July 2018 Newsletter

“A coordinated community response to domestic violence needs to establish a consensus regarding the responsibility of state and community agencies regarding an abuser. As the violence is understood to reinforce unequal gender arrangements in society rather than the manifestation of individual pathology, this responsibility must be assumed by the relevant social and legal institutions and community organizations rather than left to individual women.”

Putting Survivor Voices First

Unfortunately, the unequal gender arrangements which BWJP founder Ellen Pence referenced over 20 years ago persist today, largely because the perspectives of victims are not centered in criminal justice interventions. Effective change can result from first responders working with survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) to convey survivor-identified needs to all other professionals working on a case, in addition to bringing up repeat, systemic issues with the CCR. The most direct method to accomplish this is to incorporate victims’ voices to influence the CCR’s long-term strategy.

The experts on the impacts of abuse are survivors themselves. As they seek legal protections, they experience any gaps in the justice system first-hand. Many years ago, the Duluth Model focused practitioners on the importance of seeking input from survivors to guide the understanding of the problem and development of solutions. The resulting Power & Control Wheel provided a powerful educational tool that illustrated the range of abusive tactics that abusers employed in that community. This was an important step in designing intervention efforts that more effectively protected victims. This is a step that any CCR should take to orient its work toward the strategic aim of improving and coordinating its interventions effectively.

A few options for soliciting survivor input include:

Focus Groups: Many communities have benefitted from recruiting and interviewing focus groups of survivors. Organizing several focus groups that reflect the diversity of your community will provide more comprehensive feedback, as well as holding some groups in the language of non-English speaking populations. Because the work of a focus group is valuable, members should be compensated for their time, as would any professional willing and able to contribute their expertise.

The CCR team should give serious thought to confidentiality concerns: how to best maximize the benefit of having community experts contribute information and ideas—and to be able to do this freely, while maintaining group members’ privacy to the appropriate degree determined by them.

While organizing focus groups involves a significant time commitment, the advantages include generating new approaches to a CCR’s work, especially when partners are committed to change, even change that may be challenging or uncomfortable for their agencies.

Interviews: It may not be possible to organize a focus group when a minority population is small or the geographic jurisdiction is large. Individual interviews are also useful in soliciting desired feedback. Existing IPV and community agencies can be helpful in advertising the opportunity to potential interviewees. As in groups, interviewees should be compensated for their time and expertise, and confidentiality concerns addressed with care.

Surveys: An anonymous survey made available either electronically or in print, distributed in a way to ensure anonymity, is another method to acquire useful information. For a relatively small financial outlay, you can increase the ability of people to participate and reach those who might not participate in a focus group or a targeted academic study. Of course, the inability to ask participants follow-up questions or have a fuller conversation about the responses are disadvantages of this approach.

Each option can provide ideas to spark innovation. Let’s challenge ourselves to go beyond the default ways of doing our work. Let’s listen to the voices of survivors to truly understand how unequal gender arrangements facilitate IPV. Let’s reimagine a justice system that intervenes effectively to end this violence.

For assistance in improving justice system responses to IPV, reach out to the Battered Women’s Justice Project at technicalassistance@bwjp.org.

Mobile Capabilities Streamline Cell Phone Evidence Collection

Domestic violence perpetrators are increasingly using technology to stalk and harass their victims, often through the victim’s cell phone. Until recently, if a victim surrendered her cell phone for examination, she could be without the device for anywhere from a few hours to a few days. As a victim’s cell phone is a necessary link to safety, the loss of a cell phone for even a short period is a significant problem, especially in rural areas.

Dakota County, Minnesota, the third most populous county in the state with more than 412,000 residents, has taken a proactive approach to addressing this problem with a project dedicated to electronic domestic violence crimes that was funded by the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) under the Improving Criminal Justice Response (ICJR) grant program. The grant expands an existing Electronic Crimes Unit (ECU) of the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office. The ECU, which has focused on all cases involving electronic evidence, now has expanded capacity to better serve victims of sexual and domestic violence. Of special note is their ability to obtain evidence from victims wherever convenient – at their place of residence or while seeking medical care following an incident – and now the process typically takes less than an hour.

To read more about Dakota County's work, click here.

Know More, Do More: Identifying and Responding to Stalking

BWJP is hosting the webinar Know More, Do More: Identifying and Responding to Stalking on August 16, 2018. Victims of stalking often report feeling discounted by the systems designed to assist them. Despite the prevalence of stalking—a crime affecting some 7.5 million people at some time in their lives—allied professionals responsible for interacting with victims of crime are often hampered by lack of training and resources to address the crime of stalking in a comprehensive manner. This webinar will address common tactics used by perpetrators, identify stalking-specific risk assessment tools to better determine the level of threat to victims, and discuss effective safety planning strategies. By the end of this webinar, participants will be better able to: Recognize common tactics used by stalkers; conduct stalking-specific risk assessments; and identify key safety planning strategies to address these tactics. 

To register for the webinar, click here.