relatives and friends who have witnessed domestic violence. In most cases, calls are received from married or divorced women aged 27-40 who have one (42%) or two (32%) children.

In 2015, 237 people (men, women, and children) were placed in crisis rooms, including 178 victims of domestic violence and 4 citizens who could suffer from trafficking or other related crimes. In 2014, those numbers were 175 and 124 respectively.

If necessary, public, international and religious associations are involved in rendering assistance to persons who benefit from the crisis room services.

As UNFPA Belarus Deputy Representative Elena Kasko noted, the success achieved in preventing and combating domestic violence in Belarus is the result of joint work of ministries, government agencies, intergovernmental and public organizations.

Currently, there is no specialized law on prevention of domestic violence in Belarus. Due to that, for example, divorced women and women who are in the divorce process and suffering from violence on behalf of their former partner are not considered as victims of domestic violence and therefore remain unprotected.

Nevertheless, the positive changes in the Belarusian legislation must be noted.

Article 29 of the Law “On Social Services” of 2013, among other forms of social services, provided the following:

  • residential social services—provision of social services in conditions of permanent or temporary round-the-clock stay (residence) in organizations rendering social services;
  • provision of social services at home; urgent social services—provision of urgent social services to citizens who find themselves in a situation that threatens their life and health.
  • Article 30 of the Law introduces a new type of social service that can be provided by state organizations (their structural subdivisions): a temporary shelter service as a temporary accommodation for citizens who do not have a fixed place of residence or who for objective reasons have lost the possibility of living at their place of residence or place of stay.

Decision of the Council of Ministers of December 27, 2012 No. 1218 (as amended on 02.03.2015 N 150) “On Some Issues of Social Services Provision” included temporary shelter services for human trafficking victims, persons affected by violence, terrorist acts, man-made disasters and natural disasters (para. 15) into the list of social services provided by the territorial centers of social services (TCSS). This service includes:

  • provision of a bed with a set of bed linen;

  • provision of personal hygiene products;

  • provision of drinks (drinking water, tea) and meals.

In pursuance of the Resolution of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus No. 1218, the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection in its Decree No. 31 of 12 May 2015 approved a new version of the Instruction “On the Procedure and Conditions for Rendering Services by State Social Service Institutions”. The Instruction Chapter 3 titled “The procedure and conditions for rendering social services by territorial centers” states that temporary shelter services are rendered as a part of the crisis room services created on the basis of the TCSS. This service qualifies under the category of urgent social services and is free of charge for human trafficking victims, victims of violence, terrorist acts, man-made disasters and natural disasters, as well as for citizens in difficult life situations (para. 18).

Paragraph 22 of the Instruction of the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection says that those in need of temporary shelter can be referred to by such agencies as labor, employment, and social protection, internal affairs, health care institutions, other state bodies and organizations. A decision to provide social services to a citizen (family) living in a crisis room 24/7 is taken by the head of the territorial center. The social services contract concluded with the distressed may be concluded without the following documents provided: an identity document and a formal document on the right to benefits for citizens that belong to the category of beneficiaries.

On April 19, UNICEF in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Belarus, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health, NGO “BAYCW”, NGO “Radislava”, NGO “Gender Perspectives”, NGO “Legal Initiative” and other stakeholders launched the national preventive action “Home Without Violence”. Within the framework of the action, citizens receive comprehensive information about the legal provisions in this field and services for victims of domestic violence. Read more here.