Domestic Violence Shelters Insist on Confidentiality

By: Carrie Cline Email
By: Carrie Cline Email

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- When an abuse victim goes to a domestic violence shelter, there are laws in place to ensure confidentiality.

That means no matter how bad a situation, that shelter can't call police. It's a protection that gives great peace to the victims despite the desire by others to see the abusers prosecuted.

“If you have to jump out of a moving car to get away from someone, that's pretty severe,” according to a victim who wished to remain anonymous. She allowed us to call her Martha, and she's a victim of domestic violence.

Martha lived out of state with mental and physical abuse for several years before finally getting the courage to get out and get in a domestic violence shelter.

“They can't tell anyone about my being here, and I feel really safe that none of my information is ever going to get out,” Martha said.

“We really stress confidentiality," said Steve Cline, a legal advocate with Branches Domestic Violence Shelter in Huntington. "We want to stress whatever they tell us we do keep it confidential and we do not repeat it to any agency."

Cline says those rules are put into place for the best interest of the victim.

“We want them to feel as comfortable as possible with us and to be able to try to heal without us putting pressure on them,” he said.

But what about those extreme situations where criminal charges against the abuser seem a must?

“Generally, your heart already goes out to them because you want to see the abuser go through the criminal justice system, but we can't force them,” Cline said.

For Martha, that's giving her the peace of mind she needs to heal and decide how to best move on with her life.

“It's been a really good way to restart my life without anybody finding out,” she said.

Beyond shelters not being able to call police, if someone else calls police, shelters can't release any information about a victim staying there -- without written consent from the client or a warrant from police.

Cline says while the majority of victims in domestic violence shelters do press charges, there are still 20 percent who don't want to involve the courts. They just want to move on with their lives.

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