Research, design and develop tools to create ample safe spaces for survivors of

violence while interacting with the justice system.

Spaces for Survivors

Each year, millions of people in the United States experience violent victimization, an experience which greatly impacts their physical, emotional, and social well-being. Justice and healing after violence is critical to survivors’ health and future well-being. Research demonstrates that environmental design impacts health in ways that may be beneficial to survivors and suggests that the design of spaces used by violence survivors while seeking justice and support services may impact their ability to heal. Little is known, however, about how survivors experience the design of existing justice spaces, nor about their design preferences; if known, this information would enable justice and other community spaces to support safety and healing, without re-victimizing the survivors. A deeper understanding of how design can meet survivors’ needs for healing and well-being will make it possible to design survivor-oriented spaces that enhance, and not work against, the justice and healing services provided in these spaces.


This research sought to deepen this knowledge base by: (1) understanding violence survivors’ design preferences for spaces in which they interact with the justice process and receive support services; (2) understanding the availability of and access to spaces that are designed to meet the needs of violence survivors; (3) identifying gaps in the availability and access to those spaces; and (4) generating recommendations for the design of survivor-oriented spaces and for increasing the availability and accessibility of such spaces within a jurisdiction or community. To achieve these objectives, the research-design team engaged violence survivors, criminal justice professionals, and allied professionals (such as mental health counselors) to explore their reactions to their local county prosecutor’s office, as well as their design preferences for safe and healing environments for violence survivors in the prosecutor’s office, in the victim services office, and in the community. Engagement was in the form of two methodologies: an electronic visual design survey and virtual design workshops. The findings and recommendations from this project will be used to create a design “toolkit”, which will include a set of guidelines and principles for designing survivor-oriented spaces as well as renderings of how these guidelines and principles can be applied in specific justice buildings (e.g., police stations, prosecutors’ offices, and courthouses) and/or within a constellation of community buildings (e.g., community centers, community-based organization offices). This toolkit will be distributed nationally by the Center for Court Innovation, a nonprofit based in New York.

Meet the Research Team

Deanna Van Buren
Co-Founder, Executive Director, Design Director

Columbia University
Master of Architecture

Oretola Thomas, AIA, NCARB
Architectural Designer

Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo
Bachelor of Architecture


Barb Toews, Associate AIA
Board Secretary
Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice
University of Washington Tacoma

Bryn Mwar College
Doctor of Philosophy, Social Work and Social Research