Preventive Interventions In Community Settings

There is considerable debate in the field as to whether it is better to move intervention efforts into established institutional settings—places that have traditionally not been responsive to abused women—or to focus on community-based services. However, help is needed throughout each community. A similar debate occurs over whether volunteers or professionals are best equipped to bring the most help to battered women and their children. Yet, these labels can be misleading when they dichotomize roles. For example, they do not recognize the number of professionals who are battered women, the number of volunteers who are professionals, and the professional training of shelter workers. Further, many theorists and researchers have taken an ecological perspective and they have conceptualized the problem and hence the solutions to woman abuse on a number of levels. On the societal level primary prevention has focused on national policy to bring attention to the problem and to obtain needed funds. On the community level both professional and volunteer workers share secondary prevention initiatives to provide services and to work on prevention with children. Some of these efforts are described below.

Social skills building and violence prevention programs are now offered in many schools. They are designed to offer education to all children but are considered to be particularly useful to children exposed to violence in the home. Typically, these programs include identifying feelings associated with violence, teaching and modeling alternative problem-solving skills, and demonstrating intolerance for violence at home, at school, and in the community. By addressing the problems early on, rather than waiting until after violent patterns have been established, it is hoped that all children can be empowered to respond to violence, and that those who have witnessed violence at home can get help. Concomitantly, some schools have trained teachers and counselors how to respond to children exposed to domestic violence and how to make referrals to provide for their needs.

Police departments in some communities provide training for dealing with domestic violence, for when and how to make arrests of batterers, for identifying battered women, and for providing for the needs of both women and children in the family following a domestic assault. These training programs include edu

Domestic Violence Intervention cating officers about the impact of domestic violence on women and children, and teaching them how to handle the often confusing presentation of abused women when asked to file complaints about the assailant, how to inform women of their rights to protection, and how to obtain services for victims of such abuse. Some police departments have developed domestic violence units and have hired social workers and psychologists specifically trained to work with women and children before and during the court process.

In some communities police department and battered women's shelters work hand in hand to track abusers, to identify women at risk for repeated abuse, and to monitor compliance with the conditions of an abuser's probation. Such efforts are sorely needed, as studies of both the training of police officers and the attitudes they hold toward domestic violence cases show that many officers avoid these calls or handle them quickly because they feel uncomfortable dealing with these issues. However, the legal understanding of domestic violence has come a long way from early identification of this as a "family problem'' to our current understanding of the social, emotional, and economic costs to individual women, to children, and to the larger community.

Similarly, the legal community has expanded its understanding of domestic violence and what is needed to provide protection to women and children. Hence, many states have enacted mandatory arrest laws and antistalking ordinances with strict penalties and sentencing guidelines. There is currently some debate as to whether mandatory arrest reduces the occurrence of domestic violence or whether it puts the woman at greater risk for abuse. In addition, the cost of arresting all batterers has been a significant burden for some communities. However, research has shown that younger abusers and those with an active criminal history were more likely to abuse after a restraining order was issued than were older and less violent men. In the future, researchers should be able to provide more sophisticated answers to these questions as they move away from gross generalizations of whether mandatory arrest works to deciding for whom it works best. Then, policies and laws can be tailored to the needs of individual perpetrators and victims to provide the most effective, safest, and economical response to domestic violence.

Innovative educational initiatives sponsored by some communities include postering in subways and on buses and using billboards and newspaper adver tisements in efforts to stop violence against women. Other cities have started campaigns with easily identifiable slogans and logos, such as "zero tolerance for violence against women.'' In some areas businesses and other volunteer groups have worked with local shelters to sponsor communitywide events in support of stopping the violence. These efforts reflect the growing knowledge that societal attitudes that condone violence against women need to change. Challenging the culture of violence in communities is another way to protect women and to inoculate children against commiting or tolerating violence in their lives.

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