Nearly 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have suffered from domestic violence at the hands of an intimate partner.1 Although some of us may have heard this shocking statistic before, it still bears repeating. Domestic violence is an issue of national importance, and it falls on each of us to make a promise to ensure that every victim of domestic violence knows they have a supportive community to which they can turn. It is in light of this need for action that the White House declared October to be National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Government agencies including the Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have taken steps to advance this cause, investing in new law enforcement initiatives and issuing guidance to prevent discrimination against domestic violence survivors.2
Fatherhood programs also have an important role to play in addressing domestic violence. Programs such as the West Virginia Pathways to Responsible Fatherhood Initiative and Men Stopping Violence exhibit the impact fatherhood programs can have when they make addressing domestic violence an integral part of their programming. For example, the West Virginia Pathways to Responsible Fatherhood Initiative developed an innovative screening tool called the Reality Check card. The tool allows program participants to identify possible signs of an abusive relationship themselves through reflecting on their relationships and behaviors.3 Men Stopping Violence helps men identify their experiences with violence as children in order to encourage better relationships with their children and empathy for their children’s mother.4 Both programs engage men, and fathers in particular, as allies in the effort to stop domestic violence and assault.5
The NRFC Responsible Fatherhood Toolkit provides a variety of resources and strategies for integrating domestic violence interventions into fatherhood programs. For example, the Toolkit addresses how to train staff to: recognize the signs of domestic violence; identify situations in which they should intervene and understand how to respond to those situations; and work with fathers to raise awareness.6 Most importantly, staff should consistently demonstrate through their own words and actions that violence is unacceptable in parenting and family relationships.
It is also helpful for fatherhood programs to develop partnerships with domestic violence prevention organizations. The Toolkit offers advice for building such partnerships through constructive dialogue to establish common ground and achieve mutual goals. Together, partners can work to develop protocols that clearly explain key strategies for addressing domestic violence.7 Cross trainings and cross referrals are both ways in which partnerships between fatherhood programs and domestic violence prevention agencies can be mutually beneficial.
Finally, the Toolkit includes a page for education and awareness building activities fatherhood programs can use with their program participants.8 It provides tips for keeping the conversation going among fathers, as well as movies and video clips that can be used to start discussion and encourage self-reflection. Effective practitioners and experts in the field emphasize the importance of treating men with respect and providing opportunities for them to share their feelings and concerns about domestic violence in comfortable space. This is the first, and perhaps the most crucial, step toward creating lifelong allies in domestic violence prevention.
National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse