by Susan Bonne
Global perspectives on dealing with domestic violence
ith domestic violence present in every echelon of American society, and too few people, programs and resources to heal it, you might wonder why it’s necessary to travel across the Atlantic to participate in another nation’s efforts to make change. The answer is simple: because there’s so much to gain.
The United Kingdom’s mix of cultures and differing government and legal systems spark new insights on a common challenge—that of turning male perpetrators of domestic violence into nonviolent partners and fathers. The opportunity to share experiences and cultural perspectives with DV groups internationally enables all to broaden their knowledge base and consider ideas and models they may not otherwise encounter.
Unfortunately, one way that domestic violence perpetrator programs are similar in the UK and the U.S., according to Respect, a UK-wide, London-based association for domestic violence perpetrator programs and associated women’s programs, is that African/Black Minority Ethnic perpetrators’ needs are not adequately addressed, ultimately negatively impacting the safety of partners and children.
In a Research Roundtable held on June 23, 2008, Respect brought together key academics form the UK and the U.S. to discuss the issues, including IDVAAC Executive Director Dr. Oliver Williams, whose life’s work has been considering the causes and effects of domestic violence in the African-American community.
In late March, Dr. Williams was again invited to participate in a Respect conference in York, England. The two-day conference which explored issues relating to Men’s Involvement in Children’s Lives, included experts on the subject from several cities in the UK, as well as Minneapolis, and new IDVAAC Steering Committee Member Johnny Rice, II from Baltimore.
“I am impressed with the fact that two of the main nongovernmental domestic violence organizations, Respect and Women’s Aid, are located in the same building in London,” says Dr. Williams. “This makes it easier for them to communicate with one another and to coordinate their programs.”
Sharing DV resources throughout Europe
Established in 2000 by a steering group of practitioners, Respect serves as an informational, funding and lobbying resource for its membership of nearly 40 community-based perpetrator programs in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. According to CEO Jo Todd, Respect’s mission can be summed up broadly as an effort to increase the safety of those experiencing domestic violence through promoting effective interventions with perpetrators. (For more information, see www.respect.uk.net.)
To achieve that goal, Respect focuses its efforts on two main fronts: lobbying government and statutory agencies across the UK to influence public policy in relation to domestic violence perpetrator work, and establishing and supporting a code of best practices for perpetrator programs.
Lobbying in dire economic times tends to focus on funding. “Funding is always a struggle, and especially in the current credit crunch,” says Todd. Recent successes include securing funding for a program that calls for mandated perpetrator treatment through the civil court system, and for a longitudinal research project examining outcomes of men’s participation in Respect-accredited programs.
To promote best practices, in 2008 Respect published a guideline, The Respect Accreditation Standards, which was the work of several years; the Standard has been endorsed by relevant institutions and will be used to assess member organizations seeking credentials under a new Accreditation program.
Along with all of that, Respect is also developing an online client information management system that will enable member groups to log data, run reports and generate task reminders. “Programs that sign up to use the database will in turn provide Respect with statistics on how many men are in programs in the UK, along with data on outcomes, what kind of support partners receive and the like,” says Todd.
Beyond its work to address the concerns of member programs, Respect has sought and received funding to run a number of outreach programs.
The Respect Phoneline (www.respectphoneline.org.uk) begun in 2004, offers information and advice to men who are abusive to their partners and want to stop; the Phoneline receives an average of 250 calls per month, and staffers may spend up to an hour talking with callers, motivating them to seek help and instilling the idea that change is possible.
Outreach services for perpetrators, victims and others
On the other side of the coin, the Men’s Advice Line (www.mensadviceline.org.uk) serves as a confidential resource for men who are experiencing domestic violence, either in straight or same-sex relationships. Todd notes that 20 percent of callers to the Advice line self-identify as victims, but upon careful and insightful discussion of the issues with staff, turn out to be primary perpetrators. “It’s important for people to understand that men and women victims present very differently,” says Todd. “While you want a believing approach with genuine victims, you also need to talk with people at some length to uncover the full story.”
An online initiative launched in 2008, Dads-space.com, is a valuable resource for any and all fathers, offering a wealth of entertaining, no-nonsense parenting advice. The information provided on the site is based on fathers’ own experiences as well as research, and ranges from child development to ideas on what activities dads can undertake with their children to game, book and toy reviews.
A related site is Dads’ Space 1-2-1 (www.dads-space.org), a free, national, web-based communication facility designed for fathers who are separated from their children. The 1-2-1 service enables children to stay in contact with their father even in difficult circumstances and can be a valuable addition to existing contact resources. Dads’ Space 1-2-1 supports children and fathers in developing their relationships and enhancing their communication.
For some children, the risks of direct contact with their father may outweigh the benefit; in cases of domestic violence the child or mother may not be, or feel, safe, Dads’ Space 1-2-1 can provide a safe contact solution. However, the service is not just for those where there are risks; the 1-2-1 service can be used as an enhancement to existing contact arrangements or indeed where geography or work commitments present a barrier, for example when a father is serving military duty away from home.
The 1-2-1 site provides a secure online environment for the parent and child where they can chat, send emails and photos, play games, and send e-cards or e-gifts. The site has different levels of moderation depending on the outcome of a risk assessment. The service can be accessed through referrals from relevant professionals and agencies working with families; to assist with the risk assessment process, the referral must include a copy of their own report or recent assessment.
Teens will also benefit from Young People’s Services, a toolkit for practitioners working with 13-19 year olds who are already using violence and abuse in their relationships. Still in development, Young People’s Services is currently being piloted by five organizations around the UK. One of the pilot sites works specifically with young black African clients and another with young people with learning difficulties. Respect is hoping that the pilot programs will yield a real diversity of knowledge about working with a wide range of young people using violence.
Respect’s many initiatives seek to address issues surrounding male perpetrators of domestic violence from a wide range of vantage points. Their work is undoubtedly invaluable to practitioners in the UK, and provides those of us working on similar projects here with invaluable insights, and perhaps something even more important—the knowledge that while our struggles with addressing domestic violence in a racial context are unique, we are not alone.