Developing policies and protocols can be a critical part of efforts to change the way a system—whether a law enforcement, legal, medical or judicial system—responds to the issue of domestic violence. As Ellen Pence, the founder of the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, explains:

[The] actions of those located in different parts of a coordinated system need to be centered toward victim safety and organized in ways that complement rather than undermine or subvert each other. With this goal in mind, practitioners’ decisions and actions need to be guided by sets of protocol standards and, in some cases, direct policies.

Ellen L. Pence & Melanie F. Shepard, Introduction, in Coordinating Community Responses to Domestic Violence: Lessons from the Duluth Model 3, 17-18 (Melanie F. Shepard & Ellen L. Pence eds., 1999).

In Developing Policies and Protocols, Ellen Pence and Coral McDonnell discuss the importance of changing the manner in which systems respond to violence and provide practical guidance in designing and implementing policies and protocols. The authors reflect on the lessons they have learned after two decades of policy development in Duluth, and discuss some of the obstacles to and strategies for successful implementation of policy reforms.

Among many other things, Pence and McDonnell explain that policies and protocols for system response to domestic violence need to anticipate potential batterer responses to community intervention:

[Such policies and procedures] must be constructed in a way that allows the practitioner to account for the probability that offenders who are batterers are likely to retaliate against their victims because of actions taken by the state/community. Policies need to account for the likelihood that most offenders will pursue another relationship in the future. The intervention approach must shift the burden of confrontation from the victim to the institution to whatever extent possible and without coercing victims into a certain course of action. . . . In addition, “[b]ecause it is so important to understand how the violence is being used in a relationship, the task of documenting and assessing for levels of danger must be built into the work routines of practitioners and seen as the collective work of all interveners.”

The authors conclude the article with a checklist that is used by the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project as a template for thinking through any new policy or policy reform. The template, they explain, “provides an overview of items that should be covered in a complete policy.” Pence and McDonnell also warn that policy descriptions for practitioners must be short to be effective; as a result, it is often useful to draft a shorter version of the policy, containing only the first two sections of the template, for distribution to practitioners.


Community Policies

Some communities and governments themselves articulate policies regarding their response to domestic violence. For example, the United Kingdom’s Home Office, the the division of the government that deals with internal affairs, has created the Government Policy Around Domestic Violence. In this document, the government set forth the definition of domestic violence on which it was basing its response and discussed the government’s efforts to combat domestic violence, including its efforts to increase inter-agency cooperation, raise public awareness, improve the response of the law enforcement system, gather statistics on domestic violence, provide safe temporary housing, and address perpetrators’ behavior.

The Compendium: Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the Field of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, published by the International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy in March 1999, offers an overview of the policies and procedures relating to violence against women that have been adopted in many jurisdictions throughout the world. Although the report focuses on policies and protocols developed in the field of criminal justice, it includes discussion of victim protection and violence prevention protocols, including protocols relating to offender treatment programs, health care provision, and the provision of temporary housing and counseling.

The Model Domestic Violence Policy for Counties, published by the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence in January 1998, is a tool designed to assist New York State localities in “evaluating current policies and practices, identifying existing gaps, and setting goals for future action.” The model policy includes a definition of domestic violence and guiding principles that should underlie all efforts to combat domestic violence. The model policy emphasizes that all policies, procedures and programs should be evaluated in light of three overriding goals: victim safety and self-determination, abuser accountability, systems’ responsibility, and promotion of a coordinated response grounded in a zero tolerance approach. The model policy provides specific guidance for the following systems: employers; criminal justice, legal and judicial; health care; substance abuse treatment; child welfare; mental health; and primary, secondary and post-secondary education.

Policy Blueprint on Domestic Violence and Poverty, by Jill Davies, discusses the relationship between domestic violence and poverty, both how poverty can undermine women’s ability to protect themselves from violence and how domestic violence contributes to poverty. The article then offers principles and implementation strategies for creating domestic violence protocols and policies that more effectively address these issues.

Police Protocols

The 2002 Domestic Violence Protocol for Law Enforcement for Santa Clara County provides guidance to law enforcement officers responding to domestic violence incidents. The Protocol discusses the procedures to be followed by the dispatcher who receives the emergency call, the officers responding to the call, and the officers who conduct the follow-up investigation. These procedures relate to collecting information, interviewing witnesses and victims safely, and documenting the evidence collected. The Protocol was created to ensure and maintain “an effective and sensitive response by the law enforcement community to this serious problem” of domestic violence. The Protocol requires officers to assist victims in obtaining medical care and provide victims with information about and referrals to other services.

The Massachusetts Policy for Law Enforcement Response to Domestic Violence, revised in 2002, contains important guidelines for officers responding to a domestic violence call. The policy emphasizes investigation techniques for assessing a situation, particularly the lethality of the batterer, in order to determine how best to assist the victim. Thorough investigation also helps insure the availability of information that may be relevant in a later court proceeding or to a prosecutor. The policy instructs officers on Massachusetts’s law on arrest, under which an arrest is the “preferred response” if the officer has cause to believe that a crime has been committed. Under this policy, officers are also directed to provide victims with necessary referrals to other services and to assist them in obtaining medical treatment and in locating and getting to a safe place.

Prosecution Protocols

The United Kingdom’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has developed a number of policies to guide its handling of domestic violence cases. The CPS’s Statement on the Treatment of Victims and Witnesses governs how prosecutors treat victims and witnesses of violence generally and details the steps that should be taken prior to, during and after trial to ensure that victims and witnesses are treated with consideration and understanding.

The CPS’s Domestic Violence Policy deals specifically with the office’s policy on domestic violence prosecutions. The Policy acknowledges that because supporting evidence of domestic violence is often lacking, it will often be necessary for victims to testify, and prosecutors have the power to compel testimony should it be required. At the same time, however, the Policy emphasizes that victims will not always be required to testify, should the supporting evidence be sufficient to proceed. Under the Policy, prosecutors are to actively seek out other evidence either to support or as an alternative to the victim’s testimony.

If a victim asks that the complaint be withdrawn, the prosecutor’s office will assign a prosecutor familiar with domestic violence issues to the case, ascertain whether the request came from the victim or the perpetrator, and if from the victim, undertake a number of steps to determine whether the victim has been threatened or coerced. Before proceeding with the case, prosecutors will also evaluate, together with the police, the risks to the safety of the woman and her children from such prosecution. Should the evidence be sufficient, prosecutors may proceed despite the victim’s request. Throughout this process, however, the “safety of the victim, children or any potentially vulnerable person will be a prime consideration” in the decision-making process.

The Policy discusses charging and bail considerations, notes that prosecutors should endeavor to ensure that domestic violence cases are not delayed, and states that prosecutors will attempt to incorporate victim concerns in making decisions in a case. Finally, the Policy notes that prosecutors will take steps to make sure that the victim has made contact with an appropriate support network.

Health Care Protocols

The Health Privacy Principles for Protecting Victims of Domestic Violence published by the Family Violence Prevention Fund in October 2000, provides useful guidance for designing health privacy regulations or rules. The first section of this report emphasizes the importance of documenting domestic violence in medical records and protecting victims from disclosures that could threaten their safety. In particular, it discusses the kind of access to health care information that should be provided to spouses, employers, law enforcement officials, insurers and the community. The second part of the report introduces patient autonomy, confidentiality, safety and health of victims as the guiding principles of health care privacy and discusses eleven individual strategies for furthering those principles, including removing identifying information, ensuring patient access to information, providing notice of use and disclosure, and implementing and enforcing security safeguards.

The Family Violence Prevention Fund’s Summary of New Federal Medical Privacy Protections for Victims of Domestic Violence illustrates some of the ways in which these principles have been incorporated into the medical privacy regulations release in 2000.

The National Partnership for Women & Families testified before the U.S. Senate on a proposed health privacy regulation. Although the testimony is in narrative form, it discusses some of the ways in which privacy regulations affect domestic violence victims. The organization emphasized that inappropriate disclosure of personal information can endanger the safety of victims of domestic violence and praised the inclusion in the proposed rule of a provision allowing victims to specify that information not be sent to their homes. The organization criticized instances in which the health care facility was given discretion to disclose information without the victim’s authorization, but praised the provision that required that victims be notified about such disclosures.

Batterers’ Treatment Programs

The Batterer Intervention Services Coalition Michigan provides links to legal standards for batterers’ treatment programs that have been developed by different states in the United States and Canada.

The Statement of Principles and Minimum Standards of Practice, published by RESPECT, the National Association of Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programmes and Associated Support, in September 2000, articulates the basic principles that must underlie any batterers’ treatment program. The document also includes Minimum Standards of Practice for Associated Women’s Services, which articulates the basic principles for service provision to victims of domestic violence that is connected to batterers’ treatment programs.

Protocols for Victim Support and Assistance

The Best Practices Manual for Domestic Violence Programs, published by the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence in June 2000, includes an overview of potential policies and procedures that can be followed in providing victims with support and assistance. The topics covered in the manual include: crisis intervention, advocacy, hotlines, safehomes, shelters (from initial contact and intake to physical infrastructure and follow-up), transitional housing, case management, counseling, support groups, children’s programs, legal advocacy, community education, and administration.

From Good Intentions to Good Practice: A Mapping Study of Services Working with Families Where there is Domestic Violence provides a framework of domestic violence best practice indicators that are designed to help professionals and agencies better meet the needs of battered women and their families.. The framework is based on a 1999 study of domestic violence work being done in the United Kingdom. The framework includes eight indicators of good practice that function as a whole; each indicator is subdivided into subindicators that can help guide responses to victims of domestic violence and to perpetrators. These subindicators can also guide community education and awareness raising efforts.

Two policy papers on family violence protocol development, developed by Jill Davies and the Welfare and Domestic Violence Technical Assistance Initiative, provide guidance on developing protocols for public assistance agencies. Policy Paper #1 provides background information on domestic violence and strategies for developing an effective response to the concerns and needs of battered women. Policy Paper #2 provides guidance on developing protocols for screening, disclosure of domestic violence information, and agency response to domestic violence.

Domestic Violence: Law and Policy | International Legal Framework | Regional Law and Standards| Model Legislation | Sample National Domestic Violence Laws

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