Methods of Preventing Domestic Violence
It is almost impossible now to remember the old days when no services aimed at protecting women and children from domestic violence were available in the US. The domestic violence field has changed to a great deal since the early 1970s. However, in more recent years, women and children’s experiences of all the public sector services have been that they are inadequate, with practitioners often assuming judgmental or woman-blaming attitudes. This was the case especially up until the mid 1990s. For example, two key British studies in the 1980s illuminated women's help-seeking efforts at the time and the difficulties and barriers which they faced at every turn (Binney et al., 1981; Dobash et al., 1985). Many women in these and subsequent studies have spoken of trying one agency after another and of the long trek between them to find help, sometimes leading to an ever increasing sense of desperation and disillusion. The previous lack of attention paid to violence experienced by women and children have continued to have their effects, despite service improvements. In the 1980s, there were various attempts to work with women in respectful ways and to recognize them as active participants in trying to stop the violence they had experienced. Nevertheless, women survivors of violence have continued to be stereotyped, very often, in public discourse and among helping agencies as passive and incapable (Aris et al. 12-24). Despite the efforts of the support groups, abused women are still rarely regarded as competent participants in the policy process. This paper, by referring to a number of scholarly articles and sources, discusses and analyzes various methods of preventing domestic violence, focusing on the recent government actions, policy interventions, support group actions, and innovative means of combating this problem.
Government’s Response to the Issue of Domestic Violence
Governments of the developed nations are currently trying to introduce measures to resolve the domestic violence problem. In the UK, the Women's Unit of the Cabinet Office (now named the Women and Equality Unit and moved to the Department of Trade and Industry) published an action plan for violence against women (Batsleer and Humphries 56). This action plan was far from comprehensive, but was a beginning nonetheless. It was accompanied in 2000 by the production by the Home Office of a useful set of Briefing Notes summarizing what works in addressing domestic violence. These developments, among other official initiatives, were important in terms of signaling a new willingness by government to take on the issue. The Briefing Notes detailed both inadequacies in services and also innovative new developments within different agencies and policy agendas (Beresford and Croft 298-300). They provided evidence that, currently, many committed attempts are being made across the field to improve the way that agencies deal with domestic violence.
Indeed, the Home Office Crime Reduction Program on Violence Against Women has funded a set of projects aimed t combating domestic violence. In some of these projects, efforts to find out abused women's views have been conducted and satisfaction with services received has increased in consequence. The Cheshire Domestic Violence Outreach Service, for instance, has conducted and published qualitative surveys of what service users think of the service and the project team has acted on the results (Hague et al. 90-93). More commonly, though, it seems that women remain dissatisfied and unsafe even after they have sought help in a systematic manner and made use of all the relevant services that are available.
It is not only women who urgently need improved services
It is known that domestic violence can have varied and serious impacts on children who witness, live with or otherwise experience it (McGee 34). However, children's voices are very rarely heard in relation to their views about the abuse experienced by adults and about policy and practice responses. Until recently, for example, studies of domestic violence and children in the US used mothers and professionals as their research respondents, although recent work includes consultation with children. The situation is very similar in the UK. A study in the Economic and Social Research Council's Children 5-16 years: Growing into the 21st Century Research Program (Mullender et al., 45) has revealed that children are far from being passive victims of domestic violence. Rather, they use a wide range of coping strategies, often in an active way, to deal with the violence they experience. The research found that children would, generally speaking, like to be consulted about responses, and that they can be a rich source of good advice for other children and adults (Mullender et al. 67).
However, while there are many new practice developments within agencies in regard to domestic violence that attempt to address children's needs, once again few of these have consulted children directly. Relevant agencies could usefully seek the views of children who have experience of domestic violence (in a sensitive and careful way and where it is safe to do so) about policy and services (Pleck 89).
Practical Methods of preventing Domestic Violence
Survivor involvement within domestic violence work is possible as long as it is thought about carefully, built into funding, and developed with sincerity and commitment. Sometimes, it is important to realize that it is nothing to be scared of. Rather, the important thing is to give user involvement a try in the domestic violence field, rather than being frightened of rocking the boat or of what might happen as a result.
The participation methods presently being tried in various parts of the country are below, and include survivors' forums or advisory groups, women's focus groups and the active involvement of local women's organizations to represent abused women. Special initiatives may also be put into place on a one-off basis and many agencies use established (Pleck 93). Cooperation with activist groups is also a vital component of any consultation strategy, and political and feminist parties have their role to play in raising the voices of abused women and children. Campaigns and activism have always involved projects and domestic violence survivors themselves. The core has traditionally been the social movement of women for liberation and justice and it continues to be so.
New and innovative methods of preventing domestic violence:
- Domestic violence survivors' forums or advisory groups.
- Active involvement of women's organizations and other women's projects to represent abused women's voices and to act as a conduit for information exchange.
- General cooperation with agencies representing abused women and children, e.g. women's support groups, campaigns and refuge organizations.
- Political and community parties.
- Women and children focus groups.
- Specific individual mechanisms, e.g. one-off meetings between abused women and senior managers.
- Questionnaires, surveys and research projects on service user views.
- Internet consultation.
- Regular feedback and consultation slots at, for example, domestic violence forum meetings, together with protocols for acting on them.
- Survivors and ex-service users taking roles as managers, workers and volunteers (Harwin 48-49).
Domestic Violence Survivors' forums and Groups
One of the goals of the modern anti-domestic violence movement could be to establish consultative groups to help women and children who have fallen victims to abuse. In a few cases throughout the country, groups of this nature which are ongoing have been established over a longer period to provide a structured mechanism for survivors, including service users, to be involved in policy development and multi-agency work (Eschle 20-22).
Domestic violence survivors' forums or advisory groups consisting of abused women and children have been established to work together with some local forums. These groups are often also support groups, and can offer an inspirational way in which policy-makers begin to be directly accountable to abused women service users. In some cases, existing support groups may set aside time to look at the work of the main domestic violence forum in the area. In other cases, the group may only meet occasionally and may have been specifically crated to make comments on abused women's needs, on what services are required, on new service and policy initiatives and on progress in combating domestic violence in the locality in question (Aris et al. 60-64).
Working with survivors' forums can be a very effective consultation strategy for policy-makers because there is an existing mechanism for accessing women's views in a transparent way. But survivors' forums of this type also have the potential to develop beyond consultation to involve service users and ex-users more fully in the policy process. At their best, they can become accountability committees that can advise on and monitor service development and have a deciding word on policy.
Currently, there are a few of these groups in different State authorities around the country and they are usually actively facilitated by an employee.
Key Issues of Domestic Violence Prevention Measures
One key matter to be considered is who is to serve on a domestic violence survivors' forum or advisory group. How to constitute these groups to make them at least somewhat representative is clearly an issue. Being able to speak for others is particularly important for an ongoing group of this type which comes directly into policy development. There are also important equality issues in terms of ensuring that different communities are not excluded. Formal representation does not seem to work well as it imposes too much of a restraint on the flexibility and humanity needed, but, equally, diversity cannot be ignored. It is all too easy for a survivors' forum to consist of white women only, for example, to the exclusion of other interests, views and experiences (Abrahams 78).
There can also be a measure of discomfort in an ongoing group, with participants sometimes feeling that their whole life and personality have been reduced to their experience of abuse. Consultation mechanisms can make it seem as if this is all that anyone else is interested in, so that participating in them can come to be psychologically difficult. One help for this may be consciously and openly to share women's positive efforts to survive, to resist and to find effective help, including for their children. As for other consultation or participation methods, issues of safety and confidentiality need to be considered. This has implications for choice of venues, which need to be both accessible and safe, and for transportation to and from the survivors' forum meetings. To be a member of an established group over time can mean a certain measure of public visibility, and this can be particularly damaging, or even dangerous, for women who have escaped violent partners and who are either actually in hiding from them or who do not want their ex-abusers to know where they are.
It is important not to exploit participants in these or other ways, especially where the group is expected to meet more on a long-term basis than on a short-term one. One could also ask why forum members should keep on attending over time, unless there is positive feedback and some compensation offered. Some scholars emphasize that user groups require constant effort to maintain an adequate level of membership, and this problem is worsened when the work being done becomes boring.
In conclusion it should be stated that it is essential that resources are provided for support, training, “supervision and consultancy on the one hand, and for the provision of general expenses, childcare, transport, translation/interpreting and accessibility policies on the other, to assist survivors' forum members to do the job” (Aris et al. 72-76). Working as a survivors' forum alongside is a complex role to fulfill. It needs support in terms of both resources and, often, professional assistance.
An issue to be considered, for example, in domestic violence prevention programs can be crises and personal difficulties for members over time. Groups and organizations need to experiment and to be willing to try new approaches which may or may not work. It cannot be done quickly or half-heartedly. This is especially the case because the underlying cause that has brought participants together, namely domestic violence, is such a painful and destructive one. Partly as a result of these difficult realities and partly because any long-term group is likely to have its ups and downs, there is sometimes a tendency for groups to encounter difficulties in interactions between members. This may require support, consultancy or some other form of help with conflict resolution.
In summary, this paper has discussed the innovatory work of domestic violence forums and advisory groups in the developed nations, and the positives, sensitivities and difficulties involved. They offer a helpful way of development and are growing in popularity, particularly in regard to advising domestic violence forums and policy groups. While they can be used as a solely consultative exercise, they also have the potential to give service users real power in the policy process and to lead towards accountability of services to survivors, as in the international examples described in this paper.