To mark the commencement of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Center for American Progress hosted experts and advocates of domestic violence prevention at an event on October 5. The event also marked the release of a new report by the Center for Family Policy and Practice, or CFFPP, entitled “Safety and Services: Women of Color Speak about their Communities.”
Jill Groblewski, senior project manager at CFFPP and co-author of the report, spoke about the report’s findings and its crucial takeaways. The report is based on 19 listening sessions with 237 individuals, among them domestic violence victims, survivors, prevention advocates, and community service providers. The report aims to “ensure that women’s lived experiences (which are framed by race, class, culture, and gender) inform the development and improvement of domestic violence services.” Groblewski reiterated this sentiment as a central takeaway from the report.
“What I want you to get out of this report is the context of low-income women of color within their communities,” Groblewski said. “Women are members of families and communities and they share experiences of poverty and discrimination with other members of the community.”
Groblewski highlighted many of the report’s findings, including the need for services that extend beyond the scope of traditional programs, the necessity for economic security and family stability, the shortage of vital services and programs for men, and the desire for more empathic service provision.
The event included a panel discussion with Groblewski; Shelia Hankins, co-director for the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community; Lisa Nitsch, vice president of Women in Fatherhood, Inc. and program manager at the House of Ruth Maryland; and Lynn Rosenthal, White House advisor on violence against women. When asked for their opinions on CFFPP’s report, the panel agreed that the report’s process—actually listening to the needs and desires of domestic violence prevention stakeholders—was one of its most important features.
“We think that it is critical that we hear the voices of communities,” Hankins said. “We cannot just propose ideas and strategies and ways to intervene into communities without understanding what happens in their lives, without understanding the historical, the social, the political, the economic impact that has happened in their lives.”
The discussion transitioned to a number of issues, many of which were examined in the report. Among the most important was providing more aid and services for men, not just in the form of monetary aid but also through classes on topics like healthy relationships and fatherhood. Food stamps are generally the only form of support available to low-income men, and because of that, the CFFPP report explains, “[Men] cannot make their equal contribution to their families. They cannot support themselves or their children. … when men are not in the position to provide this support, the burden on women becomes greater.” Panelists reiterated this link and expanded on it, discussing the connection between improving working and living conditions for men and decreasing the proliferation of domestic violence.
“We have to understand how uplifting African American men who are without resources can relate to uplifting women, particularly survivors of domestic violence in that community, and what that will mean for that community as a whole,” Hankins said.
The panel also talked about both the difficulty and the need for partnerships between various organizations, ranging from domestic violence service providers to advocates to fatherhood programs. The challenges of partnerships and collaborations come from debates over the jurisdiction of different services provided, establishing responses to domestic violence disclosure, and battles over limited resources. Despite these difficult questions, the panel noted the positive work of collaborations happening in pockets all over the country.
“Some places have been struggling along, but others have been working in a beautiful way,” Nitsch said. “On the ground level, when you take two passionate advocates from two different fields, it tends to have a beautiful result.”
In terms of legislation, the panel agreed about the dangers of cutting existing programs that are already providing vital services to communities. And as with many discussions occurring in Washington and around the country these days, the connection to unemployment was evident.
“Most members of low-income communities want a job,” Groblewski said. “It’s necessary to provide services because jobs aren’t available. We need services, but we really need a coherent jobs plan.”
For more on this event, see its event page.