Benefits of Coordination

Coordination of the responses of those in the community who come into contact with domestic violence issues can significantly increase victim protection and batterer accountability. The primary goal of coordination should always be increased victim safety. Coordinating responses without focusing on victim safety can, in fact, be harmful to victims. Coordination that is based on increased victim safety can be beneficial in four different ways.

First, the effectiveness of many responses depends on the effectiveness of others. For example, an order for protection is not effective if police do not respond to calls about violations. Police response to these calls is, in turn, more effective when prosecutors prosecute violations. The effectiveness of prosecutors’ response is likewise dependent on the quality of police work.

Second, different actors may encounter victims at different points and in different settings. Each has opportunities others may not have to help victims locate the resources they may need. For example, women who may not be willing or able to contact an advocate or shelter may still seek medical assistance; consequently, health care may be a critical avenue through which battered women might access support or assistance.

Third, reaching out to different members of the community to ask for their participation in a coordinated community response can increase the effectiveness of the response. The legal system is a critical part of any response. However, other community institutions (religious, economic, medical, media, education) may have a more powerful impact on “creating social norms” than the legal system. From Ellen L. Pence, Some Thoughts on Philosophy, in Coordinating Community Responses to Domestic Violence: Lessons from the Duluth Model 25, 33 (Melanie F. Shepard & Ellen L. Pence eds., 1999).

Fourth, a comprehensive community response can address related social problems that work to prevent women from gaining protection. Emergency shelter and criminal prosecutions are not the only needs that battered women may have. Coordinated response programs increasingly focus on related social problems that make it difficult for women to seek protection from abuse, such as poverty and unemployment or the lack of affordable housing.

Recommendations and strategies for coordinating community responses and preventing domestic violence that were developed at the National Conference of Family Violence: Health and Justice in March 1994 are available through the National Institute of Justice’s A Coordinated Approach to Reducing Family Violence: Conference Highlights (1995). Sandra J. Clark et al., Coordinated Community Responses to Domestic Violence in Six Communities: Beyond the Justice System (1996), provides a useful discussion of the evolution of coordinated community responses, goals of coordination efforts, barriers to coordination, and issues in planning, implementing and evaluating coordinated services.

Anatomy of a Coordinated Response

Although there is no one model that will work in every context, the model used by the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP) in Duluth, often called the “Duluth model,” is one of the most successful coordinated community response projects and has been adapted for use in communities in many different parts of the world.

Generally, coordinated community response programs work to create a network of support for victims and their families that is both available and accessible; use the full extent of the community’s legal system to protect victims, hold batterers accountable, and enforce the community’s intolerance of domestic violence; and engage the entire community in efforts to change the social norms and attitudes that contribute to domestic violence. From American Medical Association, Family Violence: Building a Coordinated Community Response 12 (1996).

Goals and Strategies

Broadly stated, there are eight different components of intervention programs that successfully work to achieve these goals:

1. Creating a coherent philosophical approach centralizing victim safety.
2. Developing “best practices” policies and protocols for intervention agencies that are part of an integrated response.
3. Enhancing networking among service providers.
4. Building monitoring and tracking into the system.
5. Ensuring a supportive community infrastructure for battered women.
6. Providing sanctions and rehabilitation opportunities for abusers.
7. Undoing the harm violence [against] women does to children.
8. Evaluating the coordinated community response from the standpoint of victim safety.

From Ellen L. Pence & Melanie F. Shepard, Introduction, in Coordinating Community Responses to Domestic Violence: Lessons from the Duluth Model 3, 16 (Melanie F. Shepard & Ellen L. Pence eds., 1999).

Specific elements of a direct coordinated response to domestic violence vary, but can include:

  • efforts to ensure safety for victims at the scene (police response, emergency orders for protection, emergency shelter),
  • crisis intervention services (hotlines, legal advocacy, medical care, financial and housing assistance),
  • effective and coordinated justice system response (appropriate and timely police response, appropriate prosecutorial and judicial response, coordination of information between all legal actors, victims advocates, and enforcement of orders for protection),
  • appropriate response to the abuser (consistently holding abusers accountable, arrest, appropriate sanctions),
  • follow-up services for victims (counseling, support groups, services for children, abuser treatment services, exchange of information, assistance with employment, housing, health care and child care),
  • training of personnel in all systems,
  • coordination and monitoring of interventions (courtwatch, data collection and reporting, accountability systems), and
  • active involvement from other sectors of the community (business, religious, media and civic actors).

Prevention efforts can include outreach, education, early intervention services, specialized services for children and youth, and public education and media campaigns.

From American Medical Association, Family Violence: Building a Coordinated Community Response 13-16 (1996).

Community Response Participants

Early coordinated response programs focused on coordinating the responses of criminal justice and law enforcement agencies and service providers. Because their initial focus was on the inadequacies of the legal system, advocates’ first coordinated community response focused on challenging the institutions and practices that prevented women from receiving the full protection of the laws.

More recent efforts, however, have focused on coordinating the work of other actors, such as health care providers, child welfare agencies, the media, clergy and religious leaders, employers, businesses, poverty organizations, professional associations (e.g., of doctors, lawyers), and government agencies. Some projects have relied on community education as a way of reshaping attitudes and involving the community as a whole in the response to domestic violence. From Ellen L. Pence & Melanie F. Shepard, Introduction, in Coordinating Community Responses to Domestic Violence: Lessons from the Duluth Model 3, 9 (Melanie F. Shepard & Ellen L. Pence eds., 1999).

All participants in coordinated response programs must follow common principles for intervention that centralize victim safety and batterer accountability.

Religious leaders can be a critical part of a coordinated response. These leaders may take positions or give advice that condone domestic violence and undermine women’s ability to protect themselves from violence. In researching domestic violence in Moldova, for example, Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights found that some religious leaders were taking the position that women had a duty to endure abuse. MAHR, Domestic Violence in Moldova 22 (2000). Correspondingly, such leaders can make significant contributions to ending domestic violence by speaking out on the subject, encouraging women to seek assistance, and sending the message that battering will not be tolerated by the community.

What Every Congregation Needs to Know About Domestic Violence and A Commentary on Religious Issues in Family Violence provide useful discussions about religion and domestic violence, as well as specific suggestions for religious leaders and communities interested in working to prevent domestic violence. The Toolkit to End Violence Against Women, created by the National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women and the United States Department of Justice’s Violence Against Women Office, also outlines ways in which clergy and faith-based organizations can become involved in a community response.

The media is also an essential part of efforts to promote awareness about domestic violence and to inform the public about resources available for victims. As UNICEF explains, the media

plays a pivotal role in both influencing and changing social norms and behaviour. Repeated exposure to violence in the media has been associated with increased incidence of aggression, especially in children. In the area of domestic violence, media campaigns can help to reverse social attitudes that tolerate violence against women by questioning patterns of violent behaviour accepted by families and societies. Collaboration with the media needs to focus on creating new messages and new responses to reduce domestic violence.

UNICEF, Domestic Violence Against Women and Girls, 6 Innocenti Digest 1, 16 (2000). The media can also play a critical role in other types of advocacy, such as legislative reform; positive media attention can generate necessary public support for a reform effort.

UNIFEM’s publication, Picturing a Life Free of Violence: Media and Communication Strategies to End Violence Against Women provides useful information about media strategies that have been used to combat domestic violence throughout the world. The featured media campaigns are also available as a virtual exhibit. The Toolkit also offers strategies for involving the media.

Employers, as well, can play a critical role in combating domestic violence by, for example, establishing workplace policies and training employees. A battered woman may require additional health care assistance, or need extra security precautions at work when she seeks to leave her abuser. The Toolkit discusses ways in which employers can become involved in a community response to domestic violence.

Different communities will need to involve different participants; who should be involved will depend on a variety of contextual factors. Before starting a coordinated community response program, advocates will need to familiarize themselves with the actors who might be involved in an intervention effort and the roles these actors play. The DAIP staff, for example, asked these actors:

(a) What would improve the system’s response?
(b) What kind of resistance would there be to different proposals (i.e., mandatory arrest)?
(c) Why would that resistance be there?
(d) Who are the key leaders [to convince of the value of a new approach]?
(e) How could proposed changes backfire on the project and on battered women?
(f) What kind of training in proposed changes would be effective?

In these initial talks, all of the policies discussed “were kept general and focused on what might be accomplished for the agency and for the protection of victims.” From Ellen L. Pence, Some Thoughts on Philosophy, in Coordinating Community Responses to Domestic Violence: Lessons from the Duluth Model 25, 35, 36 (Melanie F. Shepard & Ellen L. Pence eds., 1999).

Leadership for coordinated responses can be located in an independent advocacy organization, the criminal justice system, or an inter-agency local coordinating council. Melanie Shepard’s article, Evaluating Coordinated Community Responses to Domestic Violence (1999), examines these different kinds of coordinated response programs and describes studies that evaluate the success of various programs in the United States.

For a discussion of the ways in which collaboration with other organizations, community groups, and government agencies can be vital to efforts to end domestic violence, as well as strategies for developing those collaborative partnerships, see Susan Schechter, New Challenges for the Battered Women’s Movement: Building Collaborations and Improving Public Policy for Poor Women (1999),

Recent Developments in Coordinated Responses

The most recent coordinated community response efforts have focused on institutional design. DAIP, for example, moved from asking why a judge responded as she did, to how that judge was institutionally organized to do so. From the moment that the police dispatcher receives an emergency call to the closing of the case, the institutional arrangements and work practices that predetermine the way in which domestic violence cases are handled.

Texts, in particular, can predetermine how the system responds to violence. Texts are created constantly in a legal system; actors record the details of an incident for use by the next actor. In addition, these texts are rarely created anew. Rather, the texts are forms that ask specific questions. It is in the asking of these questions that some information is recorded and other information is not.

Ellen Pence provides the following example. An officer of the court making a recommendation on the sentence a defendant should receive may base her decision on a record created by an investigator. The form used by the investigator to create the report might ask any number of questions—it might ask about the history of the abuse, or it might ask about the defendant’s criminal history. A recommendation based on a report detailing a history of abuse could be very different from one based on a report detailing a criminal history. In other words, the recommended sentence is determined in part by the questions asked on the investigator’s form.  That is, the “understanding of how power works through conceptual practices buried in a textually mediated legal system” can be a critical part of an advocacy effort. Ellen L. Pence, Some Thoughts on Philosophy, in Coordinating Community Responses to Domestic Violence: Lessons from the Duluth Model 25, 40 (Melanie F. Shepard & Ellen L. Pence eds., 1999).

Promoting Women in Development (PROWID) similarly explains in its report, Justice, Change, and Human Rights: International Research and Responses to Domestic Violence, that “the way in which women’s complaints (of domestic violence) are recorded can either normalize or criminalize abusive behaviors.”

For these reasons, policies and protocols for intervention agencies are an important part of an integrated response. Agencies that deal with battered women need to do more than simply change the way they think or be more aware of the problem. Instead, the “actions of those located in different parts of a coordinated system need to be centered toward victim safety and organized in ways that complement rather than undermine or subvert each other. With this goal in mind, practitioners’ decisions and actions need to be guided by sets of protocol standards and, in some cases, direct policies.” Ellen L. Pence & Melanie F. Shepard, Introduction, in Coordinating Community Responses to Domestic Violence: Lessons from the Duluth Model 3, 17-18 (Melanie F. Shepard & Ellen L. Pence eds., 1999).

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