Safety Planning with Battered Women: Complex Lives/Difficult Choices


Jill Davies, Eleanor Lyon & Diane Monti-Catania

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  • Sage Series on Violence against Women

    Series Editors

    Claire M.RenzettiSt. Joseph's University
    Jeffrey L.EdlesonUniversity of Minnesota

    In this series…

    I AM NOT YOUR VICTIM: Anatomy of Domestic Violence

    byBethSipeandEvelyn J.Hall

    WIFE RAPE: Understanding the Response of Survivors and Service Providers

    byRaquel KennedyBergen


    edited byJeffrey L.EdlesonandZvi C.Eisikovits

    WOMEN'S ENCOUNTERS WITH VIOLENCE: Australian Experiences

    edited bySandyCookandJudithBessant

    WOMAN ABUSE ON CAMPUS: Results From the Canadian National Survey

    byWalter S.DeKeseredyandMartin D.Schwartz




    byJeffrey R.Benedict

    SAFETY PLANNNG WITH BATTERED WOMEN: Complex Lives/Difficult Choices

    byJillDavies, EleanorLyon, andDianeMonti-Catania


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    To Battered Women


    The revelation that advocacy with battered women needed to change began in 1986, shortly after passage of mandatory arrest provisions in Connecticut, as Jill Davies trained and provided legal consultation to advocates and Eleanor Lyon studied the new role of family violence victim advocates in court. Development of the woman-defined approach to advocacy began with the support of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 1988 as part of the Model Court Response Project, which provided the opportunity to study and consider the court's response to family violence cases. Three key lessons we learned from battered women during this project were: 1) not all women involved in the legal system wanted to be; 2) some women were going to stay in their relationships; and 3) not all women could benefit from their partner's arrest, protective orders, and other court responses. These realizations led to an extensive exploration of the proper role of advocacy.

    One result of this exploration was Jill Davies’ development of advocacy materials and training for the family violence victim advocates who worked in court. The core concepts of woman-defined advocacy were formulated as part of this early work, known as safety planning. Jill was the catalyst for the development and evolution of woman-defined advocacy; through her work with battered women and advocates, her writing and analysis, she continues to lead the exploration and refinement of this approach to advocacy.

    The early work on woman-defined advocacy was informed by Eleanor Lyon's research and analysis. Eleanor evaluated the first pilot testing of materials and training and provided research support to the training and evaluation of the follow-up work with advocates using the approach. Eleanor has played an ongoing significant role in woman-defined advocacy as a community researcher, offering information, analysis, and support as the training and development of woman-defined advocacy has proceeded. Some of the most meaningful information in this book came from Eleanor's interviews with battered women done as part of formal court-related research projects. Eleanor also placed the woman-defined advocacy model into the context of the current literature and thinking about family violence, battered women, and advocates.

    Diane Monti-Catania joined the work on woman-defined advocacy in 1993 as a cotrainer in a statewide initiative sponsored by the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence to bring the safety planning model to all advocates working in Connecticut's domestic violence projects. Diane continued to work with advocates on the implementation of this approach. She has brought these concepts to other arenas, including the HIV/AIDS community, law enforcement, and health professionals. It was Diane's belief that the ideas contained in woman-defined advocacy be put forth in a book. Diane worked hard on early drafts of this manuscript, and actively participated in many of the conversations that led to elaboration of the model presented here.

    We are grateful to the many people who helped us:

    • Battered women, who courageously plan for their safety as advocates continue to try to find the answers; the lessons we learned from battered women are the basis of our approach and inform this book.
    • Advocates, for trusting us to try the approach, working with us to enhance it, and the incredible, meaningful work they do with battered women.
    • Anne Menard, for her vision and support of the work from its inception. Anne's unique skills and commitment provided a forum in which the approach evolved. She offered ongoing critical feedback that raised crucial questions about the broader implications of the approach. She also provided significant comments regarding the final version of the book.
    • Sue Osthoff, for reading and for her thoughtful analysis and tireless support.
    • Susan Schechter, for her important suggestions on the final manuscript and her contribution to the development of the list of factors and circumstances regarding the risk of life-threatening violence.
    • Martie Boyer, for her analysis and support.
    • Clint Sanders, for his understanding and encouragement.
    • Joe, Joey, and Andrew Catania, for their unwavering support.
    • Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, for its ongoing commitment to the implementation of woman-defined advocacy.
    • Greater Hartford Legal Assistance (GHLA), for providing Jill the opportunity to do this work and write this book.
    • Stephen Frazzini, Executive Director of GHLA, for his vision and his understanding that the pursuit of justice requires a broad view of lawyering.
    • The Village for Families and Children, for its support of research and its work to end violence against women and children.
    • Claire Renzetti and Jeff Edelson, for their thoughtful guidance and encouragement throughout this process.
    • Nora Lester, Steve Eppler-Epstein, and Sheridan Haines, for reading and commenting on various drafts.
    • Greater Hartford Legal Assistance, Inc. thanks Eleanor who will generously donate her share of the authors' proceeds to GHLA. These funds will be combined with Jill's proceeds from the book to further GHLA's mission to achieve equal justice for poor people, to work with clients to promote social justice, and to address the symptoms and root causes of poverty. We also thank the law firm of Shipman & Goodwin for its representation of GHLA, particularly attorneys Christine S. Horrigan and Theodore M. Space.
    • Our partners, family, and friends. We couldn't have done it without you.
  • Appendix A: Considerations for Information Gathering

    Ongoing Program Documentation

    Ongoing program documentation is a deliberate gathering and recording of specific information about what the program does, who does it, and with whom. Documenting work is often seen by advocates as superfluous, because it is a requirement imposed by funders who may not understand the work and who insist on “stats” that record numbers of people and services that do not seem meaningful. Program documentation is a useful tool, however, when it is based on an understanding of the work; in fact, good information is essential to effective woman-defined advocacy. It can help advocates learn more about the diversity of battered women's needs and resources, their community experiences as they seek help and make connections, the program's real strengths and weaknesses, gaps in the community's system of services and other responses, and other issues. Such information is important to have just for program self-appraisal and improvement. It can also provide the basis for policy analysis and community change. In addition, such information is valuable to share with other programs so they can learn from both good and bad experiences, and not have to “reinvent the wheel.”

    The most important principles for ongoing program documentation and for shorter-term information gathering as part of special projects are similar, and similar to some of the tenets of basic advocacy.

    The Information Collected must Not Jeopardize Women's Physical or Emotional Safety

    All identifying information must be kept out of sight and securely locked. Information that could have negative consequences, if revealed, should either not be collected, be stored without names attached, or be retained only as long as it remains essential for work with the woman and then destroyed, or another strategy should be developed. Legal consultation about applicable precedents regarding privacy and confidentiality can help establish the balance between privacy and the need to gather information. In addition, questions that are likely to be upsetting should be asked only when a woman is prepared for them and when emotional support resources (such as friends, close family members, or trained counselors) are available.

    The Information should be Collected Respectfully

    When information is collected hastily, just to complete necessary paperwork, it tells women that the information they are giving is not important. The best information is likely to be provided when there is enough time to listen, when women can use their own words, and neither the woman nor the advocate is distracted by other concerns. For example, this might mean that some parts of an intake interview can wait until the woman is calmer, she has had a chance to eat or is not distracted by crying children, and the advocate is not answering the telephone or attending to other duties.

    The Information should be Collected with Respect for Women's Unique Situations and Individual Differences

    Women should be given an opportunity to explain their experiences, and, when it is safe to do so, that information should be recorded, along with the more succinct check mark in the appropriate box. In general, information that is collected by choosing among response categories developed by funders or researchers (“checking the boxes”) will not provide enough of the kind of information that can help us learn more about the full range of women's experiences and the ways they make sense of their situations. Complete information about battered women's experiences and strategies is still limited, and is essential for advancing woman-defined advocacy and policy analysis.

    The Information should Include Women's Strengths and Resources, in Addition to their Needs

    This information, too, is central to advocacy, but is often overlooked as part of documentation. Woman-defined advocacy will include obtaining information from women about their strategies for the short- and longer-term future relationship with their abusive partner (strategies for staying or leaving) and protecting their children. It would not be complicated to add this to the information that is collected from all women. More of this type of information will be helpful for agency planning and policy decisions, and contribute to a more accurate and complex public understanding of battered women.

    Depending on the type of program, ongoing documentation can include the following kinds of information: background information that may affect a battered woman's options and decision making, such as her age, education, number of children, work experience, and her assessment of both batterer-generated and life-generated risks; her needs, concerns, and immediate goals; other agencies and resources she has used; whether or not she found those options helpful and how; the services offered and provided by the advocate; and the woman's reactions to those services. Part of ongoing program documentation, then, may include regular “checking in” with a woman about her experiences with the services she receives.

    Although counting services does not provide a full picture of what an advocate or agency does or their usefulness to a woman, counting may be useful for some purposes; it can show the effect of a change in policy, for example, if the patterns of services change. Such documentation will help identify some of the strengths and weaknesses of different types of intervention. It will also provide basic, ongoing data about some aspects of what battered women think about the current system and set of policies. It does not need to be complicated. It can consist of a simple log of contacts with other agencies and what happened with the contacts: what did they do, what was accomplished, what problems the woman encountered.

    In addition to this kind of program documentation, procedures to gather regular feedback can be very useful. Talking with women just before they leave a program can provide information about what they found especially helpful (or not). Agencies that contact women after they have left the program to see how they are doing have often found such efforts worthwhile for reconnecting with women who again need services or support, reinforcing the message of continuing concern and accessibility, and learning more about women's longer-term strategies for addressing the abuse in their lives.

    A different kind of approach to gathering regular feedback could involve periodic meetings with battered women. For example, information could be provided about aspects of a particular policy or proposal, and the women's reactions could be documented. Similar meetings could also be organized with networks of service providers or other agencies involved in the work. This can be an invaluable strategy for collecting policy-relevant information and strengthening collaborative relationships at the same time. Again, documentation does not need to be complicated; it can include simply the people or organizations represented, the topic, the issues raised, any problems identified, and solutions discussed.

    Incorporating information gathering into “the way the work is done” means not only regular documentation, but understanding its importance for decision making of all sorts. It is important to evaluate every new policy, program, or approach that is tried to find out if it is helpful or harmful, how it is helpful or harmful, and for whom. Regular, ongoing documentation will usually make that evaluation much easier and more effective, because it will be possible to compare before-and-after information.

    Advocates themselves can be a source of information. An advocate's experiences and reactions may be shared by other people. If an advocate feels uncomfortable with the atmosphere in a particular agency, it is conceivable that battered women could feel uncomfortable there as well. If staff at another agency are curt or rude when an advocate calls to make a referral, that may reflect how they approach the women who come to them for help. It can be useful to have a formal practice to record these experiences or observations systematically. Over time, they can accumulate a powerful picture, and do not take much time to document.

    Specific Projects or Issues

    As part of the policy analysis and advocacy process, specific issues or occasions will require information that is not part of ongoing program documentation. The type of strategy for gathering this information will depend on the time and resources available and the questions that need to be answered. Sometimes it will be most efficient and feel safest to talk with interviewees in groups; they can learn from each other and feed off each others’ ideas. Group experiences can also reinforce that people are not alone, so the research process can be empowering as well. Sometimes the topics will be potentially sensitive, and many participants will not want to talk in front of a group. If it is important to hear answers to all questions from everyone, it may work better to talk separately. In addition, different issues will arise with different sources of information.

    Issues when Battered Women are the Source of Information

    If battered women will be approached to gather information for a specific purpose or research project, several general issues should be thought through, including those related to respect for women's uniqueness and safety. Thinking about all these issues will be more productive if battered women are involved or at least consulted during the process.

    How will Women be Informed about the Goals of the Research?

    This should include an explanation of the reasons for the questions and the kinds of questions women will be asked. This is an essential part of informed consent included in the “protection of human subjects” for all research, and is especially important for battered women. The explanations must be understandable and available in the woman's primary language.

    How will the Research Ensure that Women's Participation is Voluntary?

    Women must understand that there will be no consequence to them if they choose not to answer the questions. For example, women often think that they can be denied shelter or that advocates will be less helpful to them if they are “uncooperative.”

    How will the Confidentiality of Women's Answers be Maintained?

    What women say should not be revealed to anyone without their explicit consent, except as part of describing responses anonymously. If there are questions about child abuse, the women must be informed that if they reveal abuse, it will be reported to the child protection agency.

    How will the Research Ensure the Questions Asked do Not Put Women at Physical or Emotional Risk?

    This means that support systems should be in place if questions are difficult, and women should be assured that questions can be stopped at any time. It also means the site where questions are asked must be safe. It is useful to review a safety plan for the situation before the conversation or interview begins. It can include strategies for responding to her batterer if he appears unexpectedly. For example, if the conversation takes place by telephone, the plan can include a phrase the woman can use to signal danger before she ends the call, and an understanding about how and when the conversation can be resumed.

    How will the Research Ensure the Questions are Necessary?

    It is important to understand the goals of the questions clearly before beginning, and be sure the questions will elicit answers. Extra, unnecessary questioning of women is not respectful of their time or privacy and should be avoided. It is sometimes tempting to add just a few extra questions “since we're talking anyway” because the questions are interesting and would not take too much more time.

    It is also important, however, that questions are asked in enough detail so the answers can be interpreted appropriately. For example, asking a woman only where she is going to live when she leaves a shelter is unlikely to provide enough information about her plans to be useful. “Return to the batterer at exit” is often interpreted as an indication of the woman's weakness or the shelter's failure. Instead, this may be part of her longer-term plan for leaving, it can be part of her strategy to enhance her power and leverage in the relationship, and it can have many other meanings in the context of the individual woman's life and plans.

    How will the Research Ensure that the Format of the Questions Gathers the Desired Information?

    In general, if advocates want to understand something, the questions should allow women to explain, describe, or offer ideas in their own words. If advocates want information about how many women do or think something in particular, then it is important to figure out exactly what needs to be (and can be) counted. Both of these types of information can be valuable. For example, an advocate may want to know how many women have had particular types of good or bad experiences with the police or therapists. The advocate may also want to know how women felt about or understood a particular type of police response or therapeutic approach. It is often helpful to ask both the counting (quantitative) and the explanatory or descriptive (qualitative) types of questions; they can provide a powerful picture together.

    The best approach to addressing these issues is to test the questions first. Researchers call this part of the process a pilot or trial. This is not as difficult as it might sound, and it can be enormously helpful to avoid misunderstandings and other problems. It simply means that once a draft of questions has been developed, they should be tried out with a small group of battered women. It is important that the women involved at this stage include women who are as diverse with respect to education, race and ethnicity, age, social class, and other important characteristics as the women the advocate plans to include. A pilot involves asking the questions and asking explicitly if the questions are clear or how they were understood. The phrasing of the questions can then be changed so that women understand them in the way intended and do not feel they show a bias or judgment the questioner had not considered.

    In particular, testing should identify the meanings women attach to particular words or phrases. Battered women and advocates may associate different meanings to such words as battered, abuse, or violence. Many women who are physically assaulted regularly by their partners, for example, do not think of themselves as “battered women”; there are also regional, local, class, and ethnic differences in terminology. It is important to use the words that women understand in the way the questioner intended.

    Testing must go beyond the specific words used to consider whether the way questions are phrased implies judgments about women's behavior or assumptions about women's options. Women experience different realistic options, depending on their race and ethnicity, economic circumstances, age, and sexual orientation, among other factors. For example, a question such as “Why didn't you call the police when he hit you?” could seem to imply the judgment that calling the police was the best response, when in fact it may not be for some women for a variety of reasons. A question that starts “why” demands an explanation and may put women on the defensive. An alternative question on this topic is, “What did you think might happen if you called the police?” This question is neutral, and gathers information on the woman's thought process instead of eliciting a defensive rationale.

    Issues when an Agency is the Source of Information

    In addition to the issues listed above, attention must be paid to the agency's decision-making structure. Who needs to give permission for the research? What authority is necessary to gain access to the agency's staff and information? What confidentiality protocols must be followed? When approaching an agency, a researcher must be candid and accurate about the research, the burden it may place on the agency's resources, and the process for analysis and distribution of the information. Researchers should also consider that an agency's staff may be reluctant to answer questions for a variety of reasons, including past experience with research. Political considerations will also affect the agency's level of participation.

    Information gathered about an agency that is useful to woman-defined policy analysis can include the following: Does the agency screen for family violence? What options and resources does the agency provide? What eligibility criteria does the agency use? What referrals does the agency make? Does the agency do outreach and to whom? Does the agency facilitate women's participation in exploring their options and deciding what to do? What is the agency's policy and practice for sharing information about the women it serves?

    Appendix B: Building the Model: The Connecticut Experience

    Much of the experience that prompted the development of the woman-defined advocacy model occurred in the criminal legal system. In the aftermath of Tracy Thurman's successful lawsuit against a city police department, Connecticut's governor formed a task force to study responses to domestic violence across the state. The result was a new state law that aimed to take domestic violence incidents more seriously than before: to provide support to victims and immediate intervention for batterers. Connecticut was one of the first states to adopt such legislation.

    Connecticut's Family Violence Prevention and Response Act was passed and implemented in 1986. Among its provisions were mandatory arrest with probable cause, arraignment on the next court day following arrest, the clearly specified option of protective orders, a pretrial offender education program for first-time misdemeanor arrestees, and the creation of a new position: the family violence victim advocate (FVVA). The law was more comprehensive than those found in other states; it required people who hold court positions with quite different responsibilities to confer and collaborate in decisions about domestic violence cases. It also required that statistical data on arrest, court referral, and court dispositions be collected and reported annually to the legislature for the first 5 years.

    The law was implemented with collaborative oversight as well. A statewide committee was formed to monitor the law and to identify problems and their solutions. The committee also identified needed revisions in the law and shared statistical data. Subcommittees on training, medical reporting, and research and evaluation were formed and became active. The state has a tradition of valuing research as a tool for assessing the effectiveness of new initiatives and for guiding program improvement.

    A study of the implementation of the law, with a focus on the specialized advocates, provided support for concerns raised at meetings of the interdisciplinary monitoring committee. Advocates reported that police too often arrested both or all people present when they responded to a domestic violence call. In addition, they often neglected to tell women about the advocacy and shelter services available to them. Through a police training project, a new curriculum was developed that focused on investigative and interviewing techniques and the necessity of police providing information and referral.

    As important, the study provided an early source of concern about advocacy. Most of that concern related to the unprecedented and sudden increase in the volume of cases, the (often marginal) status of advocates in court, and limitations on the available remedies and services (see Lyon & Mace, 1989, 1991). In open-ended interviews with the advocates about their work, half made a distinction between what the battered women they saw in court wanted and what they “really” needed. Nearly half of the advocates described women's desires for support and understanding, as in the following excerpt:

    They want to talk to someone who understands what's happening. They want to know what's causing it, and how to make it end. Someone who believes them, and will support what they want to do. Someone who won't tell them what to do or that they necessarily have to leave the relationship.

    Close to half of the FVVAs commented that the women wanted the abuse to end, but did not want to end the relationship. In contrast, about half of the advocates said that what the women “really needed” was independence, self-esteem, and programs to help make independence a reality.

    The advocates were also asked about the biggest obstacles and greatest frustrations they experienced in their work with battered women. The biggest problems they noted were the lack of criminal sanctions available to the courts. This was followed closely by the women's ambivalence, especially about ending the relationship, as a source of advocate frustration. The next most common frustration, and one of the most frequent of the FVVA recommendations for changes in the job, related to advocates’ lack of time to spend with the women. Several described what they called the “10-minute rap” that they customarily gave to the women they saw in court. Basically, the “rap” provided information about the law and the court process and explored women's options for protective orders.

    This early experience with the new law illustrates how easily service-defined advocacy can evolve as the predominant model, even among people who have great concern about family violence and commitment to working with battered women. When the volume of cases increases and the available resources do not, service providers are more likely to focus their time and attention on the people who will most readily take advantage of what is offered. When the time available to spend with battered women decreases, advocates are more likely to focus their efforts on connecting women with the most accessible services. In this way, the services come to define the intervention strategies. These patterns were documented in an observational study of the court process.

    This second study investigated the ways that family violence cases were handled in one large urban court. This study was prompted in part by findings from the interviews with advocates that the case-handling process in some court locations did not fully include the FVVAs and did not incorporate contact with battered women in the early stages. The goals of the study included understanding the actual court process and identifying protocols needed to help it operate more responsively.

    The advocates and other personnel in this court expressed frustration with the battered women they encountered and with the failure of the court system to address their needs adequately. They discussed the women accepting responsibility for the abuse, their “denial,” their desire to maintain the relationship, and the FVVAs’ perception of the danger the women faced. Some court staff voiced their anger at the women for not leaving their relationship with the batterer and not being fully cooperative with protective orders. One advocate described her dilemma, and her recognition of the effect of service-defined advocacy (without using that term), particularly poignantly:

    We have only a few things to offer victims. So what we have to do is fit them into these slots, get them to accept what we have, transform their lives, and be grateful. If they don't, we imply they deserve to be assaulted again.

    Overall, accumulated local studies of court and battered women's responses to their court experience demonstrated that when there was contact between women and the advocates,1 it was most often brief and consisted of information provided by advocates to women, rather than an exchange. Information focused on the “remedies” available in court. Advocates often spent more of their limited time warning women about the dangerous potential for escalating violence than they did trying to understand the women's plans. Further contact was seldom initiated by the women, and in subsequent follow-up interviews, the women often could not distinguish the advocates from the other court staff they had talked to on the day of arraignment.

    These court observations and interviews also provided a clear reminder that “real” battered women are diverse, with widely varying experiences, needs, hopes, and perspectives on their situations. The popular images of the “perfect” victim, or the battered woman who just needs a little support to transform her life, or the woman whose primary issue or concern is the violence in her life, were not supported in the court context. The lives of real people are messier and more complex than neatly constructed images (even when those images are grim).

    The contrast between real women's lives and the organization of services was also found outside court. Information about local shelter rules and procedures revealed that some facilities had developed practices that discouraged some women from returning. For example, in some places, women who made efforts to contact their abusive partner were reprimanded (due to shelter safety concerns) and sometimes asked to leave. In other programs, the women who left shelters to return to their partners were not permitted to return for at least 6 months. As elsewhere, the language of shelter staff and court advocates became peppered with reference to the women's “minimization” and “denial” as ways of understanding their behavior.2

    The law had brought thousands of battered women into contact with the court and with some information about resources available to them that many would not otherwise have obtained. The brief contact, however, often consisted of information that went from the advocate to the woman in unfamiliar language, under frightening and confusing circumstances. Follow-up interviews with women showed that many (certainly not all) of them did not leave with the feeling that their needs and concerns had been understood, or that they now had a new ally to whom they could usefully return in the future.3

    This was the context for the development of the woman-defined safety planning model. The term safety planning was used initially to describe the process because it was a familiar and accessible term for advocates. Trainers hoped to build on what advocates already knew and did in their work. Further, safety was conceived in its broadest sense; it was not confined to immediate, physical safety. Similarly, planning was approached broadly and naturally; it was not confined to narrow, preconceived steps.

    The model was first presented formally as a pilot in an intense day-long training. That first training began with what came to be known as the “marbles exercise,” in which advocates were asked a series of questions by the trainer, who responded to their answers in ways that ranged from bureaucratic or noncommittal to curt and judgmental. The purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate how victims often feel in a court setting: powerless, subject to questions, stereotypic assumptions, and judgments about private areas of their lives from people who listen only partially, trying to guess the “right” answers that will lead to the help and responses they want. At first, some of the advocates were angry at the trainer, until the discussion after the exercise, when they understood its point. It was a powerful introduction to communication difficulties between advocates and battered women in court and other bureaucratic settings. The training also covered many of the basic elements of what emerged as the woman-defined advocacy model, which were then conceived as four steps: understanding the woman's perspective, assessing risk, building on the woman's plan, and reviewing and implementing the plan.

    Based on evaluations, the training was subsequently expanded to 2 days, separated by at least a week. In addition, the marbles exercise was modified, and sections were added to include more time on jargon, sexual violence, and advocates’ experiences trying the model.

    Four years later, some advocates who took part in these early training sessions still had their marbles, to remind themselves how women can feel in these circumstances. Comments about the training and the model on evaluation forms completed over the course of a year demonstrate what the advocates saw as the primary changes the model required. The first question asked if there was “anything about the approach described in the training that stands out as different from what you have been doing.” Seventy-eight percent of the advocates trained in the first year found differences in at least parts of the approach. Many advocates responded with a variation on “not assuming the woman wants to leave.” One acknowledged her previous “tendency of telling battered women to get a protective order or restraining order without listening to their real fears and that a possibility or option is to stay with the abuser.” Another observed, “This is the first time I've heard safety planning include her resources, hopes, and fears, and her view of the abuse.” Yet another described this difference: “Putting her first; prioritizing her needs over my desire for statistical information.” Yet another advocate responded to her early use of the model with relief: “I've always felt 100% responsible for the victim's safety. I don't any more, because I can work with victims more closely so they can come up with their own safety planning.”

    The first times the training was offered, the trainers held follow-up supervision meetings with advocates to review their experiences using the model. Advocates reported that they felt a combination of relief and concern when they used the model: relief at not being responsible for the women, and concern because they sometimes thought they should be responsible and/or were not supportive of the choices the women often made. Nonetheless, they acknowledged that the women had the right to make their own choices. Over time, many observed that they had begun to receive more calls and visits from the women with whom they had used the model than they had received with the old approach. Clearly, the women were becoming more likely to perceive the advocates as potentially helpful resources, and the advocates began to redefine success in their work.

    As the model has been adopted and refined over the course of nearly 5 years, several features of the approach and the process have been especially notable.

    Ongoing evaluation and analysis of the training and use of the model have contributed to successive refinements. Listening to both women and advocates has been a vital part of the process.

    Finding the right balance between presenting the model as something “new” and “what we already do” has sometimes been challenging. Initially, training emphasized the approach as familiar so it would not be threatening. Some advocates then felt that all they needed to do to incorporate the model was to talk with women about their “partner” or “husband” instead of their “batterer” or “the defendant.” Subsequent training has also emphasized the importance of making no assumptions or judgments, but taking the time to draw out the worn-en's own plans, hopes, strategies, and fears to develop a richer under-standing of their perspectives. Later training has also focused more attention on the need for advocates to “let go” of their (unrealistic) sense of responsibility for the safety of every woman they work with.

    As successive training occurred, the importance of the model in the context of race and ethnicity and social class issues became clearer. Listening to women without making assumptions or judgments about their choices and alternatives is necessary for effective advocacy, yet sometimes difficult for some middle-class Anglo women to do. Advocates of color have been especially supportive and responsive to the model in training.

    In response to advocates’ concerns, the model itself has shifted. Initially, the advocates’ role was too passive; it urged them to listen to women and craft an approach based almost purely on what the women wanted. Subsequently, the model has become a partnership that draws more fully on the advocates’ skills and experiences as well. This more balanced, integrated approach emerged partly from advocates’ concerns about potential lethality and about risks to children. The model now tries to identify boundaries, when the advocates’ responsibilities may differ from “what the woman wants.”

    Over time, training on the woman-defined safety planning model was expanded. First, it was offered to shelter advocates and other staff who worked outside the legal system. Later, it was offered to other legal system staff, including generic victim advocates and the “family relations” counselors who work in court with the specialized family violence victim advocates. Some of the basic principles have also been shared in training with judges and prosecutors. This training has been a key part of spreading the model and understanding the complexities of battered women's experience and decision making. It has also reinforced the importance of respecting women's choices and maximizing their options as part of the legal system's response.

    As the audience for training in the safety planning model diversified, the court system obtained a federal grant to develop a plan for a continuum of sanctions in domestic violence cases. Connecticut's law had provided for pretrial interventions, but had not created any specialized postconviction response. The planning grant included a set of in-depth interviews with battered women whose partners had been arrested. The interviews provided additional evidence that battered women, outside of a woman-defined safety planning advocacy model, often did not make a connection with advocates such that they felt their voices were heard in court. As plans were developed for sanctions, ways to enhance victims’ safety and opportunities to be heard were incorporated.

    These plans came to greater fruition with Connecticut's activities supported by Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) funding. In the first year of funding, a new advocate position was created that provided an opportunity to practice woman-defined safety planning and advocacy more fully. The new position was established in the context of a court where prosecutors identified “more serious” cases (those in which defendants had prior arrests for domestic violence or the instant offense involved weapons or substantial injury) for active prosecution. These were cases in which there would be more extensive court contact with battered women, and safety issues would be paramount.

    In less than a year, the woman-defined advocacy model had become the approach accepted and expected within that court. Advocates spent more time with women, and continued their involvement as the cases proceeded. Prosecutors requested advocates’ participation in meetings with victims, and advocates met with women before and after meetings to help them understand their options and the legal process. Increasingly, battered women initiated contact with the advocates to ask questions, seek help, and provide updated information as their situations and preferences shifted. Advocates worked closely with court staff as well as community service providers, as they customized plans for services and interventions to suit the individual woman's hopes, needs, and concerns. As new protocols and approaches needed to be created along the way, advocates became active instigators of both individual and systemic change.

    As this is being written, the woman-defined advocacy model has spread across the state in response to training and the expanded resources available with VAWA funding. Women's risk analysis has become a standard part of the training provided to all new advocates. Each court brings different challenges and opportunities, due to local histories and unique constellations of staff and perspectives. Wherever the model is adopted, however, better connections are forged between battered women and advocates and between advocates and the rest of the court staff. New legal and community intervention strategies continue to raise new questions, and court and community teams are created to develop solutions. The model itself changes with new issues and circumstances, as battered women's plans and perspectives do. Change for both individuals and systems is often a lengthy process, but effective woman-defined advocacy can accelerate the pace.


    1. Contact was made in less than three quarters of the cases, largely due to inaccurate contact information and lack of time.

    2. See, for example, Peled and Edleson (1994), who have noted a shift in attention by advocates toward a focus on individual causes of women's responses to their abuse.

    3. Again, it must be stressed that these represent cumulative responses to limited resources. With expanded, coordinated service available, both women and support staff can and do take more action. See Hart (1992).


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    About the Authors

    Jill Davies is an attorney who works on a local, state, and national level to improve the legal response to family violence and to enhance advocacy for battered women. She has trained extensively on family violence and legal issues, with a focus on effective advocacy in the legal sysgtem and the effects of the legal system's response on battered women's safety planning. Attorney Davies serves on several state and national advisory boards regarding family violence and is a consultant to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence. Attorney Davies is currently the deputy director of Greater Hartford Legal Assistance, Inc. Attorney Davies has written numerous pieces about family violence. Recent work includes: A series of papers about the new federal welfare law and domestic violence, developed for the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, Violence Against Women Act State Implementation Plan Development; An Approach to Legtal Advocacy for Individual Battered Women, and the Connecticut Family Violence Victim Advocate Resource Manual, second edition.

    Eleanor Lyon, Ph.D., has directed research, planning, and evaluation efforts related to battered women and family violence at the national, state, and local level since 1981. Prior to that, she served as director of a local battered women's shelter in Connecticut. She has worked collaboratively with policymakers and service providers on several projects to improve the legal system's response to domestic violence; she has also conducted multiple studies of alternatives to incarceration. She is a research consultant to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, and has provided technical assistance to the National Institute of Corrections. She is a deputy editor of the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, for which she recently edited a special issue on applied ethnography. She has trained and presented extensively at national and international conferences, and written articles and reports on her research with battered women and the effect of mandatory arrest. She is currently a Research Associate at the Village for Families & Children in Hartford, where she specializes in qualitative research methods and violence against women. She is also an adjunct Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut's Hartford campus.

    Diane Monti-Catania is a nationally recognized training specialist in the area of violence against women. She has been an advocate for battered women since 1982. Ms. Monti-Catania works with domestic violence and sexual assault coalitions throughout the country developing training programs for law enforcement on responding to violence against women. Her recent writing includes: “Violence Against Women and HIV/AIDS,” in The Gender Politics of HIV/AIDS: Police Response to Crimes of Domestic Violence in Connecticut; Police Response to Crimes of Sexual Violence in Pennsylvania; and Court Advocate Manual for Maryland Sexual Assault Advocates. She is the founder of The Advocacy Institute, LLC, a consulting firm dedicated to social change through education and planning. The current focus of her work is improving institutional and community response to violence against women, poverty, and HIV/AIDS.

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