Opinion: To End Intimate Partner Violence, We Must Focus on Racial Justice and Healing

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Like millions of Californians, the crisis of intimate partner violence has had a profound impact on our lives. The violence our family members experienced has created a ripple effect, setting us each on a unique journey for healing—as individuals, as families and as a community.

While our journeys have been distinct, they have led to a similar understanding: Ending domestic violence is possible, but only if we address the root causes of violence and include everyone in this effort—including those who have caused harm.

For decades, women in the anti-violence movement have led the critical work of meeting the immediate safety needs of survivors—saving countless lives. But for many people, including members of our families, the options available to address violence in our lives never felt like options we could choose.

Consider a woman who doesn’t want to call the police on her partner who is harming her, because she doesn’t think her partner will be safe with police as a black man. Or a mother who doesn’t want to report violence in her life because she doesn’t want Childhood Protective Services to separate her children from her family—a reality for survivors who are charged with “Failure to Protect”. Or someone who wants a loved one to get help to stop using violence, but knows the criminal-legal system won’t provide opportunities for meaningful accountability or healing.

Marc Philpart

In communities of color, too often the options we have to address violence rely on punishment, police and incarceration. For too many, these options cause additional cycles of trauma and harm, and are not survivor-centered.

We know that about half of all survivors will never call the police, and about 75 percent of those who do report that it does not increase their safety or causes additional harm.

Our families deserve safety, healing and accountability. But families need different options, and some families, primarily families of color, have less access to these resources than white families. And these options must include engaging men—the people who are most likely to cause harm in their relationships—in our solutions.

At the two organizations we lead, the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence and the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color (coordinated by PolicyLink), our communities have been engaged in this conversation for years. We come from different orientations and backgrounds, and often use different language to discuss the issues. Yet we have come to a common conclusion: Survivors need options, and some of those options must include alternatives to the criminal-legal system.

Jacquie Marroquin

To end intimate partner violence, we need to address inequitable community conditions that foster violence. We need to invest in community-based approaches that focus on prevention, accountability and healing for all.

We recognize the humanity of every person and that everyone is capable of change with support and access to opportunities to heal.

That simple idea is behind Healing Together, a new campaign to engage people of all genders, including men, in the work to build safe and accountable communities. We will focus on racial equity, gender justice, healing and accountability—instead of punishment—to end intimate partner violence.

The Alliance recently released Healing Together: Shifting Approaches to End Intimate Partner Violence, which outlines a framework for responding to intimate partner violence as a public health issue and provides recommendations for policy solutions that can help move us away from a sole reliance on the criminal legal system. Instead, the report recommends approaches centered on prevention and healing. For example, California could invest in community-based restorative justice practices. A recent study showed this approach reduced re-arrest by more than 50 percent.

Collaborating on this work has taught us how crucial it is to look further upstream for solutions that consider the needs of entire families and communities as we disrupt cycles of violence. Ending intimate partner violence requires addressing the root causes—the policies and conditions in our communities that produce instability and violence, including lack of housing, concentrated poverty, state violence and access to critical services.

Within our networks, leaders are innovating new community-centered approaches up and down the state. For example, Mimi Kim, a racial justice leader who serves as the executive director of Creative Interventions, is working on a program in Contra Costa County that uses restorative justice practices to build safety and accountability, without contact with the criminal legal system.      

It is time for Californians to align our approaches and investments with our values.  Exploring policies and responses to violence that invest in prevention and healing for all—survivors and people who cause harm—is the only way to create safe, accountable and just communities for all.

We can end the crisis of intimate partner violence. It is time for our systems and policies to invest in the inherent assets and power of every community to end cycles of violence.

Marc Philpart is the managing director of PolicyLink, which coordinates the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color. Jacquie Marroquin is the director of programs at the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.

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