New Initiative Encourages Community-Generated Efforts to Prevent Domestic Violence

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A new initiative to combat domestic violence in California is supporting several high-risk populations — including refugees, immigrants, low-wage workers, Native Americans and rural residents — to develop their own community-based strategies for prevention.

Safety Through Connection, a program by the Oakland nonprofit Prevention Institute, is providing $50,000 to five coalitions of community-based organizations that have not previously worked on reducing domestic violence — but that have proven track records in creating change — to spend a year examining the issue and developing interventions.

“We want to expand the types and diversity of groups that are coming to the table and taking on this issue,” said Lisa Fujie Parks, associate program director of the Prevention Institute. “These are the people who are best positioned to lead a change process that’s by and for the community, and not something that’s imposed by an outside expert.”

Fifty-eight percent of Californians have been affected by domestic violence — either as someone who has survived or perpetrated abuse, or as a friend or family member of someone else who has — according to a 2017 survey by the Blue Shield of California Foundation,* which is also funding the Safety Through Connection program.

This approach, said Parks, will look at the social determinants of health — things like where a person lives and works — to address the underlying causes of domestic violence.

“It’s about trying to prevent the problem, not one person at a time by focusing on their behavior, but by focusing on changing the environment that shapes people’s behavior and creating an environment that’s more conducive to safe relationships,” she said.

Doing this also empowers communities, not just law enforcement, which has traditionally been the focus of service organizations for domestic violence survivors, Parks said.

“It’s not to say that those services aren’t needed or aren’t helpful or haven’t saved lives, because they have,” she said of law enforcement tools such as restraining orders. “It’s about how do we expand the options and expand the conversation so there isn’t an overreliance on those strategies when it’s not called for or needed. Especially when we’re talking about prevention, we’re not going to arrest our way to safe families.”

Ramla Sahid, executive director of the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans (PANA), a nonprofit that supports resettled refugees in San Diego, said that a community-based approach is critical for community she serves, which is largely East African and Muslim. PANA is one of the grant recipients.

“We already know how broken this criminal justice system is in this country, and when you add these additional challenges of being black, being Muslim, being a newcomer to the country, sometimes it might do more harm than good,” she said.

PANA previously addressed widespread mental health issues in the community by identifying the appropriate language to talk about it, developing culturally appropriate interventions and building the support needed to implement those solutions. Sahid said her collaborative would use a similar template to tackle domestic violence.

“This is centering communities, centering the voices of young men and their needs and their solutions to help bring about strategies that might work better, strategies that are more holistic and are equitable, and really value what people bring to the table,” she said.

David Harris, chief executive officer of Urban Strategies Council, which works to advance economic and educational equity in the Bay Area, said his group and its partners will use the grant to develop a plan — based on community input — for how Oakland’s new Department of Violence Prevention should specifically address domestic violence.

Based on research the organization has conducted in the past, he said that Oakland residents are looking for more “healing strategies” for domestic violence.

“A lot of people are afraid to report domestic violence, particularly people of color,” he said, citing the fear of risks such as children being removed from the home, losing income if the breadwinner is incarcerated and retaliation. “There’s definitely been a call for how can community residents intervene before they have to put someone in the system. Because once you’re in the system, you’ve lost all control.”

Other grant recipients include the Los Angeles Worker Center Network, which organizes low-wage workers; the Center at McKinleyville, which provides services to rural and tribal communities in Humboldt County; and Cultiva La Salud, which works to improve the health of low-income Latina women in Fresno.

*Blue Shield of California Foundation is also a funder of California Health Report.

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