Domestic violence is a serious social issue that affects many women and children and is reinforced by the power imbalances that are inbuilt into a patriarchal society. Women’s personal experiences of domestic violence are connected to the broader social and political forces that oppress and marginalise many groups in society, particularly women and children. Domestic Violence is defined as ‘an attempt to establish power, control and fear in a relationship through the use of violence and other forms of abuse. The offender exerts control by using physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, economic oppression, isolation, threats, intimidation, and maltreatment of the children. Relationships involving domestic and family violence may differ in terms of the severity of abuse, but power and control are the primary goals of all offenders’ (Santa Clara County Social Service Agency).
The Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse provides a collection of examples of Australian domestic violence related programs, services or responses which reflect elements of good practice. Good practice is reflected in services which define domestic violence in a way that addresses the processes of abuse, minimises victim-blaming and enables effective support and prevention (Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse, 2007). The Ipswich Women’s Centre Against Domestic Violence (IWCADV) is a feminist community based organisation committed to working towards the elimination of domestic and family violence throughout the community. The primary focus of IWCADV is to provide support to women and children survivors of domestic and family violence.
IWCADV respects the rights of women to make informed decisions about their lives and this is balanced with a concern for the safety of women, children and young people. There is also a recognition that in order for women to be empowered, decision are not made on behalf of women, rather there is a recognition of each person’s responsibility for the own actions and the need to be accountable for these actions and their consequences.
This empowerment approach provides an environment in which each woman individual is responsible for her actions by supporting her right to make choices about herself and how she lives her life. In the past, ‘domestic violence service providers and the community have responded to domestic violence by coaching victims on how to leave and how they should respond to the abusive relationship’ (Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 2000, p9). More recently, best practice reflects that what survivors need most is ‘support, encouragement and the resources to achieve their goals, not someone telling them what to do – much like their abusers’ (Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 2000, p9). IWCADV approach to service delivery acknowledges that abuse is used to gain and maintain power and control and that domestic violence is a gender issue. IWCADV is a feminist based community service, and takes a strengths-based empowerment approach to the issue of supporting women who have experienced domestic violence.
Another factor identified by the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse Good Practice database is a skilled, supported and supervised workforce. During my placement experience at IWCADV I observed that this organisation demonstrated good practice in this area by providing a very supportive workplace and supervision, including clinical supervision.
A further element of good practice is monitoring and meaningful evaluation. This means asking the question ‘Does the program work?’ ‘Evaluation allows organisations to work out whether the program is doing what it was set up to do. Effective evaluation enables organisations to demonstrate results or outcomes which reflect program aims or goals. Evaluation is also used to troubleshoot and assist in ongoing program or service improvement’ (Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse, 2007). IWCADV has regular team meetings to discuss and evaluate their programs and services and are committed to developing and improving their work to achieve the best possible outcomes.
Until recently, social policy had been characterised by a concentration on providing sympathetic and victim centred care after the assault reducing further harm- or tertiary levels of intervention. Examples of tertiary interventions include ‘(Domestic) Violence Orders, law reform, the provision of refuges, health, accommodation and domestic violence services, the refinement of policy and procedures for the care of victims of sexual and domestic violence post-assault. Whilst these interventions are important, especially in showing care for victims and reducing further harm, they do not prevent violence against women, as intervention occurs after the violence has occurred’ (Carrington and Phillips, 2006).
Social policies have now started looking at ways of intervening in order to prevent violence against women occurring. A literature review undertaken by the Commonwealth Government’s Partnership Against Domestic Violence (PADV) identified that the ‘way forward to prevent violence against women includes working with young people to break the intergenerational cycle of violence; working with victims and perpetrators to break the cycle of violence; and working with communities to educate against violence’ (Carrington and Phillips, 2006) Service providers are now moving from purely delivering support and crisis services to women and children, and are addressing the root cause of the problem (Mulroney, 2003). There is now an increasing number of programs built on the idea of an integrated response and inter-agency collaboration (Healey, Frere, Ross & Humphrey, 2009). Mulroney (2003) has defined integrated service provision as a ‘coordinated, appropriate, consistent responses aimed at enhancing victim safety, reducing secondary victimization and holding abusers accountable for their violence’ (Mulroney, 2003).
Some best practice examples of integrated or collaborative domestic violence service that consider the social, cultural and geographic diversity and size of their locale include The Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP) from Duluth USA, the
Hamilton Abuse Intervention Project (HAIP) from New Zealand, the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARAC), from Cardiff, Wales and from Australia, the Interagency Family Violence Intervention Program (Healey, Frere, Ross & Humphrey, 2009).
One of the best-known integrated response models is The Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, known commonly as the Duluth Model. This model ‘derives from the women’s movement and has developed a powerful ethos based on a feminist understanding of control and power in relationships between men and women, which informs all of its work. It coordinates male abusers’ programs and women’s projects in the community and has also developed awareness-raising, training and community development initiatives, all of which are supported by, and work in tandem with, the criminal justice services’ (Mulroney, 2003, p.3).
As well as the ACT Family Violence Intervention Program, another Australian example of a best practice model is the Gold Coast Integrated Response. Some of the key features of these programs include:
Coordinated responses within a manageable geographic region.
Lead agency to coordinate and monitor.
Strategies including ‘fax back’ projects to encourage effective referrals from Police to support services for women and children and enhanced communication and collaboration between agencies.
Services including group work with each client group: women, children and young people, and the abusive partner. (Mulroney, 2003, p7).
An important aspect of a coordinated community response to domestic violence is about primary prevention – ‘transforming community beliefs and norms about violence against women’ (Hart, 1995) and a common theme throughout the research is that there is a need for a more long-term integrated response to domestic violence in Australia, which aims to prevent domestic violence in the first place with a view to reducing existing levels of violence. Whilst the IWCADV does not have any of its programs or services listed on the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse Good Practice database, many of the service’s programs are modelled on these examples of best practice. The IWCADV is also currently attempting to develop and implement a Co-ordinated Community Response to domestic violence modelled on the Gold Coast Integrated Response. The IWCADV currently presents a training session to local police officers during their first year. The IWCADV is also active in presenting an education program that operates in local high schools. This is an effective program for the prevention of future violence and is based on the belief the ‘by exposing children and young people to non-violent alternatives, providing them with conflict resolution and anger management skills alongside a respect for others and tolerance of diversity, violent behaviour in adults will be prevented’ (Carrington and Phillips, 2006).