Coordinated Community Responses to Domestic Violence in Six Communities: Beyond the Justice System. Systems Advocacy


In pressing for systems change, advocates must strike a balance between aggressively pushing agencies to change and being co-opted by the agencies. While the advocacy models differed across the sites, there was a great deal of dialogue and interaction between advocates and criminal justice agencies in every site.

In San Francisco, the Family Violence Prevention Fund has built a collaborative working relationship with criminal justice agencies over the past decade. The Fund's philosophy has been to involve the targeted agency (ies) in their efforts, and, as a result, advocates and criminal justice agencies work closely and cooperatively in this community. There seems to be a great deal of respect and trust between the agencies in this community which has contributed to the success of their efforts.

Advocates in both Northern St. Louis County (Range Women's Advocates) and Carlton County (Rural Women's Advocates and Mending the Sacred Hoop) have built close working relationships with criminal justice agencies. They have brought together the various criminal justice agencies and worked with them to develop changes in policies and protocols related to domestic violence. Advocates in San Diego are actively involved in the DV Council, but they have not had to be as proactive since criminal justice agencies have taken a great deal of initiative in that community's efforts.

In Kansas City, for an number of years Project Assist played a major role in the coordination efforts that some characterized as happening "behind the scenes." In general, Project Assist worked with the criminal justice agencies to foster change and avoided assuming a strong adversarial role. However, after the Court Watch Project, they did use the media to focus attention on the problems in the court's response. Some people in Kansas City described Project Assist's role as providing "triage" services and then trying to get the system to take some ownership. As changes have become institutionalized and key positions in the criminal justice system and courts have been filled with people concerned about domestic violence, Project Assist's role in systems advocacy has tapered off in recent years. This shift has also resulted from the departure of key staff at Project Assist.

At times, advocates may face a conflict between advocating for changes and maintaining positive relationships with other agencies. When an advocate becomes too adversarial, it can create tensions and hard feelings between the advocate and other agencies, and, in some cases, undermine the advocate's efforts. In Baltimore, for example, the House of Ruth publicly released statistics that criminal justice agencies shared at a DVCC meeting, without the agencies' consent. As a result, agencies have become reluctant to share data about domestic violence.