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


Some of San Francisco's earliest efforts to improve the response to domestic violence occurred in the early 1980s. La Casa de las Madres, the oldest shelter in San Francisco, was established during this period, as was Woman Inc. which provides legal assistance and counseling to battered women. At the same time, a number of other changes occurred within the criminal justice system. In 1980, the Coalition for Justice for Battered Women, a group of legal professionals and other persons concerned about the criminal justice system's response to domestic violence, applied for a federal grant to establish the Family Violence Project (now the Family Violence Prevention Fund), a victim advocacy unit within the District Attorney's Office. The Family Violence Project was created to assist battered women during the legal process through counseling, service referrals, court accompaniment, and advocacy within the criminal justice system. The Family Violence Project worked closely with the police and prosecutors and educated these agencies about domestic violence issues through their joint efforts.

The early 1980s saw further change in the criminal justice response when the newly- elected District Attorney fulfilled a campaign promise to create a "vertical" domestic violence prosecution unit. Initially, the District Attorney's domestic violence unit was staffed by one attorney who monitored all domestic violence cases for consistency in prosecution and personally prosecuted only the more serious cases. Over time, the unit added two attorneys and expanded its role to prosecute all domestic violence felonies and some misdemeanors. The "vertical" prosecution policy adopted by this unit means that the same prosecutor handles an individual case from arraignment through sentencing.

During the mid-1980s, domestic violence service providers formed the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium to minimize competition among themselves for funding. At that time, domestic violence services received funding from marriage license fees, which were administered by the city Commission on the Status of Women. The Consortium and the Commission subsequently requested and received additional money for domestic violence services from the city's general funds starting in 1985. Currently, these two funding sources provide more than $1 million annually for domestic violence services in San Francisco and continue to be administered by the Commission on the Status of Women. The city's three domestic violence shelters--La Casa de Las Madres, the Asian Women's Shelter, and The Riley Center--which together have a total of 70 beds, receive priority for this funding.

Prior to the Consortium, money from marriage license fees was allocated by an expert panel for the Commission, which was lobbied heavily by agencies competing for funds. The Consortium created a structure for the various shelters and service providers to develop funding priorities as a group and to formulate an overall plan for how the domestic violence money should be divided. Each member agency then prepares and submits its own funding request to the Commission in accordance with the plan. Membership in the Consortium has grown from its original 3 members to 15 members currently.

Developing resources for member agencies has remained a major role of the Consortium. In the early 1990s, the Consortium established Partners Ending Domestic Abuse, a group of professional women, to increase private donations for domestic violence. In the fall of 1994, the Partners Ending Domestic Abuse distributed $40,000 in its first round of grants to Consortium member agencies. Since 1993, the Consortium and Partners Ending Domestic Abuse have shared a full-time staff member who coordinates the two groups' activities.

The Family Violence Prevention Fund (FUND), which was incorporated in 1989 as a private, nonprofit organization, has played an important role in San Francisco's coordination efforts since the early 1980s. Over time, the FUND's work has grown to include training law enforcement, the judicial branch, and health care agencies, addressing abuse among immigrant women, and promoting public education and prevention efforts locally and nationally. The FUND also raised money through grants and private sources which enabled it to further expand its activities beyond the victim advocacy work of the Family Violence Project. As a result, the FUND broke off from the District Attorney's Office in 1989 to pursue a broader agenda which included immigration and health issues related to domestic violence. The Family Violence Project remained a victim advocacy unit within the District Attorney's Office, and program funding and oversight responsibility were assumed by the District Attorney at that time.

A critical event in San Francisco's history occurred in 1990 when a woman, Veena Charan, was murdered by her husband after seeking help numerous times at several different agencies. The Domestic Violence Consortium requested that the Commission on the Status of Women evaluate the city's response to this case. The Commission formed a subcommittee consisting of legal professionals, advocates, and service providers to assess the response to the Charan case by six agencies: San Francisco Police Department, San Francisco District Attorney's Office, Adult Probation Department, Municipal Court, Criminal Division, Family Court Services (a mediation agency for the Court), and Department of Social Services. Every agency, except for Family Court Services, cooperated with the investigation. The Charan Investigation Report described each agency's actions in the case and identified areas for improvement.

Many people in San Francisco identified the Charan investigation as a turning point in the community's response to domestic violence, particularly for criminal justice agencies. For example, the final report recommended that both the police and adult probation departments establish specialized domestic violence units. The police department began operating a domestic violence unit in 1995, and one respondent identified the Charan investigation as the focal point for the department's decision to create this unit. The probation department has planned a special unit and expects to have it fully staffed and operational in 1996.

Over the years, a number of ad hoc groups have been formed in San Francisco to address problems in the community's response to domestic violence. For example, the Domestic Violence and Justice Committee was established several years ago to increase the number of emergency protection orders issued. One of the newer coordinating groups is the Family Violence Council which was created in 1995. Unlike other ad hoc groups, the Family Violence Council was legislatively mandated by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, in part to create a coordinating group for the city's grant under the U.S. Department of Justice's Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) program.

The purpose of the Family Violence Council is to recommend policies and programs to increase awareness and reduce the incidence of domestic violence. The Council focuses largely on the legal aspects of the community's response, and members of its policymaking body include judges from the Superior and Municipal Courts in addition to representatives from police, adult probation, the District Attorney's Office, the Domestic Violence Consortium and the Commission on the Status of Women. The Council's Advisory Committee includes 35 members who represent a range of interests, including various ethnic communities, the gay and lesbian communities, religious and business communities in addition to the media and domestic violence survivors. To date, the Council has created at least nine working groups which are presently developing plans in a number of areas including community education, court systems, family violence data, health care, and offender intervention.

Recently, health care providers have begun to play a larger role in the city's response to domestic violence. The health care community has been involved with domestic violence services since the 1980s when the FUND trained hospital staff and provided on-site crisis intervention services to battered women at San Francisco General Hospital. In recent years, the FUND produced a resource manual to guide health care providers in developing an institutional response to domestic violence, which was pilot-tested in 6 sites in Pennsylvania and 6 sites in California, including San Francisco General Hospital. A multidisciplinary team at San Francisco General Hospital developed protocol and materials to identify domestic violence and trained hospital staff in these procedures. Hospital social workers meet with every woman identified by the doctors as a domestic violence victim to provide information and referrals for other services. The FUND recently expanded this project to provide training and resource materials to public health and community clinics, including three clinics in San Francisco who are currently developing their own domestic violence protocol, and model response programs.