My Turn: Domestic violence programs useful to those who want help

Posted: Friday, October 17, 2003

Clearly the whole issue of domestic violence is emotionally charged. Emotions are charged when violence occurs, when family members witness it, or hear about it happening to someone they love. Emotions are charged when victims seek help, when perpetrators are ordered to treatment programs or to jail, or both. Emotions are charged when funds and services are cut. Emotions are charged when any perceived inequity or injustice is discussed regardless of what sides of the issue are present for the discussion.

Emotions are always charged when a person is accused, blamed, violated, humiliated, insulted and generally treated without respect or regard by a seemingly more powerful person or entity. Victims by their perpetrators. Perpetrators by inflamed victim-advocates. Defenses stay high. Minds remain closed. Everyone stays angry. The cycle continues.

It is very easy to accuse batterer's intervention programs of being inadequate, mock them for allegedly high recidivism rates and assault the staff who already face the resistance of the clients every day. In fact, both batterer intervention and victim programs tend to be underutilized and underfunded, have "poor" success rates and burned-out staff, and have clients who think the services were terrible. Objectively, both types of programs have built-in obstacles that make research and accurate data gathering extremely difficult and highly arguable.

The reality is: Any intervention program, regardless of the population served, offers tools and services that will only be helpful by participants who (1) identify that a problem exists, (2) accept personal responsibility for choices made as adults and (3) actually make changes in their behavior, attitudes and support systems. The best program in the world is completely worthless to a client who doesn't want it. The worst program is worth gold to a client who does want it. There simply is not a panacea program for these issues. The definition and interpretation of what constitutes "poor" or "good" performance, "enough" or "not enough" treatment mostly rests upon those who justify or deny funding and on how much funding there is to be spent.

So, what's going on here, really, if we remove all of these emotions?

The current state administration has implemented its agenda. Reduction of government oversight and return of "control" over community issues to each community is one very basic tenant of the Republican Party. Get the feds out of the state. Get the state out of the community. Agree or disagree: That's just the way it is for now in this country. As a community, Juneau has been handed back all of its obligation to define the standards of conduct relating to the behavior of its residents. It will be challenged to prioritize its use of funds for interventions relating to each domestic violence incident that occurs in the community including police response, arrest, prosecution, legal services, medical care, child welfare, incarceration, etc.

As funds and volunteers become increasingly stretched and limited on a community level, programs that offer more acute crisis interventions will take priority over non-crisis programs. By these standards AWARE, Juneau's victim crisis and shelter program, should receive a higher priority for receiving dwindling community resources over the non-crisis intervention program that existed at Tongass Community Counseling Center. This does not mean that batterer's intervention programs are overall ineffective and "don't work." It simply means that crisis intervention programs now have funding priority over non-crisis programs.

What happens, though, if this community decides that other crisis-response services are more important than victim services?

• Valerie A. Kelly is a former executive director of the Tongass Community Counseling Center. She has worked with perpetrators of violent crimes since 1990 and victims of violence since 1983.

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