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Expanding Options for Pursuing Safety, Accountability and Community Engagement

January 15, 2017

In meetings and conversations with stakeholders and survivors during the past several years, the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) has learned that people across the country are eager to explore different possibilities for how to increase options available to support survivors of domestic violence, dating violence and sexual assault.

While there remains a strong commitment to improving the criminal justice system for survivors who turn to it for help, there is also growing recognition that a significant percentage of survivors do not contact law enforcement, and OVW stakeholders have expressed an interest in alternative options to pursue safety, accountability and well-being and to increase community engagement in these efforts.

During the past year and a half, OVW has sponsored a number of roundtable discussions to bring stakeholders together to explore options and highlight promising practices and policy and programmatic recommendations.  The roundtables have had a concerted focus on addressing the needs of marginalized and underserved populations.

A recurring theme has emerged: Being survivor-centered means listening to victims and providing them with meaningful choices.  Several of these roundtable reports, plus a solicitation for a new demonstration initiative, are now available.   

  • Restorative Practices in Cases of Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Assault and Dating Violence.  This roundtable provided a groundbreaking opportunity to raise questions and make observations about the ways in which communities and governments respond to violence, particularly against women and LGBTQ victims.  The participants came from diverse backgrounds, having practiced what goes by several different names – tribal peacemaking, restorative justice, transformative justice, community-based advocacy and more.  Presenters noted that many survivors choose not to contact law enforcement for a myriad of reasons, so alternatives are needed.  They emphasized that instead of relying entirely on law enforcement to solve the problem, these community-based restorative approaches offer an opportunity for communities to take responsibility for safety and for survivors to take an active role in co-creating that safety.  This approach addresses the need for increased survivor agency in the outcome, as well as the longer-term importance of changing community norms to support victims of violence.  This roundtable report “Can Restorative Practices Address Intimate Partner Violence?”, available from the Center for Court Innovation, summarizes key themes that emerged from this conversation and marks the beginning of a process to open new doors for a national conversation on restorative approaches as an option for community accountability and survivor safety and healing.

Additionally, OVW released a new solicitation on Jan. 13, 2017, for phase one of the Restorative Justice Response to Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence and Dating Violence on Campus Demonstration Initiative, which will support the development of a restorative justice framework as an option for survivors in campus communities who want to redress the harm they have experienced.  Phase two of the initiative will be the subject of a later solicitation and will allow up to six demonstration campuses to pilot the framework by integrating restorative practices into their existing strategies to prevent and respond to sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking on campus.  Piloting of the framework will include in-depth technical assistance for each site and rigorous evaluation of the framework.

  • Incarceration and Mandatory Minimums.  OVW convened a roundtable of survivors, scholars, advocates and community activists who focus on sexual assault and intimate partner violence against women to examine how criminalization policies impact the lives of African-American women and girls.  The data show that black women and girls are disproportionately survivors of gender-based violence and also are over-represented among women in criminaland juvenile correctional facilities.  By placing black women and girls who have survived domestic and sexual abuse at the center of the discussion, OVW sought to provide an opportunity to focus on the ways multiple aspects of a person’s identity intersect and shape one’s experience with criminalization policies, as well as discuss unintended and undesired consequences.

The presenters and participants at this roundtable discussed policy recommendations and new initiatives to reduce or eliminate the harm that domestic violence or sexual assault victims may experience in the criminal justice system.  They also identified new initiatives, frameworks, promising practices and policy recommendations that create a continuum of options for safety and well-being to better meet the needs of survivors from African-American communities.  The roundtable report, The Impact of Incarceration and Mandatory Minimums on Survivors: Exploring the Impact of Criminalizing Policies on African American Women and Girls  also provides a summary of related actions that OVW has taken in the past year that have provided opportunities to advance the ongoing commitment on the part of OVW to address the critical issues raised at this roundtable.

  • Judicial Roundtable on Mediation.  The National Judicial Institute on Domestic Violence Roundtable Discussion on Mediation was organized by Futures Without Violence and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, in partnership with OVW.  An interdisciplinary group of stakeholders came together for a discussion about concerns associated with the use of mediation in cases where domestic violence is an issue; research on the practice of mediation across the country; the limits, value and potential of alternative dispute resolution processes to meet the needs of victims of violence; and how the family court structure can improve to support the enhancement of mediation in cases of domestic violence, where deemed appropriate.

The discussion illustrated the complexity of the issues around mediation in domestic violence cases.  Participants conveyed concerns about victim safety but also recognized the challenges victims currently face across the country when trying to access the court system, particularly when they do not have legal representation, irrespective of the potential risks associated with mediation.  Participants agreed that mediation can potentially meet the needs of domestic violence victims if it is voluntary, informed and includes strong safeguards as described in the report, Judicial Roundtable Discussion: Mediation,” which is now available from Futures Without Violence. Participants universally agreed that appropriate screening and comprehensive training on the mediation process are essential.

  • Programs for Domestic Violence Offenders. OVW, in partnership with the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime held a roundtable on Jan. 12 and 13, 2017, to discuss emerging issues in efforts to expand the models for working with domestic violence offenders.  While victim safety remains paramount, participants emphasized the need to integrate a more trauma-informed approach and community engagement paradigm to working with offenders, in conjunction with efforts to ensure accountability.  A report from this roundtable is forthcoming.

We are very thankful to the many roundtable participants who shared their time, talents and visionary spirit to collectively advance the dialogue on these critical issues.  It is our hope that these documents will be helpful to further the dialogue and encourage continued collaboration to strengthen a coordinated community response that includes expanded choices and opportunities for survivors, their families and their communities to seek safety, accountability, healing and well-being.


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Updated April 27, 2017