Coordinated Community Responses to Domestic Violence in Six Communities: Beyond the Justice System. Outcomes, Issues and Future Directions


San Francisco has successfully built a community response to domestic violence that provides a number of avenues for agencies to share information and resources. Many different agencies participate in San Francisco's efforts, and new agencies have been added over time. Coordinating committees have been widely used for a number of purposes and have given the community considerable experience in working collaboratively to resolve problems. One respondent attributed the success of San Francisco's efforts to the active involvement of the community noting that "in San Francisco, things are not being developed outside and laid onto the community...instead, people in the community have developed and implemented the vision themselves." This cooperative spirit permeates much of the community's activities. Another strength of San Francisco's model is the open communication between agencies, which enables them to identify problems and develop solutions quickly.

This well-developed domestic violence response has a number of benefits for victims of domestic violence. First, the cooperative relationships between the agencies make it easier to access each other's services. According to one provider, "if someone needs domestic violence services, there's less of an inclination to take no for an answer and more of an inclination to problem-solve." Second, the well-developed network makes it possible to get services from other agencies faster, since people know whom to call for assistance. Third, the response is more sensitive and appropriate, due to cross-agency trainings and changes in institutional policies and procedures. In addition, since the basic services are in place in San Francisco, the community has been able to focus its attention on improving services for various subgroups including gay and lesbian, immigrant, and non-English speaking populations.

The San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium has fundamentally changed the way domestic violence agencies work together and share resources. The Consortium promotes cooperation and coordination between agencies, since agencies look to the Consortium and each other for funding. In 1995-96, nearly one fifth of the total proposed budget for Consortium agencies will come from the city funding sources. Consortium agencies systematically plan for domestic violence services in the community and develop funding recommendations as a group, thereby maximizing services and resources. One person felt that the Consortium ensures that smaller organizations have access to city funding that they might not otherwise have. Another person noted that the Consortium frequently rallies around and supports member agencies that are facing financial or other difficulties.

Agencies that are not members of the Consortium do not actively participate in this process in San Francisco. For example, the competition for city domestic violence money is open to all community agencies--not just Consortium members--and the Commission encourages all agencies to apply for funding. While the Consortium has its own process for coordinating funding requests for member agencies, it does not control who receives the city funds. The Commission has struggled to get other community agencies to apply, but last year, it did not receive any proposals from non-Consortium members. One person attributed this to reluctance by community agencies that are not specifically domestic violence programs to apply, although others questioned the qualifications of these agencies to carry out domestic violence programs.

However, some of these community agencies serve battered men and women, since not all victims of domestic violence seek assistance from agencies that specifically provide domestic violence services. Instead, some people prefer community-based service providers such as church-based programs and community centers, which do not have a primary domestic violence orientation. In San Francisco, this was reported to be particularly true within the African American and Hispanic communities. One person felt that battered women in the African American community often prefer to seek services from within their own community unless the situation is severe. Women in these communities may seek help from someone at their church or in a neighborhood program, whose services and approach often differ from traditional domestic violence programs. For example, one faith-based program serving the African American community in San Francisco works with a substantial number of battered women. In some cases, this program provides counseling to the entire family including the batterer. This approach differs philosophically from the basic approach of domestic violence providers which work to empower battered woman. Although they have not been a part of the Consortium and have not received city funds, one person noted that this provider had been successful in raising support for their program and services through other means.

Several people noted the need to expand the community's effort to include other types of organizations. The religious community, corporate and public employers, community-based agencies, and representatives from certain ethnic communities were all mentioned as groups that should be involved in some broader way. Several people also felt that Child Protection Services (CPS) should be more involved in coordination efforts.

The courts are a weak link in San Francisco's response to domestic violence. Many respondents identified the Judiciary as the community's major deficit. To date, the courts have not been a major focus of the community's efforts, and judges have not been receptive to education and information from the domestic violence community. In San Francisco, there seems to be unresolved tensions about how the courts can become involved in the community's efforts and still be perceived as impartial. The Family Violence Council represents an attempt to involve judges in this issue and people are hopeful that this will improve the court's response, although this is a new area where the community has little experience to date.