The Empowerment Based Model

The “Empowerment Based Model” is a model that the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence uses.

They say:

“The Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV) is a strong proponent of the empowerment-based philosophy in working with battered women. FCADV encourages Florida’s 42 Certified Domestic Violence Centers to align in practice and in spirit with this philosophy. Services based on empowerment are supportive of a woman’s right to and need for self-determination. Advocacy is a balanced partnership, rather than one guided by directives and mandated services.

In the early 1990’s, the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV) membership initiated the process for enhancing standards for all Certified Domestic Violence Centers. This was done in order to ensure consistency in philosophy and to ensure that empowerment-based services are available from center to center. The standards committee members identified a set of shared beliefs that guided the development of comprehensive and respectful practices. The standards are founded on the following beliefs:

· That women who are battered shall be empowered to make their own choices, even when we may not agree with their choices

· That the Certified Domestic Violence Centers’ services will reflect a philosophy of empowerment and self-determination

· That the quality of services shall be consistent from center to center so women who are battered can have reasonable expectations that services provided at all centers are empowerment-based and woman centered.” (From: (

It sounds good, right?

On paper, it does.

However, by using the Empowerment Based Model, the FCADV and it’s affiliated shelters and centers are able to hide services.

Because the FCADV uses this model, they are able to say they don’t need mental health services or substance abuse services. They say that if a woman wants those services, they will decide for themselves and seek those outside services.

In the 46 pages of their “Minimum Standards” they mention mental health once:

“(b) Counseling services may be based on the peer-counseling model. Individuals who need mental health counseling services may be served through referral to an outside provider.”

With that one technicality in place, they no longer need to offer any mental health services. Therapists have been laid off at shelters, while executives take another raise.

Research tells us that victims of domestic violence are in desperate need of this service, as are their children.

A study done by the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault states:

  • “Depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and panic disorder are common
    among people in domestic violence shelters (Warshaw et. al., 2003).
  • Individuals experiencing any type of domestic violence are nearly three times more
    likely to report symptoms of severe depression (Warshaw, 2010)
  • As many as 90 percent of people who have severe psychiatric disorders are survivors of
    at least one incident of trauma during their lifetimes (Akers et. al., 2007).
  • Studies have found that up to 53 percent of people who seek services from public
    mental health centers report childhood sexual or physical abuse (Huckshorn, 2004)
  • In one study, 90 percent of women hospitalized post-suicide attempt reported current
    severe domestic violence (Warshaw, 2010).
  • In another study, 90 percent of people with mental health issues had been exposed to
    trauma, and most had multiple experiences of trauma (Huckshorn, 2004).”

You cannot see statistics like this and keep ignoring it. The women and children in our shelters deserve real counseling by trained professionals.

The FCADV reports it’s counseling hours every year. They get these hours from the 42 certified shelters and centers.

Last year, they stated they had 451,871 hours of counseling and advocacy.

Here’s how they define counseling in their Minimum Standards:

Counseling is defined as any individual or group interaction facilitated by center staff for the purpose of addressing needs of adult or child participants. Counseling may include educational counseling, e.g., survivor receives information on the dynamics of domestic violence; crisis counseling, e.g., survivor discusses and assesses with an advocate the risk involved in her immediate circumstance; supportive counseling, e.g. survivor participates in one-on-one, regular counseling sessions with an advocate/counselor; and/or, peer counseling, e.g., survivor participates in a survivor-facilitated support group meeting.

Notice how vague and all-encompassing this definition is? This is slightly problematic.

In speaking with local shelters worker, it’s become clear that counseling has been used at shelters/centers for any time they speak to a client/resident. Every moment counts – from showing them where the restroom is, watching TV with them… it’s all counseling hours. Mind you, many advocates at shelters have no college degree or professional training. While we appreciate the need for grassroots movements and workers, it’s become clear that this has been used as a tool to not have trained professionals there to help the women.

This is wrong and it’s a blatant misrepresentation of the services being provided.

The FCADV has to stop hiding behind the Empowerment Based Model to avoid providing the services desperately needed.

Enough is enough.

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