Coordinated Community Responses to Domestic Violence in Six Communities: Beyond the Justice System. Chapter 1. Introduction


The past two decades have seen dramatic changes in the response to domestic violence in states and communities throughout the United States.(1) To date, a great deal of the change has occurred within the criminal and civil justice systems. In many communities the justice systems have experienced a number of important changes in their laws and agency practices related to domestic violence. As a result many justice systems now respond to domestic violence in a way that is more likely than in the past to hold perpetrators accountable and to protect and support battered women. At the same time, social services for battered women have become more widely available with substantial growth in domestic violence hotlines and shelter services, and batterer intervention programs have been developed and made available in many communities. While problems of execution and service availability still remain even in the most progressive jurisdictions, shifts in public knowledge and attitudes have occurred that, at the local level, seem to support better responses to domestic violence in many communities.

There is also a growing awareness that the problem of violence against women is complex and requires comprehensive service responses involving agencies and services beyond the justice systems. A number of coordinated efforts have grown up over the recent past, as some communities have moved beyond changes in individual agencies, usually those in the justice systems, to respond to domestic violence in a more comprehensive and coordinated way. Many of the early efforts focused on coordination among agencies within the criminal justice system, or between these agencies and domestic violence service providers. In recent years, however, a "second generation" of coordinated responses has developed as some communities have expanded their efforts to include a broader array of agencies and stakeholders, including health care providers, child welfare agencies, substance abuse services, clergy, and business. Some communities have gone a step further and worked to involve the community as a whole in responding to domestic violence through prevention and education efforts aimed at raising community awareness and reshaping attitudes about this issue. Many of these more expansive efforts are quite new; only limited information has been available about them and the broader community and legal contexts in which they have occurred.

This report presents the results of a project to examine coordinated community responses to domestic violence, with a special focus on communities that are trying to incorporate into their response services and stakeholders beyond the justice system. The study was designed to understand the different approaches taken to coordinating a response and how these have developed not only in relation to the needs of battered women but in the context of other policy influences. All of the communities in the study have coordination efforts dating back a number of years that began with the criminal justice system and, in many cases, with domestic violence service providers or advocates. These communities' efforts to expand their response to include other agencies or stakeholders are more recent and much less developed than their criminal justice response. This study describes how the communities coordinate criminal justice responses and examines the issues that they have encountered as they have begun to move beyond the justice systems. Since most of these efforts are in their early stages, the findings do not provide definitive answers about the best approach to broad coordination or the likely outcomes. The study does, however, raise a number of important issues for communities to consider as they seek new and better ways to address this complicated problem.

This report is organized as follows. Chapter 2 describes the study design including site selection and site visit procedures. Chapter 3 provides descriptions of each community's efforts, including the history, features and outcomes of the coordination. Chapters 4, 5 and 6 discuss important cross-cutting issues about how the sites created change, the mechanisms they used, and opportunities for further efforts. The report concludes with a summary of the important issues for communities and various agencies to consider in coordinating a response to include a broad range of organizations and stakeholders. The remainder of this chapter provides a brief discussion of the diversity of the service needs of battered women and batterers and issues involved in developing a coordinated response.