Annette Nay, PhD

Article Index

Mental Health
Spouse & Date Abuse
Coping With Assault
Emotional Trauma
Health and Physical Fitness
Weight Control
Long-Term Illness
Multiple Sclerosis
Emotional Trauma
Church Leadership
Scout Leadership
Stories With A Point
National Heritage

What Citizens and Communities Can Do to Help the Abused
Dawn Bradley Berry

One of the most unique features of the movement to end domestic violence is that it came about almost entirely due to the efforts of the victims themselves. Beginning in the early 1970s, women who had lived with the tragedy of abuse, and others who cared about their efforts, decided to do something about the problem. They were fed up with the lack of response from the criminal justice system, the scarcity or non-existence of social services, and the prevailing social attitudes, that ranged from apathetic to accepting of violence in the home. So they began to organize shelters, support groups, and safe houses; pressure legislature and law enforcement for changes in law and policy; and spread the word that domestic violence is a serious social problem, not a "private family matter."

The changes made by these dedicated individuals have been phenomenal. Many of the programs started at the grass roots level now receive support from government agencies. Yet the plague of domestic violence continues, especially in areas where few or no programs have been established at the local level to attack the problem. Community involvement and support is crucial. Virtually all shelters, community associations, hotlines, advocacy programs, and counseling groups depend on volunteers.

Volunteers need not have any special skills or education. You may be surprised at the variety of talents and services shelters and community groups are in need of. For example, the Women's Community Association in Albuquerque, New Mexico, puts out a brochure listing some of the most common volunteer jobs: crisis phone workers, intake and case-worker assistants, child care workers, children's activities coordinators, field trip chaperones, receptionists and clerical workers, gardeners, maintenance personnel, painters, plumbers, drivers, public speakers, computer operators, and electricians. Donations of money, household goods, food, and housekeeping supplies are also needed. Everyone willing to volunteer can provide something a local program needs.

Don't be afraid to “get involved.” If you hear our neighbors screaming and furniture braking, call the police. True, you may be wrong, but respect for your neighbors' privacy is not as important as their lives, which could very well be at stake.

People can make a difference in other ways, as well. Lobbying and political advocacy are always needed at the local level, state, and national levels. Big Brother/Big Sister and similar programs can provide nonviolent role models for children from abusive homes. Opportunities abound both to support existing programs and start new ones.

The same kind of grass roots efforts that began the first wave of awareness about domestic violence are still vitally important. Fortunately, its much easier to get involved today due to the efforts of those who not only pioneered the movement, but took steps to see that it would keep its momentum. Individuals and groups working to fight domestic violence have an enormous amount of information available, and numerous sources of assistance, including the national and state coalitions (See the article called Organizational Resources for the Abused).

These groups vary with regard to the materials they make available and the services they provide, but all can supply basic information and referrals to other groups that handle specialized needs. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence provides a free information package and membership for a low annual fee, which includes a newsletter.

Find out what goes on in your community. Work with others or on your own to support those people who are helping to bring public pressure onto those who are still stuck in the dark ages. If you or someone you know has been treated unfairly, the local police refuse to make arrest, the prosecutor won't follow through, or judges refuse to enforce the law, go to the local news media.

Call (800) 777-1960 to get a community action kit that includes information on how to help someone who is being abused, and what you can do to help reduce and prevent domestic violence in your community. Check the blue government pages, white pages, and yellow pages of your telephone directory for hotlines, shelters, and victim services. This information is often posted on community, hospital, government office, YWCA, Salvation Army, and clinic bulletin boards. A call to these agencies can be away to learn about services available in your community. You can share this information with others who need it, and find out what goods and services are lacking in your community-perhaps things you can help locate or provide.

Working directly with victims through local programs does not usually require any extensive training. Many programs require several nights plus one weekend, or something similar. And involvement from men, as well as women, is essential. While men may not be directly involved in working with victims, due to the victims' recent trauma with male violence, there is ample room and a great need for male volunteers in virtually every other area of the campaign against domestic violence. "We need to engage the help of the good men-the vast majority-to help make the world safer," says civil rights attorney Randi McGuinn. Students can sometimes earn class credit hours through such work.

The Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project has a national training program that provides seminars and training materials for shelter advocates, police officers, prosecutors, probation officers, judges, counselors, group facilitators, human service providers, and Native American service providers. Duluth, Minnesota, has been widely recognized as a leader in confronting the problem of domestic assault in a coordinated effort by the police, courts, and service providers in both the public and private sector.

The national training program holds week-long training institutes several times a year for representatives from communities interested in developing a coordinated response to domestic assault cases. The institutes include seminars, observation of the programs in action, and training. The program also offers on-site training in the community. Consultation is also available for both new and established programs.

Specialized, shorter seminars are offered in Duluth for people already working with, or interested in learning how to work with, women's or men's groups. These programs may also include a session on cultural issues for communities with large populations of African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. Short seminars are also given for law enforcement officers, administrators, and trainers, and prosecutors, lawyers, and legal advocates. A special seminar is also available for people working to end violence in the Native American community, conducted by the Intertribal Council to End Violence in Families.

The project also maintains a speaker's bureau so programs and associations wishing to set up conferences in their communities may be provided with speakers associated with the project, who offer training and expertise on a broad range of issues. A broad variety of materials are available from the project, including videos, manuals, books, articles, and educational curriculums. Included are manuals for those wishing to organize various types of community support-groups. A free brochure detailing the project and its many offerings is available on request.

Lawyers can help the effort to end domestic violence in several ways. When important cases on domestic violence come before the higher courts, with the potential to "set precedent" (create a legally binding decision that lower courts will be required, or may choose, to follow), lawyers can write amicus curiae or "friend of the court" briefs. These briefs argue that the court should decide in a certain way based on both the law and public policy. Psychologists, sociologists, and other professionals often work with the attorneys preparing such briefs so that statistics and scientific findings may be added to the other facts the court will consider.

Lawyers, paralegals, and others in the legal profession are also needed as volunteers to perform pro bono (free) legal services. There are opportunities for lawyers to work directly with clients through programs that provide legal aid to low-income persons. Some of the leading coordinated programs use volunteer attorneys to help both victims and those charged with abuse make use of the legal system. Other communities have programs offering free advice, such as the New Mexico State Bar Association's statewide, toll-free domestic violence legal hotline. This service allows victims to receive free, anonymous advice on legal issues associated with domestic violence, such as protection orders, divorce, alimony, child support and custody, criminal procedures, even bankruptcy. Volunteers are given training and a manual that contains information on social services such as shelters, support groups, emergency rooms, and counseling. Volunteer lawyers receive credit toward required continuing legal education, and are asked only to take at least one four-hour shift a month-a good way for those who don't have time to help out on an entire case. And this type of project funded by local, state, and national attorney's organizations are relatively inexpensive to establish and administer. Similar efforts have been made by other professionals, which include psychologists and physicians. There is both ample room and dire need for anyone who wants to help make a difference.



Berry, Dawn Bradley, 1995. Domestic Violence Sourcebook, p.196-202. Lowell House, Los Angeles, CA.


About Me
My Publications
Instant Counselor
Recommended Reading
Contact Me

Google Search

This Website

Safe Surf Rated

ICRA Rated