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10 Ways to Fix Domestic Violence Programs
April 19, 2006
by Trudy W. Schuett

With previously unrecognized and unserved populations (the male victims and female abusers) now gaining the attention of national media, and US legislators seriously considering how they want to fund these programs, it is only a matter of time before the domestic violence industry faces a rude awakening. Agencies providing services to victims will need to make some hard choices, and decide if they can or will continue to function the same as they have in the past.

I've come up with 10 points these agencies should consider if they want to stay in business. These are in no particular order.

  1. Tell the truth — While myth-making and storytelling may have their places elsewhere, the realm of "helping" agencies is not that place. Because the issue of domestic violence is something quite different than the public has been led to believe, it is time to start depicting the issue in realistic terms.
  2. Open the doors to the public that needs you — Limiting services to specific groups of people based on anything other than ability to demonstrate need is exclusionary and wrong. There can be no excuses, especially when the reality of DV is recognized.
  3. Aim for transparency — Client confidentiality is something quite different than agency confidentiality. Lifting the veil of secrecy surrounding these programs would be helpful to both clients and the community at large.
  4. Devise new solutions — The public doesn't fully realize it yet, but the shelter system is not working. It is only self-propagating. What clients want and need are practical ways to approach the problem in their own lives, not a different life.
  5. Require expertise — Far too many shelter directors have little or no training in the daily operations of a social services program. Simply being well-versed in women's studies in college has no application when staff must be managed, and the building needs repair. Most programs are still using outmoded and essentially counterproductive fundraising methods that are little more than publicity stunts in today's media-savvy world.
  6. Become a part of the community — As many other agencies have seen, developing good relationships with the other agencies, including networking and sharing resources can be of immeasurable help. The artificial and needless barriers that now exist, particularly with law enforcement, is part of the reason DV programs are ineffectual. The vacuum cannot be maintained forever.
  7. Welcome examination — This is becoming common practice in other agencies, as they reach out beyond their stakeholders to the community at large for help and solutions. If current practices do not stand up to examination, then so be it. The past refusal of DV services to see what works and what doesn't is beyond comprehension.
  8. Respond to changing times — Programs as they are, focused on unemployed women may have been helpful in the 1970s, when many of them were established, but the culture has changed. Fully 70% of women are now working, which means that programs will only be of help of any kind to that remaining 30% of women who are unemployed. When you limit that number further by removing those women who are abusers, rather than victims, and those with older boys, you reach a number that is almost insignificant in terms of impact on the community. If the issue has been finally examined in light of reality rather than the long-standing myth-making process, this will not result in a flood of new clients that agencies are unable to serve. There may in fact, be even fewer than expected.
  9. Obey the law — recent changes in VAWA is going to make it more and more difficult to hide the fact the few programs function in accordance with the EEO clause of federal granting. It will no longer be enough to insist that equal access is provided; equal access must be demonstrated. In other words, 3 will not equal 120 any more, just because an agency says it does. I'm sure anyone can recognize how important it is to an agency to maintain its funding and keep its staff out of jail.
  10. Get out of politics — This may be the most important point. Freeing up resources that have in the past been devoted to political campaigns and law-making may be a very positive thing for DV programs. Domestic violence is a purely human problem requiring a human approach. That human approach has been seriously lacking, another reason why the programs we have do so little to help victims free themselves from the cycle of violence in their lives.

Trudy W. Schuett is an advocate for victims of domestic abuse, and the publisher of the DesertLight Journal, where this article was first published.

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