Coordinated Community Responses to Domestic Violence in Six Communities: Beyond the Justice System. History and Development


Beginning in the early 1980s, several women living in Carlton County (including some former victims of domestic violence), began meeting to discuss what they could do for other victims in the county. These women had their own bad experiences with law enforcement and wanted to change the response for other victims. At that time, there were no domestic violence services available in the county, and women had to travel to Duluth, which for someone in the western part of the county was quite far. Also, law enforcement rarely made arrests for domestic violence assaults or violation of protection orders. Even if an offender was arrested, there was little chance that he would be prosecuted or sent to jail or ordered to treatment.

Since 1982, these women have been working to change the response to domestic violence in Carlton County. They have worked closely with law enforcement, prosecutors, victim advocates, judges, and probation officers to examine their existing domestic violence policies and to suggest improvements.

Concurrently, beginning about seven years ago several Native American women and men, staff of DAIP, and some local community and reservation activists got together over dinner to talk about how they could use the DAIP model to design an intervention for the Fond du Lac reservation. Many people were concerned about the violence on the reservation, the general lack of a response to domestic violence, and racism within the criminal justice system. Furthermore, Native American victims have been hesitant to report abuse, call law enforcement, and seek help from outside systems.

This group continued to talk and exchange information and then in 1990 brought all of the players together for a meeting that included law enforcement, prosecution, judges, the Reservation Business Committee (RBC), and staff from DAIP. In 1992, the participants signed a memorandum of understanding to solidify their relationship and to improve the

sharing of information between agencies. The agreement outlines the following objectives:

  1. The first priority of the intervention is to ensure victim safety and occurs in a way that retains the integrity of the victim;
  2. The primary focus of intervention is on stopping the assailant's use of violence, not on fixing or ending the relationship;
  3. Policies and procedures act as a general deterrent to battering in the community;
  4. The courts and law enforcement agencies will work cooperatively with victim advocacy programs;
  5. The courts, when appropriate, mandate educational groups for assailants and impose increasingly harsh penalties for any continued acts of harassment and violence they commit.

The Minnesota state legislature also passed laws allowing probable cause arrest and instructed law enforcement and prosecutors to adopt a written policy for addressing domestic violence. Law enforcement and prosecutors' offices could either use the state's model policy or create one of their own. Some agencies in Carlton County chose to adopt the state model policy, while others created their own policy and received input from Non-Violence Council members, including MSH and RWA.

The community is just beginning to realize the effects of the advocates' work, the coordinating bodies, and the changes in the laws. Several people compared the process that the domestic violence response is undergoing to the issue of child sexual abuse several years ago. People in the community are more aware of domestic violence and the response is starting to change, but there is still a long way to go.