Finding Safety: The Importance of Housing Female Survivors of Domestic Violence


By Jovanka Medina and Marissa Garate

In 2020, over 800 people in Hawaiʻi reported some form of domestic violence (DV) in a single day – a 145% increase over the previous year.

DV presents itself in many forms and affects a substantial number of people every day. Although DV happens to both men and women, women are disproportionately affected. In addition to physical, mental, or financial abuse, Hawaiʻi Revised Statutes’ current definition of domestic abuse includes coercive behavior, controlling behavior, and emotional abuse.

Abuse hinges on power and control and if DV survivors are forced to remain at home with their abuser, the abuser can continue to exert that abuse on their victims. This is why the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is so crucial.

VAWA is a federal law that provides protection for the survivors of DV, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking in housing units subsidized by the federal government. It also provides an escape from renting obligations by providing multiple ways to provide documentation of the DV incident.

The U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has implemented, and will enforce, the same rights and remedies to those under the Fair Housing Act and has allocated over $5 million to provide VAWA training and technical assistance to housing providers, grantees and stakeholders, to ensure the policy is being implemented correctly and that survivors truly benefit from it.

In addition to physical injury imposed on its victims, other health outcomes include adverse pregnancies, suicidal ideation, and homicide. DV does not discriminate. Women who suffer from DV come from all walks of life, socioeconomic groups, and ethnicities. It might be a relative, a friend or the neighbor across the street.

Victims often feel trapped and forced to endure the violence because they have nowhere else to go. Many have been controlled for years and have lost a sense of independence.

Providing survivors of DV a safe haven allows them to focus on healing and obtaining the help they need to move forward. This is why it’s so important for VAWA to continue advancing its housing resources.

We should also consider preventative measures. Healthy relationships foster emotional resilience and strength. Creating interventions that not only serve individuals, but communities, will bring awareness to DV, reduce violence and strengthen interpersonal relationships.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and it is a reminder that domestic violence in our communities remains prevalent. We must address domestic violence and its related injustices by standing behind and advocating for DV survivors to regain control of their lives.

Authors Jovanka Medina and Marissa Garate are both graduate students at the University of Southern California’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work residing in Hawaiʻi. If you or someone you know are a victim of Domestic Violence, contact the Domestic Violence Action Center at 808-531-3771. You can call their toll-free helpline at 800-690-6200 or send a message to their text line at 650-956-5680. These resources are available to you 24/7. Speak with someone today.