Coordinated Community Responses to Domestic Violence in Six Communities: Beyond the Justice System. Staffing, Staff Location, and Staff Loyalties


As communities seek to expand their response to battered women, more agencies and services become involved in dealing with the issue. This means that more people need to be trained, services and supports will begin appearing in locations where they have never been before, and the traditional domestic violence service providers will undoubtedly be challenged to develop and expand their activities and involvement.

As agencies begin to add capacity to address domestic violence issues, they may train their own staff, recruit new staff who already have domestic violence program experience, or both. Recruiting from within the ranks of traditional domestic violence service providers can quickly deplete these ranks and leave the traditional providers understaffed and feeling under siege. Asking traditional domestic violence providers to work with the new agencies to develop appropriate training packages is a productive option, but it requires the commitment of the agencies to ensure its effectiveness over time. It is frequently the case that the staff of the to-be- trained agencies have professional credentials that differ from the credentials of the traditional domestic violence programs, and oftentimes, professionals prefer to be trained by others with similar credentials. So it is not uncommon for traditional domestic violence program staff to be invited to help with initial training, only to be replaced with in-house staff once that staff has acquired a little experience. This approach may be prove inadequate in the long run, since it takes considerable time and involvement to learn to think differently about domestic violence cases. The initial superficial training may not accomplish the amount of change that is necessary and, with no on-going input from the traditional domestic violence service providers, little real alteration of standard agency practice will occur toward the battered women now likely to be seen by the new agency. One can see this happening in police, prosecution and court victim witness assistance programs, where the focus of the program gradually shifts from a primacy on the victim's needs to a focus on helping the victim become the best witness she can be (in other words, the agency's mission takes precedence over the needs of the woman). Only in very aware communities which have a lot of experience can such a shift be prevented, as in San Francisco's District Attorney's office, where the Family Violence Project (a victim advocacy unit) was protected at its inception through a conscious policy to prevent such a shift in emphasis.

Another danger is that as mainstream agencies add the capacity to handle domestic violence cases, funding will shift toward them and away from the traditional domestic violence programs which also maintain a systems and individual advocacy component. Should this happen, it will have the effect of depoliticizing the issue and moving it toward being handled "professionally," as has happened to a large extent with rape crisis services (Burt, Gornick and Pittman, 1987). Defunding traditional domestic violence service providers may make mainstream agencies feel more comfortable, but this approach will probably have a long-run negative effect on the amount, nature, and quality of services community-wide.