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

10/01/1996

Range Women's Advocates (RWA) has been at the center of the local response to domestic violence since that response began in the late 1970s. Everyone we interviewed mentioned the importance of that consistency and persistence in moving Northern St. Louis County in the direction of more awareness of and direct supportive actions for victims of domestic violence. The smallness of the community and the extensive networking and interactions among most key players were also seen as an important factor in the gradual development and spread of services.

In addition to services for battered women and advocacy on their behalf, RWA started the Range Intervention Project (RIP) in 1983 in response to an inquiry by Duluth's Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP) director Ellen Pence about whether RWA would like to try to replicate DAIP in their rural setting. The mission of both intervention projects (RIP and DAIP) is to stimulate change in criminal justice agencies so that the entire system holds batterers accountable and keeps women safe. To these ends, about three years ago (when RIP had been in existence for about 10 years) RWA assembled an advisory committee to RIP composed of representatives from every part of the criminal justice system. This advisory committee focuses on identifying and completing specific tasks intended to improve the response of the criminal justice system, such as developing a checklist (protocol) for law enforcement to use in collecting evidence and writing reports in domestic violence cases. Protocols for prosecutors and judges are next on the advisory committee's agenda.

In the past year RWA also has tried to involve clergy in combating domestic violence, by getting clergy to acknowledge that domestic violence happens, commit themselves to resist it, and determine to speak against it from the pulpit. Through the RIP, RWA provides batterer intervention programs (education classes) and monitors compliance, and participates fully in other regional efforts to affect change. One of these, the Family Violence Council, was recently organized by the chief judge of the district in response to directives from the Minnesota Supreme Court. This Council is pulling together opinion leaders, business people, the medical community, and the organizations traditionally involved with domestic violence issues. Its goals are to address all types of violence; to try to shift public opinion toward rejection of violence; and to develop needed supports in the community for victims of violence.