Use Of Shelters With PTSD And TBI Victims


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Quite soon after opening her shelter in Chiswick, London, England, Erin Pizzey realized she was dealing with abused women who usually fell into one of the following categories:

Scenario One: Women who accidentally become involved with a violent partner and now wish to leave and to never return again.

Scenario Two: Women who, for deep psychological reasons of their own, seek out a violent relationship, or a series of violent relationships, with no intention of leaving.

In addition to the two scenarios originally used it has become clear that there are women who must deal with trauma and injuries both of themselves and their intimate partners. The major areas that have come to our attention are sufferers of post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Most often in the early 21 st Century we see this among combat veterans but there are many other reasons why individuals might develop PTSD or TBI. Car accidents often result in TBI, the unexpected death of a loved one, as in the story below, or witnessing a violent crime may result in PTSD. As noted in a previous section, PTSD and TBI are not domestic violence although they may have many of the same manifestations. Women (and men) often need to seek help and shelter when their partners are experiencing episodes or flashbacks associated with their disability.

PTSD and TBI are not the only conditions we have seen in combat veterans where their intimate partners and children may need to find temporary shelter while treatment is obtained for the veteran. And, of course, such conditions as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder occur among the civilian population as well.

At present a frightened partner of someone with PTSD or TBI who calls the police for help all too often finds they or their partner, sometimes both, are arrested for domestic violence, a barbaric practice. While such arrests boosts the statistics for supposed "domestic violence," these are not criminal domestic violence. This despicable practice harms both partners and typically worsens the conditions of the sufferer for whom their partner sought help.

Would it not make infinitely more sense for shelters to provide services for women, and men, who came to them in times of such trouble? The safety of the partner and the children could be insured while treatment for the PTSD, TBI, or other condition was provided by such agencies as the Veterans Administration or from other community resources. However, that would require a major change in philosophy and ideology for most publicly-funded shelters today, where criminal DV charges, a protection order, and a divorce are routine, if not actually required before services will be provided.


An experiment in using a shelter to help with a case of PTSD


The following story was sent to the Equal Justice Foundation and appears here in the woman's own words

My first experience with a shelter proclaiming protection of females who are in a situation of domestic violence came when I once kicked my husband out of the home. He had not assaulted me, but he was acting in ways that I was concerned for his self control and asked him to leave for a period of time. He left willingly.

At the time I had no source of income (other than my husband's) and a brand new baby. I wanted to call various agencies in the rural area where I lived to get assistance with paying household bills and so on until I secured employment and childcare. One of the places I called was a "battered women's shelter," however I did not know it at the time. I explained to the staff who took the call what kind of references I was seeking. The caller pressed me further as to why I needed them so I told her I kicked my husband out because he was getting too angry, although not violent, and I wanted him to go take time to re-examine his priorities before coming back to live with me and the baby. She then, and only then, explained that they were a shelter for abused women and said she would try to find some information for the agencies I was looking for, and call me back with them. So I gave her my callback number to do so.

Within the hour, Social Services was at my home. They said they were investigating a report which indicated that my husband "hit me in the face and locked himself in the bedroom with the baby." Of course I had never indicated anything like this when I spoke to the rep from the shelter. However since I had spoken to no one else about ANYTHING going on in our household I knew that whoever worked at the shelter must have blown the issue up into something more than it was, and felt it necessary to call Protective Services since I mentioned to her that I had a new baby (although she never called me back with the "resources" as she had promised). My husband and I ended up having to go through the DSS investigation period before my case was closed as unfounded. I shudder to think that had my husband actually been the abusive/controlling type, it probably would have earned me a "beating" to have been drawn into that type of investigation, with him named as the perpetrator. The shelter should have never involved another agency into a situation based on a phone call alone (especially when the "facts" had been made up by the shelter rep), until they know the potential victim is safe from her abuser.


Note: All the things that were coming up at that time were related to his PTSD from trauma of finding our deceased daughter who died in her sleep from SIDS, which the new baby was triggering. He was not violent/angry toward me prior to that or since he has had that treated by professionals.


My second experience was actually from the same shelter. I ended up going there after my husband slapped me across the face a month later after the first incident and I called the police. Since he had already left the home when the police arrived, they said the only thing they could do is have me leave the property and make a statement to them so then they could come back and issue him an arrest warrant. I told him I did not want him arrested only to have protection from him coming back to the home. They said that would require a protective order through a judge.

Being new to this and not realizing the implications I went with the police, made a statement, and they issued an arrest warrant. He was later arrested but released on his own until his trial date. When I was at the station with the baby they asked if I had anywhere to go. I told them I had not, because we recently moved to that rural area from Atlanta and didn't know anyone yet. They said they would have to take me to a shelter but that it was 45 minutes away. I agreed to this, figuring the only thing I wanted was to be temporarily away from him until he sought and completed treatment for his PTSD. Where the shelter was located was even more rural than the small town where I had been living, with no public transportation. This was my first time being in a shelter.

I did not know what to expect, but I figured since they "assisted battered women" I thought everyone would be kind and open. It wasn't until I actually arrived there that I discovered it was the same one that called DSS on me, LOL.I can't complain about the demeanor of the staff, but none of the ladies there were escaping physical abusers. There was one minor who was there supposedly escaping an abusive parent, and a couple of other ladies who claimed they were escaping being "emotionally abused." Everyone had to do chores on a rotating schedule and meals were pre-planned. There were some consequences to not completing our "responsibilities," like not being able to participate in group functions or having to spend free time in your room. It seemed like it was run more like a group home for troubled individuals than a shelter. There was a "light's out" time, and a certain time by which you had to be up and "dressed." It felt more controlling than anything I could ever accuse my husband of in even my most spiteful of arguments with him. I was surprised at this because I know, from being in the mental health field, that most abusive men exercise a great deal of control and coercion over the victims, and the shelter seemed to offer a very similar routine to the one I imagine most women would be trying to escape from.

I spent nearly a week at the shelter, constantly reminding staff that I only wanted to be there I could obtain an order to keep my husband out of the home while he was treated for his PTSD. I explained to them that I had recently begun working from home and needed to return there to continue to work on self sufficiency (and to escape their rigid schedule but of course I didn't tell them this). They encouraged me to try to find housing and employment in the area where they were located instead, so they could assist. Having a marketable master's degree and some type of plan which did NOT include relocating yet again I continued to decline their offers. I did not feel like they could help me more than I could help myself. I ended up convincing one of the staff to return me to my home (45 minutes away) so I could go on with life.

For any who are curious, I was able to get a temporary protective order after returning home which gave me temporary custody of the house, it's furnishings, and the baby while my husband stayed elsewhere. My husband was allowed visitation with the presence of a third party, and so I hired a live-in nanny who stayed with me and the baby so I could work from home. After my husband completed his treatment the order was lifted and we moved back to Atlanta and I've since gotten a very well paying job, while my husband plans to go back to school this fall when the "baby" starts pre-kindergarten!

I suppose the shelter might have been able to help women with no education, job skills, or any "plan." But I didn't fit that profile and I know many abused women are working professionals with assets of their own. What happens when we need help, if we need help? Is a strict routine at a remote location all we need? I think that the services being offered are a far cry from what most abused women seek. The shelter I was at didn't even offer any kind of therapeutic services with a licensed professional to help the women learn strategies to keep from returning to their abusers. I was saddened by the lack of resources I observed and the way my "case" was managed.




In the story above the woman describes an apparently well-run and functional shelter facility based on current ideology that treated her as a "battered woman" and called child protective services on her when she initially sought assistance.

From her story it is clear that she must have been in great distress herself from the loss of their child and that her husband was even more distressed. Such trauma is a classic trigger of post traumatic stress disorder.

Did she and her husband desperately need help? Absolutely! Would a less intelligent and educated woman have been able to work her way through this tragic situation given the response of the shelter staff? Most of our readers will realize that she was in grave danger of losing her child to foster care, at least temporarily.

Also, in most cases like this the husband would have been convicted of "domestic violence," which would probably have cost him his job. And likely the restraining order would have been made permanent, the couple would have ended up divorced, and the new child would be missing a father. Of course all this would worsen his PTSD and it would likely still persist.

Particularly in cities and states with a large military presence, wouldn't it make much more sense for such shelters to provide help for both partners and coordinate with the Veterans Administration and mental health agencies for treatment for one or both of the partners?

Call this:

Scenario three: One or both of the partners are emotionally disturbed by trauma, injuries, or death.

We can only put forward the suggestion and hope that common sense will eventually prevail. In the interim we see thousands of military couples locally where the shelter's first and inevitable step is to get a restraining order against the man, or file criminal DV charges if possible, and promote divorce for the couple if they are married.

Our approach would be to fix the problem, not the blame.



| EJF Home | Find Help | Help the EJF | Comments? | Get EJF newsletter | Newsletters |

| Domestic Violence Book | DV Site Map | Data tables | DV bibliography | DV index |


| Chapter 6 — Shelters For Battered Women |

| Next — What have we learned? |

| Back — What Goes On Inside Battered Women's Shelters? |


Added March 28, 2009

Last modified 5/16/18