By Amy Sanchez
CEO, National Latin@ Network
A glance at the domestic violence field, and a framework for the future
During the late 1960s, women throughout the United States began gathering in living rooms, community centers, and coffee shops, talking with one other about their shared experiences as women. These “consciousness-raising groups” gave women a forum to talk with each other about many things, from common, daily experiences to complex international affairs. As they built trust with one another, some women began sharing narratives of violence at home. In response to these chilling testimonies, others began to develop safe-homes, places where women and children could flee when violence erupted in their own homes.
At first, many of these safe-homes, or “shelters” as they came to be called, were run out of activists’ homes. The need to provide women refuge was so great that women just responded; they did not wait for the establishment of more formal organizations. As the need grew, however, leaders recognized that they needed to formalize organizations so that they could better provide the victims of violence short- term, safe shelter. Out of the consciousness raising groups, they developed a new type of organization – a collective – to more extensively develop and support domestic violence shelters. From the beginning, the ideal consisted of operating these collectives differently from the competitive, male-dominated organizations and bureaucracies that prevailed in the social service arena.
By 1979, the United States had more than 250 shelters, most operating under a non-hierarchical, egalitarian philosophy. Because of their origins in feminist consciousness-raising groups, they also shared a similar analysis of the causes of domestic violence: patriarchal power. In the dominant ideology of the movement, domestic violence was the result of male hatred toward women. This ideology negated the lived realities of Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/ Transgender (GLBT) communities as well as communities of color, disabled communities, and teens.
By the early 1980s, state governments had begun to respond to this ground-swell of activities by allocating state revenues and discretionary federal funds, such as Title XX of the Social Security Act and Emergency Assistance funds, to domestic violence services. This increased public funding, in turn, supported the creation of additional services and shelters. Between 1979 and 1989, the number of shelters in the U.S. increased four-fold. Yet feminist groups started few of the newly formed shelters; during the 1980s, religious groups, YMCA’s or other civic organizations increasingly began to operate temporary shelter for victims of domestic violence.
As more programs increasingly received public revenue, we noticed subtle shifts in the organizations. Since federal funds were designated for services and not community education, more attention became focused on individual counseling for women and less on peer support and advocacy. To receive public contracts, shelters felt the pressure to employ credentialed staff and move toward more widely recognized social service models. More significant, programs needed to provide evidence that their interventions were having the desired effect so that they could maintain government funding. Slowly, staff began talking about “treatment” for “clients,” rather than “empowerment” for battered “women.”
Understanding the roots of domestic violence work in the United States of America gives a context for the work of Casa de Esperanza. The following sections describe the current “mainstream” model of domestic violence that is based in the profound changes that occurred in the field in the 1980’s. Today, we still live these changes…and we are continuing to make them even more profound. Casa de Esperanza has chosen to entitle this article, Where Did The Movement Go? to discuss the current state of domestic violence work in this country, the approach of Casa de Esperanza, and the opportunity for all of us to reclaim the domestic violence movement for our communities so that we can break from a model that pathologizes women and move to one that recognizes their potential for self-empowerment.
The Mainstream Model
Casa de Esperanza defines “mainstream” as representing the majority culture (usually Caucasian or white), those who have assimilated to this culture, and the institutions that hold power. This model integrates the values, experiences, and lived realities of these groups and devises intervention and prevention strategies based on that shared cultural framework or lens.
On a national level, domestic violence practitioners, survivors, and academics are exploring and studying the relevance of varied mainstream models—or approaches to ending domestic violence. Varied approaches to end domestic violence exist, in part because there are varied theories to how and why domestic violence occurs in the first place. The following is a short list of some of these frameworks.
- Psychopathology (men who abuse are mentally ill)
- Violence as a learned behavior
- Learned helplessness (abuse strips women of their will to live and to get out of the violence)
- Cycle of violence (tension building, release, honeymoon phases)
- Family/relationship conflict model (both men and women contribute to violence in a relationship)
- Power and Control (a pattern of tactics used to reinforce a man use of physical violence)
If your organization analyzes your “framework” for the theory of domestic violence, does it believe one of these theories or does it weave many of the theories together when developing an intervention or prevention program?
Trends emerge clearly when we speak with hundreds of advocates, organizations (community-based and systems-based), domestic violence coalition members and leaders, and systems. The advocacy “model” of domestic violence usually follows a consistent approach throughout the United States.
- Battered women must leave the abuse to be safe.
- Battered women want to leave, divorce their partner, and become a “survivor”
- Systems and institutions have a responsibility to “hold the abuser accountable”
- A “coordinated community response” will ensure that battered women and protected and abusers are held accountable
- Prevention and public awareness campaigns are important to long-term success and behavior change.
Although much work has been done on a policy level—including the passage of laws and training of systems professionals (such as police and judges)—flaws exist in the current field of domestic violence. Many of these flaws are related to simply a few, basic assumptions and beliefs.
What are these mainstream domestic violence beliefs and assumptions?
Most advocacy organizations will not publicly say what we are about to say, but by simply examining the processes that are in place within organizations it becomes crystal clear that many organizations operate within a framework of beliefs and assumptions. It is also important to say here that wonderful organizations operate outside this framework and that a number of advocates, leaders, and academics are re-framing domestic violence services, philosophy, and thought. These groups, however, are far removed from the day-to-day domestic violence work that is happening throughout the United States.
Current “Mainstream” Advocacy efforts show the following beliefs and assumptions:
- We should be able to structure battered women’s lives (Think hard about this one. We establish all kinds of rules in our shelters under the pretense of “keeping women safe”)
- Battered women are in need of many things…professionals can “help” her. (Counselors, therapists, need-based social service provision)
- Battered women experience violence in a vacuum. Children, family, and community should take a back seat to the woman’s need to be safe.
- Domestic violence should be the most important issue in a battered woman’s life—it should establish her goals and priorities. If she doesn’t want to leave the abuse, then we can’t help her.
Casa de Esperanza’s Approach
Casa de Esperanza, founded almost twenty-five years ago, followed the mainstream model of domestic violence advocacy for many years. We had the same assumptions and beliefs, and followed funding streams based on these assumptions. In 1998, Casa de Esperanza decided that we needed a new framework—one that represented our beliefs about Latinas and their families, their communities, and true esperanza (hope).
In order to understand this approach, we would like to highlight important philosophical underpinnings:
- Latina identity is intrinsically linked to family and community. Latina identity is interconnected—it is not individualistic.
- Latinas are agents for change.
- Violence stems from systems of oppression that are often intertwined. Oppression is oppression.
- We embrace the role of men as our allies in changing community attitudes
- We innovate, stay flexible, assess our progress, and are creative.
As part of Casa de Esperanza’s continued evolution back to our cultural roots, we have reaffirmed our place in community. We convene, bridge, and connect.
Casa de Esperanza believes that collective voice is the basis of action and the basis of influencing systems. Policy change on a systems level will happen most effectively when collective voice is used to shape policy on the community level.
Casa de Esperanza believes in people. We believe in strengthening social networks. We believe in the power of the community to determine its own direction. We believe in the cultural cornerstones of our community, such as familia and respeto (respect), and we believe that with knowledge, access to support, and information Latinas will do what is in their family’s best interest. We don’t just believe on these approaches. No. We ensure that our approach is based on thorough research and direct engagement with the communities we serve—with survivors, children, youth, men, advocates, activists, and academics.
Opportunity for Change
If you talk with leaders, policy makers, thinkers, and practitioners within the field of domestic violence, most will say that we need a drastic change—really a new beginning. Casa de Esperanza has seen this change transform communities right before our eyes.
Casa de Esperanza experiences a ripple effect with our work. The more we listen and follow the lead of Latinas, the more we learn and share. The more we learn and share—the more we impact other organizations. The more that we impact others, the more communities mobilize.
This road has been difficult, and frankly, sometimes we didn’t know where we were going. But we had a vision—and it was based, in the purest sense, in the belief in Latinas and Latino communities to make change happen. Below, we have enumerated some of our learnings along the way:
- We are building on the strength of Latinas, their families and communities. Who couldn’t embrace the issue and mobilize around this concept? It is not about “gloom and doom” and it is not about the “poor battered women and their marginalized families”.
- In advocacy, our job is to support women and their families. It is not to fix them, nor is it to push our own agenda on them. It is not to pity them, nor to take care of them. Survivors are probably the most resourceful, resilient women that exist. They have to be—to survive. We ought to tap into that strength for true change instead of stifling it so that we as advocates can feel important, or worthy, or needed.
- Professionalism does have its place in this field. It is desperately needed—in order to become a movement again, and remain strong into the future. Although the founders shied away from “hierarchy” because it was a “male dominant” way of doing business, at Casa de Esperanza we call it infrastructure and it is clearly needed. We need to evaluate if, how, and why our work makes a difference. It isn’t good enough to tell funders and supporters that you have to support survivors of domestic violence. In this environment of shrinking resources and extreme agendas, the battered women’s movement (for the most part) has missed a huge opportunity to claim our knowledge, our strength, and our “added value” to society.
- Political savvy is a growth opportunity for our field. Again, the old way of doing business just won’t cut it for the future. We need to establish and support broad-based coalitions, not because it is what everyone is doing or because it is what funders want to see. It always goes back to our customers—survivors and their families. What do they experience? Violence isn’t experienced in a vacuum, and it isn’t one-dimensional. Our response can’t be either. We have to work with other movements and fields to serve women to the best of our ability. Who cares that it doesn’t look like “domestic violence work”, maybe what looks like “domestic violence work” is really outdated and irrelevant?
- Finally, let’s learn to “give it away”—“pay it forward”—really however we want to label it. Unfortunately, there is more than enough work in this field to go around. If you can support another domestic violence organization, do so. Share your donor lists, and support them to do their best work. Mentor or seek out mentors for your women—or men—who are passionate about our work.
Women of color and organizations of color in the domestic violence field have been operating with a multidimensional lens for years. The problem is the mainstream domestic violence world hasn’t recognized it. Many women of color work all day answering crisis lines, providing advocacy for other women, or leading a support group and then go home and engage their families and communities in ending violence against women. This isn’t a volunteer service, a creative strategy, or a promising outreach method. It IS the way to end domestic violence in our communities.
Group by group, community by community, family by family… domestic violence can be eradicated.
 The preceding paragraphs were adapted from a case study written by Dr. Jodi Sandfort, Associate Professor, Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. The complete series of case studies are available at www.casadeesperanza.org