There is a growing chasm of dissent between traditional domestic violence programs and former domestic violence victims who have independently taken up the cause. The disconnect comes as domestic violence shelters have gone from being grassroots, underground efforts run out of women’s homes to established, government sanctioned agencies who employ many specialized and degreed (albeit, still poorly compensated) “professionals”.
Shelters, in the last couple of decades, have enjoyed status in the community as the darlings of all the service agencies that compassionate individuals and foundations feel good about throwing money at. Shelters also are at the top of the list for federal and state grants and other funding. There has long been an unquestioning faith that these agencies are doing the right thing in the best possible manner. This status brings the inherent problem with growth and acceptance that begins to play out in this evolutionary process. Things are run more as a business instead of a cause. Priorities shift, ethics slide and compassion dulls. Meeting the outcomes and budgets that each funding source demands becomes the central, one-dimensional purpose rather than the diverse, multi-dimensional victims who come to the door. These victims and survivors who feel, at the minimum, slighted and, in worse case scenarios, placed in further danger, are speaking out. Their outrage is justified:
I don’t know if those speaking out against the established domestic violence programs can be called a new grassroots movement. Grassroots implies local involvement doing what needs to be done - hands on, face-to-face - beneath the surface (root level). It seems to me that the cohesiveness and much of the actual advocacy within this group of dissenters is accomplished through the internet. A “web” connected by keyboards and search engines spreading information via blogs, Youtube and internet radio. Many are in the midst of or still dealing with their own victimization. They have been on the receiving end of services and were treated poorly or been re-victimized by an agency. There have always been individuals who are not treated the way they should have been, however the difference now is that they can expand their experience and make it known to the world by reaching out online.
There are calls for more government monitoring. http://alexisamoore.blogspot.com/2009/07/open-letter-to-lynn-rosenthalnew-white.html There seems to be a belief that there are no audits or accountability; however that is not the case. There are long horrendous statistical and budget reports and site visits for agencies who receive government funds. Anyone who has been a recipient of Department of Justice or VOCA funds is aware of the hoops that a program must jump through to reach compliance. The bureaucracy contributes to the problem, each funding source with its own objectives and standards. The failing is that it is all on paper and can be tweaked and manipulated. There are no resources for effective monitoring, other than perhaps a couple of telephone “peer reviews”. Confidentiality does not allow interaction with those being served, only anonymous surveys or exit interviews that an agency may self-report.
I have been talking so far about local domestic violence service agencies however many complaints are also directed towards the lack of individual case advocacy from state and national coalitions. My understanding of coalitions is that they are systems change agents not direct services for individuals. Direct service is provided by shelters and other local programs. A state or federal agency’s purpose is not to assist on an individual basis. It would be like going to the USDA and ordering a Big Mac. Their function is legislative change; research for evidence based mandates and to provide training and other resources to local programs. If contacted by an individual they could only provide referrals and connections. These coalitions vary in their effectiveness also but can be credited for many of the current legislation enacted to make batterers accountable and victims and their children safer.
I don’t know what the answer is. There are enough horror stories to create a new class of victimization – maybe Program Abuse & Neglect. The solutions being offered are more government oversight and more money given to individuals. There are hundreds of small programs and organizations being formed online, all asking for donations, all promising to fill the gaps, all wishing to dismantle the current way of doing things and make it better. What will keep these programs from morphing into the very thing they are fighting against? How does a woman who is seeking assistance know who these online advocates are? What their credentials, experience and ethics are? Who are they accountable to? Maybe it is time for mandatory advocate credentialing and a national Code of Ethics such as the one structured by NOVA: http://www.trynova.org/nacp/
As someone who has worked as an advocate for 17 years, 3 years in a shelter and 14 as a one- person agency within a county government, I am aware of very ineffective local agencies and I am also aware of those that do a phenomenal job with huge populations and limited resources. The difference typically lies at the top. Most agencies are a reflection of their director, board or parent agency. No matter how compliant they are on paper to grantor’s demands, the treatment of victims and their families is only as effective as the personalities and philosophies of those involved. I am also aware of domestic violence survivors who have used their experience to single handedly effect change and made it their life’s mission to help others. Sadly too, I have known survivors who have used their experience as a credential to hide behind while they scammed resources and other victims out of money. While chasm it may be, it is not a clear divide. The bottom line is domestic violence service agencies do not have the funding, authority, equipment or trained staff to function as witness protection programs or body guards and no amount of oversight can change that.
While positive change is often born of dissent, those who assist victims on any level also have to contend with “father’s/ men’s rights groups” http://mensnewsdaily.com/2009/05/26/statists-funded-feminism-national-girfriend-league/, at times, ineffective or abusive police, courts or criminal justice responses and policies, sources of any funds drying up and no resources for educating the upcoming generation who appears to be regressing in the area of healthy relationships and interpersonal violence. http://www.theindychannel.com/news/20024943/detail.html . There isn’t the time to fight internally. Injustices must be dealt with swiftly and constructively so the bigger fight can be met with a united front.
As I see it, the more levels of service and access points for a domestic violence victim the better but not to the point that the little money available is spread so thin that nothing works. Many victims will only find assistance with what is available locally so local agencies and good laws that are enforced are critical however there are a growing number of women who seek assistance and referrals via the internet, which reaches more women than ever. As with anything else there are good programs and bad programs just as there are good advocates and inappropriate advocates…on all levels…that will always be as long as human personalities are involved. We must try harder.
Stories of System Failure:
Programs that are Working: