Survivor Centeredness

AWS's work centers on the experiences of survivors, with women and children as active partners in developing and implementing their own plans for safety, care and action. We believe that grounding our work in the daily lives and leadership of survivors, allows us to make a profound, authentic and current contribution to social change beyond the walls of the shelter.


AWS is committed to a non-hierarchical, consensus-building organizational structure. Although the executive director has the legal responsibility for the supervision of all staff, AWS has always strived to create a non-hierarchical approach to staff management, performance and accountability. Every person has equal say, voice and responsibility.

Every staff member must take responsibility for their own work performance and must be self-reflective and open to feedback from other staff. Each of our staff is a vital part of AWS. We are committed to the ongoing improvement of our own work and to helping co-workers to reach their fullest potential. In doing so, we improve our chances of attaining our shared goal of providing high quality direct services, community building and organizational infrastructure to end violence against women.


We understand domestic violence as gender-based violence, but there are many ways that people hate and divide themselves from one another. AWS actively uses a holistic approach in eliminating all forms of violence and oppression, while promoting shared power and equal access. All AWS constituents, including board, staff, volunteers, interns, relief workers, on-call language advocates, domestic violence survivors and community members, are committed to the powerful vision of living in a violence-free and safe environment.

AWS recognizes that lesbian, bisexual, queer women and transgender survivors of violence face various and often compounded forms of oppression, including homophobia, prejudice and racism. To better address the needs of queer survivors, who often avoid approaching conventional programs offered to mainstream populations, AWS developed the Queer Asian Women and Transgender Support (QAWTS) Program. QAWTS aims to expand the dialogue about intimate forms of violence and engage communities in developing effective responses to violence.

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The root cause of domestic violence is the abuse of power.

Domestic violence and anti-oppression work both understand that the root cause of violence is the abuse of power. We recognize the abuses of power inherent in the many forms of sexism, racism, homophobia, classism and ableism. Ignorance of power imbalances can result in disempowerment and unintentional collusion with oppressive dynamics. By using an anti-oppression framework in our organization, we cultivate an ongoing awareness of power and transform our anti-violence programs to reflect practices of respect, justice and peace.

Gendered violence is minimized and misunderstood as "personal".

In families, communities, institutions and movements, both conservative and progressive, gender oppression and gendered violence tend to be minimized, or relegated as personal instead of political. Gendered violence is de-prioritized, under-analyzed and rendered irrelevant to issues considered to be larger. Gendered violence reflects and bolsters systemic aggression and oppression, and inflicts damage of devastating scope and depth in our world.

Everyone deserves safety.

If we are to fully uphold our commitment to end violence against women, then we must continually work to ensure that all women have access to programs, services and support. We must address barriers (linguistic, cultural, physical, etc.) that may deny survivors safety and support. AWS is committed to making all areas of our organization (and beyond) reflective of an approach that sees and values everyone.

Upholding peace, dignity and empowerment for all.

Envisioning a world without domestic violence means taking away the tools that batterers use to control and abuse power. It means we uphold peace, dignity and empowerment with our clients and co-workers every day while connecting our work to a larger anti-violence, anti-oppression movement.

More about our core values.

  1. Survivor-Centered The core of our services and prevention efforts center around the experiences of survivors of domestic violence. The rights of confidentiality, self-determination, respect and dignity are upheld for all, with survivors as active partners in developing and implementing a survivor-centered plan of safety, care and action.

  2. Basic Needs Are Not Special Needs If we see our existing services as core, supplementing them depending on special populations, the special elements always seem extra, like add-ons and are the first to go in lean times. For a DV survivor who is in a wheelchair, a shelter that is wheelchair accessible is a basic need, not a special one. Social and legal services that can let her know her rights and connect her with independent living resources are a necessity.

  3. Margin to Center
    Bell Hook's margin-to-center theory has been a primary part of AWS's approach to program development. A margin-to-center approach benefits the most people and the theory describes the benefits of letting the margins be the core and the focus.

  4. Anti-Oppression Work Includes Clients, Staff & Community Members We are mindful about how we interact with everyone. Sometimes it can be easy for organizations to think of anti-oppression work only as it relates to clients, or to elements that are usually in the public eye. But we can't meaningfully put anti-oppression values into practice with clients if we are not doing the same with each other as staff and community members.

  5. On-Going Learning is a Ultimately a Time-Saver
    Experiential differences between the privileged and oppressed are complicated. Communication between these groups can be painful and challenging. Ongoing dialogue and learning about how power, privilege and oppression play out, helps to create channels of understanding and trust. These channels act as communication lifelines when real-time incidents (i.e. the messy, painful, disappointing ones that can tear agencies apart) occur.

  6. Life-Long Work, So Celebrate Milestones
    As with domestic violence work, we cannot expect to end oppression in our lifetimes. But in a single generation we can make major transformations in the individual lives of our clients and their families, in communities, media, laws and in cultural values. "No end" does not equal "no successes."

  7. Have the Courage to Change and Evolve
    Change is hard; there is always some form of resistance within us and others. But we have hope our clients can make major transformations for themselves and their families, and we have hope that our communities can embrace the values and practices of health and peace, rather than collusion and victim-blaming. As individuals, as organizations and as a movement, we are stronger when we can assess our environment, identify needs for change and evolution, and move forward.

  8. Be Good Allies It takes commitment, forethought and action to be a good ally. You must challenge power and oppression, and build bridges across the differences that they cause. Your efforts can also span the differences between issue areas, organizations, and even communities. A commitment to being good allies is built into our operating structure.

  9. Share Globally, Act Locally
    An anti-oppression approach can help us to transcend turf and ego issues. It can be our best contribution toward building a bigger movement to end domestic violence.