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