Running a Shelter

We know that abusers often impose many rules on their partners, and that a primary harm of domestic violence is being robbed of one’s autonomy. We want to create environments where survivors can reclaim their autonomy, and feel secure without excessive rules and punitive systems that echo the abuser’s rules.

How to do this? Start by viewing this video that illustrates how domestic violence abusers impose rules on their intimate partners.

Then, ask yourself the questions below about your program’s rules and find out how other programs have made minimal rules work.

Finally, dig deeper with articles written by advocates, and explore our Building Dignity website, which focuses on design solutions to help minimize rules and maximize autonomy, security and advocacy.

Questions to ask yourself about program rules

  • Does this rule mirror the abuser’s control?
  • What problem are we trying to solve with this rule? Is this the least burdensome way to address this issue?
  • Is this rule consistent with our mission and core values regarding our shelter work?

View the full list of questions here.

What makes minimal rules work?

  • Survivor centered advocacy and conversation are valued over rule enforcement. Staff seeks to create conversations rather than impose consequences.
  • Rules have a clear connection to agency’s mission and core values.
  • The program makes time for routine reflection and re-evaluation.

See more about what makes minimal rules work here.

Dig deeper


For additional information and resources, including model protocols, forms, and policies for domestic violence shelters, visit our Shelter Support page.