Partnerships with Domestic Violence Prevention Organizations
“Those who have learned to work together know that when they do so they are each more effective, and everyone wins—especially the children.1
Although each of these fields has developed an expertise that comes from years of providing community services and advocacy, [domestic violence] advocates and [fatherhood] practitioners may not understand the fundamental perspective of each other’s work. In particular, advocates against domestic violence ground their work in an understanding and analysis of gender oppression and violence, while community fatherhood programs are rooted in an understanding and analysis of racial discrimination and poverty.” 2
Responsible fatherhood programs and domestic violence service providers have not traditionally worked together. However, experienced fatherhood practitioners now recognize the importance of ongoing relationships with abuser intervention programs and victim support organizations. Building these relationships may take considerable time and perseverance because of philosophical differences and misunderstandings between the agencies. Common misperceptions: all fatherhood programs advocate for and emphasize fathers’ rights, while all domestic violence prevention advocates believe that men identified as batterers cannot change. Through constructive dialogue, such misperceptions can be cleared up and understanding of mutual goals can grow. Discussions about external factors such as poverty, racial discrimination, and gender oppression can be the foundation for shared goals such as:
- Tackling economic barriers and stressors experienced by men and women with low incomes.
- Raising awareness of the impact of socialization on male and female gender roles.
- Acknowledging the effect of racism and gender oppression on individuals and couples.
- Acknowledging the impact of violence on individuals, families, and communities.
- Working with men to raise awareness of the impact of gender oppression and violence and show how it complicates their lives.
- Helping men and women enhance their parenting and relationship skills, focusing on the messages they send their children.
- Involving men as allies in preventing violence and promoting nonviolence.
- Reducing the incidence of violence in families and communities.
- Developing and displaying messages that promote nonviolence and healthy relationships.
- Improving outcomes for all family members.
Thinking about long-term goals helps fatherhood practitioners have meaningful discussions with local domestic violence agencies and explore how a partnership can be mutually beneficial. But first, fatherhood practitioners should recognize that women and families served by domestic violence prevention agencies often have experienced harmful or lethal abuse at the hands of intimate partners. Showing understanding and empathy, in addition to explaining the limited opportunities available to many fathers with low incomes, can pave the way for lasting partnerships.
Experienced practitioners note that although male victims should have support, it should not minimize or deflect attention from the problem of men’s violence against women. One approach offered by ramesh kathanadhi of Men Stopping Violence, a national training institute that helps mobilize men to prevent violence against women and girls, is to point out that male victims experience violence in partnerships with both women and men. Acknowledging same sex violence can help avoid pitting male victims against female victims and “de-gender” the issue of domestic violence.
Programs funded through federal Promoting Responsible Fatherhood grants and many other fatherhood programs are required by their funding sources to work with domestic violence prevention partners. These programs should consider initiating subcontract agreements that cover costs associated with partners’ time and effort.
As fatherhood programs talk to potential partners they should:
- Emphasize their unique access to men in the community, which creates an opportunity to inform and educate.
- Outline the strategies they use to raise awareness and help prevent violence.
- Acknowledge they are not an abuser intervention program and show they understand the importance of making referrals to intervention programs.
- Demonstrate support for the domestic violence prevention agency’s community initiatives by attending events such as Take Back the Night rallies, hosting donation drives, and encouraging men to volunteer. 3
Fatherhood practitioners also should be willing to listen and learn from their domestic violence prevention agency partners. Partners can help fatherhood practitioners understand and confirm for staff and participants that:
- Violence is never acceptable.
- Anger management is not an appropriate treatment for batterers.
- A pep talk or positive peer pressure does not stop a pattern of abuse.
Once you have established common ground, you can explore how to work together in tangible ways, such as creating protocols, providing cross-training, and establishing cross-referral procedures.