Domestic Violence Shelters

No Guarantee

While going to a battered women's shelter can be a life-saving option for many victims, the shelter option may not work for you. Using the shelter network will be more complicated because your abuser is in law enforcement. Police officers have access to information, including the locations of local shelters and domestic violence agencies. Your batterer may remind you that he works closely with shelter staff. He may be assigned to the DV unit; he may even be on the shelter's board of directors. His message is clear: "Don't bother going to them, they know me; they won't believe you."

Valid Fears

There are serious limitations to what any shelter can offer. You may be very reluctant to confide in any advocate. Your fears are well-grounded:

Shelter Advantages

Shelter Disadvantages

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Shelter Intake Procedures

As you may already have learned, you can't just call a shelter and "reserve" a room. Shelters are usually filled to capacity. Shelter intake policies vary, but most shelters only take women who are in immediate physical danger.

Shelter staff are required to interview you on the phone to make sure that you are eligible for shelter services. The way you tell your story and how you answer their questions will determine whether you are accepted into the shelter. They usually ask you if there has been recent physical abuse and if you are in immediate danger. They may require you to have or to get an order of protection.

They will ask questions regarding your physical and mental health. Some shelters refuse to accept women who have a history of mental illness, substance abuse, or suicide attempts. They will also ask if you have any special needs and if you are on any medications.

They may ask questions about your abuser, including his occupation. They may hesitate accepting you because your abuser is in law enforcement. They may consider you a safety risk, or they may not want to damage their relationship with local law enforcement.

Staff will ask you if you have children with you. Many shelters do not take boys older than 12 years. It may be harder to find a shelter that has enough space to accommodate you if you have several children.

You may be refused services if your abuser has filed criminal charges against you or if he has an order of protection naming you as the perpetrator. Talk to an attorney or legal advocate about counter-petitioning for your own order of protection or vacating the abuser's Order.

If You Go

If you succeed in leaving your abuser, he may become obsessed with tracking you down. You and shelter staff must review the pros and cons of notifying local police. If there is reason to believe that they will extend "professional courtesy" to another officer and respond to his inquiries about your whereabouts, then the police should not be notified. If you both trust the local department to respond appropriately, then they should alert the police about your batterer's likely attempts to locate and harm you.

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As a victim of a police officer, your situation is very different than other domestic violence victims.

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Victim Handbook by Diane Wetendorf