Try Googling domestic violence on the web, and suddenly 116,000,000 hyperlinks appear. Then Google shootings or violence, and hundreds of millions more hyperlinks appear. Although these searches link us to stories, many of which are not peer-reviewed scientific studies, they are stories about a pervasive phenomenon nonetheless and are a growing part of our ongoing collective conversation. Unfortunately, these discussions only escalate in the public discourse after a horrific event steals our attention through a stunning headline or when it directly affects our personal lives. But there are dedicated professionals and advocates for whom these stories are real each and every minute of every day. They are the fearless foot soldiers on the war against domestic violence.
Some questions exist whether the “domestic” in domestic violence (DV) is exclusive to intimate partner relationships, or if in fact DV actually casts a wider shadow inclusive of the greater collective community. In reality, aren’t we all intrinsically linked together when these horrific stories being reported in the media shatter our trust in humanity? Didn’t we mourn together as a community of Coloradans when the brutal murder of Jessica Ridgeway yanked us from our illusion of safe, tree-lined neighborhoods just a few months ago? What about the brutal mass murder at a movie theater in Aurora that has once again thrust Colorado into the epicenter of violence? These are just a few of our local horrors. What about the almost daily reporting nationally?
Violence is violence. Period.
According to World Law Direct, “Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of abusive behaviors by one partner against another in an intimate relationship such as marriage, dating, family or cohabitation.” DV, so defined, has many forms, including physical aggression or assault (hitting, kicking, biting, shoving, restraining, slapping, throwing objects), or threats thereof; sexual abuse; emotional abuse; controlling or domineering; intimidation; stalking; passive/covert abuse (e.g., neglect); and economic deprivation.
DV includes more than physical violence; it can also encompass endangerment, criminal coercion, kidnapping, unlawful imprisonment, trespassing, harassment and more, including shootings, bullying, trafficking and human degradation of any kind—they all fit under this category.
When considering the economic health of our nation, we define the gross domestic product (GDP) as the expenditures, incomes and output of all private, public and government entities as measurements of an indicator of economic health of our country. Domestic violence is also an indicator of the health of our country—the health of our country’s psychological, moral and ethical well-being. Although the cost may not appear as a line item on a profit and loss report, the cost is financed by private, public and government entities. The human toll is impossible to quantify.
Thinking that DV does not have consequences that affect each of us is in a sense turning a blind eye to domestic violence, which gives unintentional sanction to this continued atrocity.
DV is often mistakenly construed as affecting a narrowly defined isolated community of victims and perpetrators. Rarely is there a deep examination of the reverberating waves that extend into our shared communities, places of worship and businesses. How do we ignore these events when domestic violence impacts all of us, in one way or another? When it intersects our businesses, our schools, religious institutions, where we engage in recreation—no one and no place is exempt.
Many common myths are still woven into a false belief system about DV, such as: domestic violence is not a problem in my community; domestic violence only happens to poor women and women of color; people deserve to be hit; alcohol, drug abuse, stress and mental illness cause DV; and DV is a personal problem between a husband and a wife.
When two players on Steubenville High School’s prestigious football team, the Big Red, reportedly drugged a 16-year-old girl and sexually assaulted her, carrying her unconscious body by the wrists and ankles from party to party, urinating on her and abandoning her at the end of the night at her parents’ house—it forced the community to assess its moral character. These were the sons of prominent community members, possible church members. What happened in their life experience that allowed these young men to think that this behavior was acceptable? Don’t we have a shared moral and ethical responsibility to educate our youth about the reverberating effect of such barbaric atrocities?
The truth is … domestic violence affects everyone.
Looking ahead, the University of Colorado at Denver (UCD) is doing something about DV with the first ever Domestic Violence Center at the Schools of Public Affairs (SPA). In collaboration with members of the domestic violence practitioner community, SPA has developed an educational program designed to assist in solving the critical social problem of domestic violence through leadership development. This program provides the opportunity for individuals throughout the nation—from small towns, large urban areas and even the most remote of communities—to earn a master’s of public administration or master’s of criminal justice degree with a focus on domestic violence policy and organizational management.
This program represents the cooperative effort of faculty from three campuses of the University of Colorado (Denver, Boulder and Health Sciences Center) and local domestic violence policy practitioners. Beginning in fall 1998, the program steering committee for SPA met regularly to explore the ability and capacity of the university to design and conduct a national program that provides educational opportunities that enhance leadership in the areas of program administration and policy development aimed at improving the prevention of violence as well as the provision of services for women and children who have been victimized by DV. The program design was completed, and the first students enrolled in fall 2000.
The goal of the Center on Domestic Violence is, ultimately, to end violence in the lives of women and children. In order for this to happen, the center says three strategic approaches are needed:
- Leaders must be prepared with the full range of knowledge and skills necessary to creatively and effectively confront the challenges of intimate partner violence in society today and contribute to the movement toward its end.
- Original research on promising solutions to domestic violence must be done and be well distributed to inform quality intervention and prevention programming nationwide.
- Collaborative opportunities between academic professionals and practitioners must be enhanced to promote community-informed methods of addressing DV.
The center’s vision is ultimately focused on the widespread incorporation of domestic violence information into the curriculum of professional schools to train attorneys, doctors, military personnel, clergy, therapists, teachers and other professions likely to encounter battered women or their children. With regular use of evidence-based research on domestic violence by practitioners, policy-makers and advocates, the center hopes to provide effective services to victims and advance promising solutions to the root causes of intimate partner violence through well-trained leaders and managers for nonprofit and public service organizations working to stop violence against women. There are programs in service provision where organizations can become successful agents for change in their communities and that disrupt/eliminate the negative social norms that enable violence against women.
The program is has a strong reputation, and students come from around the country and the world to participate in its academic programs, which combine online offerings with week-long “intensives” twice per year in Denver. Students may participate if they are:
- Practitioners in the field of domestic violence—advocates, counselors, activists, social workers and other victims’ services and domestic violence workers—who seek to enhance their management and policy skills.
- Managers in related fields who seek to gain an understanding of domestic violence and the policies, services and public consciousness surrounding it.
- Professionals interested in making a career change or recent college graduates interested in entering the field of DV work.
Since its inception, the Center on Domestic Violence has emerged as a distinctive, award-winning national leader in the field of interpersonal violence and has made a profound impact on the capacity of leaders in the movement to make change and to end domestic violence by fostering institutional and social change through leadership development, education, research and community collaboration.
Responding to a nationally recognized need, three primary goals define the work of the center: 1) develop skilled and informed leadership for the movement to end domestic violence; 2) inform and empower domestic violence service providers, advocates and policy-makers through original research; and 3) serve the community through direct services, training and advocacy.
If efforts to end violence against women and children are to succeed, quality leadership is needed. Individuals and organizations must be well prepared to advocate for change in policy and law, provide quality service and understand the factors that enable violence to continue. The center’s Program on Domestic Violence (PDV) is the first graduate-level academic program in the nation to address, through leadership development, the serious social issue of domestic violence. The PDV prepares individuals to more effectively reduce, respond to and prevent gender-based violence in their communities. Designed initially for managers and administrators within nonprofit and public agencies, this model education program has been expanded to serve additional fields, such as health care and law enforcement. A variety of degree programs, certificates and professional training opportunities across several academic disciplines are offered.
Besides education, domestic violence service providers need access to community-based research that informs their ability to serve survivors and advocate effectively for change. The center acts as a catalyst for original research on the consequences of, causes for and solutions to domestic violence while working to build strong, collaborative relationships between academics and practitioners. The center places an emphasis on applied research related to the implementation of professional development programs, as well as the evaluation of victim services, treatment and intervention methodologies.
Also, the center is home to the Domestic Violence Research and Action Coalition, a partnership of more than 100 individuals and organizations formed to encourage the production, distribution and use of research that promotes community and evidence-based solutions to violence.
Partnerships with the community are key to the success of the center. It works in partnership with a broad cross-section of local and national community- and campus-based organizations to advance creative solutions to intimate-partner violence through training and service.
In fact, the center regularly provides training opportunities and forums to the community, bringing together human services practitioners, advocates, survivors and others to enhance knowledge and forge alliances across a wide spectrum of professions. To date, the center has trained more than 4,500 advocates, researchers and service providers in Colorado through its Community Education Series and Research Symposia, and it has partnered with the Women of Color Network in the development of a national leadership training program for domestic and sexual violence victim advocates representing underserved communities
The center creates innovative solutions to address gaps in service or advocacy by joining with local partners and national organizations to address identified needs. In collaboration with community and campus partners, the center established the first emergency response, prevention education and victim assistance program for 55,000 students, faculty and staff on the largest college campus in Colorado—Denver’s Auraria Campus. Another service success included its END Violence Project to 30 public schools across Colorado to better equip personnel to identify children who have been exposed to interpersonal violence and to facilitate access both to intervention services for child victims and to prevention education for all students.
Under the visionary leadership of Barbara Paradiso, the Center on Domestic Violence at the School of Public Affairs is planning for the future. She was recently appointed to the Governor’s Domestic Violence Working Group because of her work on behalf of battered women and their children for more than 30 years, serving as an advocate, administrator and activist. Prior to her position at UCD, she developed and directed domestic violence programs for the Sunshine Lady Foundation of North Carolina, and for twelve years, from 1985-1997, Paradiso was the executive director of Boulder County Safehouse. She has had the honor of serving in leadership positions on a number of boards and commissions, including the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and the YWCA of Boulder County. Paradiso has presented and provided consultation to organizations on a state, local and national level on effective nonprofit administration, as well as topics related to violence against women and children. “Domestic violence takes a staggering toll on this nation. The Center on Domestic Violence brings together the skills and resources of the university with the real-world experience and expertise of advocates. Partnering in this powerful way creates tremendous opportunity for innovation and change,” she declares with passion in her voice.
On October 20, 2010, the Center on Domestic Violence held its 10th anniversary celebration, called Behind the Mask: Bringing Domestic Violence Center Stage, at the Wells Fargo Theatre in Denver. The event drew nearly 400 community leaders, students, alumni, supporters, policy-makers and advocates from across the state and the nation. The dramatic performance underscored the need for the academic programs, research projects and service initiatives provided by the Center on Domestic Violence. “For more than 30 years, concerted efforts have been made to end domestic violence, yet the devastation continues,” Paradiso said at the event. She added, “This event is dedicated to the millions of victims of domestic violence living behind a mask who must hide their abuse from friends and family out of shame and fear.”
Emcee for the evening, Terrance Carroll, former speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, reminded the audience, “On any given day in Colorado, more than 1,200 women and children receive services as victims of domestic violence, and every 10 seconds a child witnesses one of their parents being beaten by the other. In any hour of the day, 365 days of the year, the number of children experiencing domestic violence is just shocking.”
As our communities continue to awaken to the enormous price of DV, both the human toll and the financial loss, more corporate and private partnerships have developed over time. But funding is never enough, and many sources have been challenged as a result of budget cuts. “The enormous needs and the hard work continue for the dedicated domestic violence professionals on the front line,” Paradiso explains. “We are reaching out to many local and national businesses and corporations with the goal of engaging their support for the center to help us usher in a second decade of programs, graduate achievements, and community partnerships committed to ending violence against women. We look forward to the progress we can achieve with our new partnerships.”
Gail Frances is a graduate of the center's Program on Domestic Violence. She received her MPA in 2005 and was a graduate member of Cohort IV. She is a consultant with Leading Edge Advisors, a Denver-based consulting firm.