Homeless After the Shelter

“I have nowhere to go but here” – R.S. begins her confession. She is in one of the shelters in Kosovo due to systematic physical and mental violence inflicted by her husband throughout their 30 years of marriage. Despite the high number of women who are victims of domestic violence, Kosovo only has eight shelters and lacks a specialized organization that provides assistance to women after they leave shelters.

To escape the violence from her husband, R.S., a mother of eight children, was forced to seek refuge in a shelter.

“I tried to deal with it for the sake of my children, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave and abandon them. I endured and endured, but eventually, I became exhausted, both physically and mentally. My spirit was drained, and life became unbearable. Even when my son got married, my husband continued to cause problems and abuse me in front of my son and his wife.

However, even within the confines of the shelter, she doesn’t feel completely safe.

“For someone who has endured years of abuse, like me, along with my children, it’s incredibly challenging to believe that life will ever improve. I attempted to work, but he never left me in peace, even at my workplace. Now, I’m faced with the daunting task of figuring out how to return to work, where to go, and how to rebuild my life,” she shares.

The lack of safe options and support services in Kosovo makes the situation even more difficult for victims of domestic violence like R.S.

The issue of women’s safety and support in shelters is evident, with many women having access to a place to sleep but lacking hope for a better life after leaving the shelters.

Conversely, some progress has been made for women returning from the war. A state-sponsored program aims to empower them through training and self-employment opportunities. This initiative has resulted in 31 out of 32 women receiving social assistance.

Despite the efforts to address domestic violence, the statistics remain alarming, with over 2200 women becoming victims of family violence in the past year. Sadly, only a few of these victims sought refuge in shelters, as they could not endure living with their abusers any longer. Several cities in Kosovo, including Prishtina, Prizren, Peja, Gjilan, Ferizaj, Gjakova, Mitrovica, and Novoberda, have centers that receive and care for victims.

However, the Kosovo Women’s Network (KWN) emphasizes that it is crucial to provide ongoing support and treatment for women even after they leave the shelters. This ensures a better chance of recovery and successful reintegration into society after enduring such traumatic experiences.

According to Adelina Berisha from the Kosovo Women’s Network (KWN), some women require ongoing treatments to stabilize emotionally and overcome the traumas they have experienced.

The rehabilitation and reintegration phase for survivors of gender-based violence is a critical but often overlooked aspect within the Kosovo system. While shelters play a crucial role in providing a safe space and empowering women while they are in the shelters, there are very few organizations that offer support during the integration and reintegration phase once they leave the shelters. As a result, this phase remains sensitive and challenging for the survivors.

Berisha mentioned that KALLXO.com, a media outlet, sheds light on the challenges that victims may face after leaving the shelter. These challenges can be numerous and varied, making it essential to have continued support and assistance to help survivors rebuild their lives and regain their independence after experiencing such traumatic situations.

“Women are often forced to return to the family where they experienced violence due to the difficulties they have encountered, or they are forced to give up their own children and return to their parents’ house. In such cases, the parents may refuse to accept the husband’s children, considering them not part of the bloodline due to the prevailing patriarchal mentality, which is very challenging,” she said.

It is essential to have treatments available for women after they leave shelters, but the necessity for such treatments varies depending on individual cases. In some instances, women promptly report the violence they experience and choose to leave the abusive relationship. For these women, it becomes a fresh start in their lives, and they bravely take control of their destinies and move forward,” she adds.

Berisha emphasizes that while an NGO can serve as an advisor for a woman, according to her, the state should think about ways to make women’s lives easier after they leave the shelter.

“Well, there are women who need this initiative to gain emotional stability and overcome all the trauma they experienced. It all depends on the needs of the women, but apart from being a necessity, it is also a legal requirement from the Istanbul Convention that each state must create mechanisms for the last phase of rehabilitation and reintegration for victims of gender-based violence. This need is supported by the legal framework and other studies, which makes it crucial to implement after they report the violence,” said Berisha.

The role of Social Work Centers and Shelters

Each municipality has a center for social work. They offer services to people who have experienced domestic violence and social services such as protection, rehabilitation, and integration of victims into society.

Kumrije Bytyqi, the director of the Social Work Center in Prizren, told KALLXO.com that at the local level, they do not have a specialized NGO for the treatment of victims after leaving the shelters, but also raised the lack of focus from NGOs in cases and programs of those who abuse the victims.

Bytyqi thotë se varësisht nga rasti pas daljes nga strehimorja menaxheri i rastit ofron sesione këshilluese individuale, familjare, mbikëqyrje të rastit sipas nevojave të viktimës.

Bytyqi says that depending on the case, the case manger offers those after leaving the shelter family counseling sessions and case supervision according to the needs of the victim.

“… collaborates with schools, refers the case to social services, social housing, professional skills, health and other services depending on the needs of the case and the family. If the court has imposed the measure of psycho-social treatment of the perpetrator of domestic violence, the social work centers adhere to the request that the court supervises the case and reports based on the court’s decision” – she expressed.

On the other hand, Kosovo has only eight shelters, in: Ferizaj, Gjakovë, Gjilan, Novobërde, Pejë, Prizren, Prishtina and South Mitrovica. Shelters provide housing services for women and children who have experienced domestic violence.

The referral to a shelter is usually made by the social service center, but it can also be made by the police or other institutions, at the request of the victim; even people who have experienced violence can self-refer.

These shelters operate within the local Non-Governmental Organizations.

They offer victims a temporary and safe place to live in case they are at risk of domestic violence. It is also their duty to help the victims during the process of recovering from domestic violence, including psychological and physical care, rehabilitation and reintegration into society. Most shelters also offer legal aid. All services at the shelter are provided free of charge.

On average, shelters can accommodate 15 people (including children), but most also offer extra beds for emergency situations.

The maximum length of stay is six months; however, if they are not secure and the victim has no other place to go, they may be transferred to another shelter, or remain in the same shelter beyond the six-month period based on a prior agreement with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Ardita Bala, director of the “Women’s Welfare Center” shelter in Peja, tells KALLXO.com that there are women who have different needs and that it is necessary to treat them even after leaving the shelter.

​​”It is important to treat them depending on the case. For example, we do not release them from the shelter without their consent and without helping to reintegrate them into society. For example, there are cases where after 6-7 months, they wanted to work, but they are missing protection and would continue to need support. For example, we have cases where we supply various aids like psychological sessions, health advice, free legal aid, so it is necessary to continue supporting women in every aspect” – she said.

The need to be treated

According to psychologist Mimoza Shahini, treatment after leaving the shelter is very necessary since many victims who were not helped after leaving the shelter have entered the cycle of violence again due to the inability to integrate into the social environment, for many reasons, many of them return to the abusive environment and re-experience a violence.

Psychology says that traumatic experiences have effects for a long time and psychological support is necessary after the experience.

“Violence is not an action but a complex phenomenon which creates damages in different spheres that unbalance the physical, emotional, social and economic integrity of the person faced with it. It is important that the explanation of these influences takes into consideration the age, gender, culture, socio-economic status of the victim” – said the psychologist Shahini.

She says victims can experience post-traumatic stress (PTSD), depression, chronic anxiety, panic attacks, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty controlling emotions, loss of self-confidence and feelings of guilt.

According to her, these psychological consequences can affect the quality of life and create further difficulties.

“They can face the loss of jobs, loss of their position in the family, financial difficulties, and material damage. These economic consequences can create difficulties in meeting basic needs and increase poverty and inequality,” added Shahini.

She emphasizes that the treatment of victims of violence is a long and complex process that must include care, concern and mutual commitment from health care and social welfare professionals as well as justice institutions.

“Through the engagement of all actors involved in the treatment of survivors of violence, a safe environment should be created for them in order to create a sense of security. Medical care is necessary in cases of physical injuries or even health problems that the victims may have.”

“Psychological counseling and assistance serves to address the psychological consequences of violence. Individual counseling, group therapy, and stress management strategies can be part of treatment to help victims. In the framework of supporting the victims, it is necessary to provide legal assistance. Meanwhile, rehabilitation and preparation for the future serve to recover and integrate them into society” – she emphasized.

Psychology says that the duration of treatment is individually based and is influenced by the dynamics of harmonization of the actors involved in rehabilitation, but in general it is related to three phases; crisis intervention; intervention in the shelter and interventions after leaving the shelter.

Also, she adds, many victims have a lack of support resources which can affect the victims’ inability to build a new life.

“Ongoing support can help victims of violence rebuild self-esteem and gain a sense of empowerment. It offers them the tools and resources to develop self-confidence and make independent decisions, ensuring integration in their community and overcoming social isolation,” said Shahini.

“I am not sure about the total number of organizations dealing with their treatment, but I think they are not enough to mitigate this issue” – she said.

Meanwhile, according to the sociologist, Labinot Kunushevci, victims of violence need rehabilitation depending on the type of violence experienced, the level of consequences and the skills that the victim possesses in rehabilitation.

The sociologist says that the victims deserve integration and social acceptance after a period of crisis, in the post-violence phase, and not to be overlooked or penalized, because this, according to him, will break the victim even more.

“Training, counseling, socio-psychological sessions help a lot. Treatments should always be viewed from the perspective of the circumstances that caused the violence. So the duration of the treatments depends on the specifics of the victims. The victims of violence in Kosovo are often overlooked by the institutions, leaving their fate and well-being to themselves and not to the the state or society. The most collective commitment of civil society would help the victims to return to normal life” – he emphasized.

What is in the states hands?

Since 2008, Kosovo has adopted several laws and policies to address and improve its institutional response to gender-based violence.

In 2019, the Criminal Code of Kosovo (KPK) was amended to include criminal offenses in accordance with the KS, including: domestic violence, sexual harassment and female genital mutilation.

KPK now recognizes domestic violence as physical, psychological, sexual or economic violence or mistreatment within a family relationship. The Law on Protection from Domestic Violence (LPDV) similarly defines these types of violence.

Meanwhile, in 2020 Kosovo began to take the first steps to amend the LPDV among other relevant laws, to better meet the identified needs and to harmonize them with the KS.

Kosovo also has a National Strategy for Protection from Domestic Violence.

The Department of Social Services and Child Protection within the Ministry of Justice is mandated to initiate, draft, monitor and inspect social and welfare programs for people in need of social services.

Also, this Department has the order of drafting standards, licensing of professionals and legal and non-governmental entities whose scope includes the protection of people in social need.

According to a response from the Ministry of Justice, based on the regular annual work plan of the Ministry on the support of NGO projects, whose scope is the treatment of groups in need of social and family services, we prepare and announce the public call for support of licensed NGO projects every year.

According to the Ministry of Justice, the financial support offered by the Ministry of Justice changes over the years and changes based on the needs of these shelters to implement their programs for the protection, shelter, rehabilitation and re-integration of victims.

“Based on article 12 and 20 of the Ministry of Finance Regulation criteria (no. 4 /2017), standards and procedures of public funding of NGOs states every year support is provided to projects of NGOs licensed for social and family services, NGOs that treat victims of domestic violence, victims of trafficking with human beings, maltreated, abused, neglected and neglected children, care for elderly people, care for disabled people and NGOs that treat people, children and adults with various syndromes” – Answered MD.

Furthermore, they said that NGOs and the Ministry of Justice have a cooperation agreement for several years now, while regarding the quality of service provision, NGOs are subject to the licensing process based on the conditions and criteria defined in the legal and by-laws.

They have also emphasized that regarding the quality of services provided by these entities, we estimate that the quality of providing social and family services should be improved every time, and they add that the MD as an institution of social policy drafting are in continuous efforts to improve and increase the quality of services for social need.