When survivors of domestic violence seek support services in New York City, they are often asked to describe their past trauma multiple times as staff work to understand the case and assess eligibility. While frontline staff and caseworkers treat domestic-violence (DV) cases with care and sensitivity, the experience of answering staff questions can still be difficult for survivors.
In partnership with the NYC Human Resources Administration’s Office of Domestic Violence (DVS) and the NYC Mayor’s Office of Community Mental Health (OCMH), the Public Policy Lab conducted Shelter from Harm Phase 2, a two-month project exploring the needs and preferences of domestic-violence survivors around sharing their stories with service providers. This project built on an earlier phase of work that explored how to better track and minimize intimate-partner violence in New York City shelters. Both phases of Shelter from Harm received seed support from the National Endowment for the Arts’ Design program.
Over the course of research we spoke to survivors and staff in DV emergency shelters, Tier II shelters, and Family Justice Centers.
The goal of the project was to explore if survivors of domestic violence who use City services desired a digital tool that would allow them to capture and share their personal story without having to verbalize their experiences.
Throughout our research, we focused on two aspects of the story-telling experience: documentation and access. Specifically, the project explored two questions:
With the help of our partners at HRA DVS and OCMH, we were able to recruit participants at a variety of locations throughout the city. Our team spoke with survivors and staff in both DV emergency shelters and at longer-term Tier II shelters, as well as at Family Justice Centers, which are service centers located in each borough. All participants shared their needs when it comes to storing and using personal details of DV stories, as well as tools and services that might help staff to better support clients.
Overall, survivors reported that they would like a tool to help them document, store, and share their story. However, for survivors to use and trust any future tool, they have requirements around safety, accessibility features, data ownership, and staff training.
We asked survivors how many times they had to recount their DV experiences to staff over the course of their service journey. One survivor noted she had to tell her story over thirty times.
Based on our findings around survivors’ preferences, we identified a set of core needs and defined a necessary feature set for any future story-sharing tool. We also identified four additional concept areas, beyond a digital tool, to address survivors’ needs.
Survivors’ key needs include the following:
Based on survivor and staff needs, any digital tool developed in the future to help survivors capture and share their story should have, at minimum, the following four features:
Beyond developing a digital tool to reduce the requirement that survivors retell their stories, agencies and providers that support DV survivors also have other powerful opportunities to improve survivors’ experience of accessing services.
Improve Transparency During Intake Provide clarity to survivors on what information providers need to collect during intake and why.
Enable Record Sharing Give survivors the ability to control how their records are shared across providers.
Strengthen Cross-Provider Trauma-Informed Practices Ensure a consistent standard for trauma-informed care for survivors across providers and services.
Standardize and Expand What’s Working Invest in programs and tools that already exist and work, but that may not be standardized or widely implemented across the system.
These tool and service recommendations have been presented to HRA and OCMH to carry forward, as feasible given the very sensitive nature of this work. We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively to find ways to better support survivors of domestic violence.