Coordinated Community Responses to Domestic Violence in Six Communities: Beyond the Justice System. Issues in Developing a Coordinated Community Response


We can conceptualize an idealized "coordinated community response" as one that "covers" both a community's service and support systems and its population of battered women in potential need of assistance. Given that efforts to establish a coordinated systemwide response are trying to raise the consciousness of a number of different agencies and stakeholders at the same time that it is trying to change agency behavior toward a response that addresses the service needs of all battered women, it is not surprising that issues arise pertaining to both services and people. Since the focus to date has been on bringing new services into a network, more thought and experience has accumulated about service-related issues. But as communities are successful in drawing in different kinds of services, they will inevitably face issues related to the fact that the clients of these newly-integrated services often have quite attitudes and motivations than the women who traditionally have sought shelter and other domestic violence services on their own.

In this study we have sought to understand what issues arise as communities strive toward a coordinated response to domestic violence, and how communities have tried to resolve these issues. With respect to bringing in new types of agencies or services, we wanted to examine issues that arose when agencies had not historically worked together, or when there had been antagonistic relationships in the past; what happened when the different missions or legal obligations of agencies conflicted; what happened when the traditional goals of different agencies for their clients did not match or correspond; and what happened when professional orientations were incompatible. With respect to the populations covered, we wanted to know who the different agencies were likely to see, including: what types of women, with what levels of consciousness about domestic violence and what levels of commitment to extract themselves from it; ever- or currently married to abuser or not; with or without children; whose children were or were not themselves in danger of or experiencing abuse; with or without complicating personal problems such as substance abuse. We wanted to know how communities had approached the problems of offering services to women who had not voluntarily sought help for domestic violence, who might not want help with it, might deny its seriousness or frequency, might have fewer or no social supports for ending it, and might in general be in circumstances with few or no resources at their disposal to deal with it.

In the chapters to follow, we hope to provide the reader with some of the experiences of six communities facing these issues and beginning to grapple with them. Although the communities we visited are among the most progressive in working on these issues, even they are still at the stage of learning by doing. Their experiences can be informative to others who are thinking about creating a broader community response to domestic violence.