It's all about building relationships. The stronger your relationships are, the better your work will be. And so for me, it would be look for an organization that you can partner with that will allow you to begin to explore strategic sessions around finding intersections around mission and vision. – Carmen Pitre, CEO of the Sojourner Family Peace Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Juan Carlos Areán is joined by Carmen Pitre, executive director of the Sojourner Family Peace Center, and Cheryl Davis, former program director of the Colorado Domestic Violence Offender Management Board. They discuss the importance of centering survivor voices in abusive partner intervention work both at the community-based and system level. They highlight the value in forging mission-driven partnerships between victim services providers, abusive partner intervention program, and other system players and offer strategies to safely center survivor voices and experiences in the work, such as hosting multi-disciplinary case staffings, offering surrogate victim impact sessions, and including survivors in the curricula review and staff training processes.
This podcast is supported by grant 2018-TA-AX-K026 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this program are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The following is a transcript of the podcast:
JUAN CARLOS AREÁN: Greetings. My name is Juan Carlos Areán and I'm a program director in the Children and Youth Program at Futures Without Violence. We partner with the Center for Court Innovation on the Abusive Partner Accountability and Engagement Project, an initiative funded by the Office on Violence Against Women. We provide training and technical assistance to communities across the country to help them enhance their abusive partner intervention and engagement strategies.
We are producing a series of podcasts focusing on innovations and trends in abusive partner intervention programming, also known as battering intervention programming. Today, I'm really excited to be joined by Cheryl Davis, former manager of the Domestic Violence Unit at the Division of Criminal Justice and the program director for the Colorado Domestic Violence Offender Management Board, and Carmen Pitre, president and CEO of the Sojourner Family Peace Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They will be talking to us today about how to keep always survivors at the center of abusive partner interventions. Thank you both so much for joining us today.
Before we get started on the actual topic, could you both share a brief overview of your work and your present or former organizations. Let's start with Carmen.
CARMEN PITRE: Good morning, Juan Carlos. It's an honor to be here with both you and Cheryl. To tell you a little bit about my work, I've been in the field about 35 years working to end domestic violence, primarily with women and children. So that's my personal experience.
At Sojourner, I've been here 18 years. We were founded in 1975. We're the largest service provider of domestic violence services in the state of Wisconsin. We serve approximately 11,500 plus clients a year, and we do that in some core ways. We provide crisis housing and hotline services to women, kids, and men, which is a new trend for us. We started sheltering men at the beginning of this year. We shelter about 650 women, kids, and men a year. We have a 24-hour crisis hotline. We provide individual support, both in the crisis and ongoing case management support, and we do hope and healing services, which focuses on the area of financial literacy, educational support, and spiritual support for survivors who are healing.
And we do a large amount of our work in systems, both in the criminal and civil arena, touching, as I said, 11,500 or more lives a year. We have well over 90,000 contacts. So high volume. COVID has shifted things a bit for us, and we can talk about that a little later, but that's Sojourner and a little bit of overview of my work experience.
AREÁN: Thank you so much, Carmen. What about you, Cheryl?
CHERYL DAVIS: Hi, and thank you, Juan Carlos, for the opportunity to be here, and it's always great to work with Carmen. Your perspectives are so valuable.
I have been working in the field of domestic violence-related work for about 25 or 30 years. And when I first started in this field, I was a hotline volunteer in Florida, a domestic violence center for women and children and men at that time. And I've been doing a lot of work in victim services over the years, and then also became very involved in battering intervention programming. And the last 15 years of my work was in the state of Colorado, as Juan Carlos said, in the Division of Criminal Justice, managing the Domestic Violence Unit.
Colorado has some very unique things in place in legislation. They have a state Domestic Violence Offender Management Board, which sets the standards for what needs to occur in domestic violence offender treatment, as they call it in Colorado, because those folks are generally all court ordered to attend. And that office also approves the providers that are going to provide that intervention.
And it's been really wonderful since I retired to be able to work with the Center for Court Innovation on various projects like this one today.
AREÁN: Well, we are so happy too that you're working with us, both of you, and you both have been part of the advisory committee for the Abusive Partner Accountability and Engagement Training and Technical Assistance Project. And you both participated in the development of the guiding principles. So, let's talk a little bit about the first principle, which is that survivor voices are centered, and it states that “safety and healing need to be defined by the victim/survivor.” What does that mean for you, Cheryl?
DAVIS: Well, when we were developing those guiding principles, there were a lot of things that we were taking into consideration and prioritizing when working with abusive partners, but at the very center of our work, I believe, and we all agreed, needs to be victims, their voices, their experience, their perspective. And I think that when we are working with abusive partners, we can kind of tend to get very focused on them and their perspectives, but we cannot do this work if we are not always being mindful of the victim.
After all, I think that we are all doing abusive partner intervention because we want there to be no more victims. So, in order to do that, we need to be thinking about those victims, their healing, and their safety. And no one, no one knows better what they need for their healing and their safety than the victim. We cannot be dictating that to the victim; that would be controlling. So, we very much believe in victim empowerment.
AREÁN: Thank you, Cheryl. Anything you would like to add, Carmen?
PITRE: Well, for us at Sojourner, our guiding principles in our work overall is autonomy and self-determination, which means that we allow survivors to decide how they want to proceed, that they actually get to be the architects of their life moving forward, and that they have the option to participate or not participate.
And I think they need to know that their experiences matter and that their healing is important. And I think if you talk to survivors, a significant number of them choose to go back or they want to invest in the healing of the person who's hurt them and they want to participate by telling their stories. And so, I think it's important for survivors to understand that their truth is the center of the work that we do in abuser treatment programs. And I think that that in itself can be healing for survivors.
I think violence happens in isolation, and when survivors get to tell their truth, it breaks the isolation for both them and for everybody involved. And I think keeping our eye squarely on the healing of survivors is critically important to the work that we do.
AREÁN: Thank you so much, Carmen. So, the first principle also states that “abusive partner intervention and engagement strategies need to collaborate with community-based victim advocates and victims to understand and address identified needs.” Carmen, tell us more about why you think that's important.
PITRE: Well, as I started to say a little earlier, violence happens in isolation. Treatments should not happen in isolation. Programs should be informed by the lived experience of survivors, and community-based programs and advocates are closest to survivors and can ensure that they can participate safely in giving input into programming. And I think treatment is an opportunity for us to help educate people about the harm they've created. And as an advocate, it's not my lived experience that they need to hear, it's the lived experience of survivors and the impact that they have had. And hearing that directly from survivors I think is so critically important to the work. And I think community-based organizations are uniquely positioned to build a bridge between survivors and programs who want to help abusers understand the harm that they've inflicted.
AREÁN: Anything you would like to add to that, Cheryl?
DAVIS: Oh yes. Thank you. I think it's critically important for people who are working with abusive partners to create partnerships and collaborations with local victim services and advocates. I think that programs, such as Carmen's, that exist in most communities do a wonderful job of providing general education and teaching about the perspective of victims and sharing victim voices, obviously protecting confidentiality, but it's important to have that partnership because it helps the program know not only what resources are available in their community, but have access to professionals that can keep them informed about victim voices generally in the work that they're doing.
And, you know, as we're talking today and we're talking about sharing victim voices and victim experiences in our work with abusive partner programming, I want to insert a very important caveat that, in Colorado, and I would hope across the nation, that when we do that, we are always protecting victim confidentiality when that's what they need. And generally, that's what they need.
Let me give a very specific example. When a specific abuser is in a group intervention program, we aren't going to say to him, "Your wife told us that you X, Y, and Z," because that really creates a very dangerous situation. So, let's make sure that we keep in mind that there are ways to safely bring victim voices and victim perspectives into the abusive partner at programming.
AREÁN: Excellent points. Thank you so much, Cheryl. So, Carmen, Sojourner is one of those community-based victim services that we are talking about, and you folks have a long history of collaboration with the Alma Center in Wisconsin, which is one of our partners here and the Battering Intervention Program over there. So, tell us a little bit about that history on why this collaboration is important for your organization.
PITRE: Thank you. I want to concur with what Cheryl said as well. No information should be shared without consent and no direct information should be shared with a batterer. It should be used in conversation, which is why case staffings are so important. But at Sojourner, we've had an ongoing relationship for many, many years with the Alma Center. The Alma Center for us represents that change and healing is possible in people's lives, and that those who hurt others can change their behaviors. So we're incredibly grateful to have a program like Alma. We have several others as well. We don't believe that we'll be able to arrest ourselves out of this problem for instance. People need a place to go to look at their behavior and heal themselves. So it's a tremendously important partnership for us, both on a practical level, on a psychological level.
As I said, many survivors, whether they choose to leave or not, want the people who've hurt them to have resources to help them heal. And some of them will continue to have relationships with the men in their lives if there are children present, and they want them to heal so they can show up to be healthy parents.
And how we've done that at Sojourner with Alma is we've had case staffings with them on cases about how to address the concerns around what we're hearing. In individual cases, we've had joint team meetings and trainings on a monthly basis. We've done partner contact and partner orientation sessions for women participating, partners or family members of the men who are participating in programming. We have exchanged information when a survivor has asked us or wanted us to do that. We have done that safely.
And we have had surrogate victims who've participated in abuser treatment programming. And what's been powerful about surrogate victim sessions is abusers sometimes need to be able to see it in a third party way to understand or hear something differently when they're not personally involved in the situation, and we did not want to put victims in a position where they had to share their story with their own abuser in the room. But these surrogate sessions have been incredibly powerful, where men have said, "When I heard her say this, I thought about what I did in my own relationship, and suddenly I could hear it or see it, and I could see my behavior and think about it differently." So those surrogate survivor sessions have been critically important.
That's a brief overview. Some of the things we're exploring coming out of COVID is having Alma join our high risk team meetings that happen on a weekly basis. We're looking at sharing injunction information with Alma so they know when an injunction has been granted, and continuing to seek ways to collaborate and have our survivors participate in giving input. The Alma Center is revising their curriculum. Our Voices Group, which is our survivor advisory group, is going to be reviewing the curriculum and making comments.
I think it's really important for us to understand that healing is possible and it's important. And it's what most survivors want to have both for themselves and for the people that have hurt them. And partnerships between programs who serve abusers and domestic violence programs can build a bridge to make that happen safely for women and kids, and for the families we serve.
AREÁN: Thank you so much, Carmen. I think of a Sojourner and Alma Center as the golden standard of collaboration. So, thank you for giving us a just an eagle's view of all the amazing work that you do. And Cheryl, as we have established, you work within a system in Colorado, right? You were in the DV unit at the Division of Criminal Justice, and also the program director for the Colorado Domestic Violence Offender Management Board. Tell us what it means to be survivor centered in this context.
DAVIS: Okay. Great question. In Colorado, there are state standards for what the abuser intervention programming needs to look like. The state standards require that all the treatment providers have a victim advocate working with their program. The role of that advocate is very detailed in the standards, and some of the aspects of that role involve doing victim outreach. And if the victim can be reached, to offer them resources if they want them, to tell them about what the offender treatment is like, what happens in offender treatment if they want that information, to continue to have contact with them if they want, to offer support to them, if they want that. The goal is really victim empowerment. A victim would never be required to participate in that advocacy.
The other thing that the advocates will often do is ask the victim if they can be contacted if the offender seems to be escalating, so that they could be perhaps warned of what might be a dangerous situation potentially for them. But really, the most critical component of the victim advocacy in Colorado is really making sure that victim perspective in general is always a part of the work. And in Colorado, we have what we call a team approach to managing the offender's treatment. And I do use the word offender. That's the word that's used in Colorado because the vast majority of these folks are court ordered into treatment and that's just a legal term as they've committed an offense.
The victim advocate is part of the decision making team when the offender is in treatment. So, there's probation generally, the treatment provider of course, and a victim advocate, and sometimes others that need to be involved in that. And the advocate is part of the decision making process if treatment intensity is changed, if the level of intensity of treatment needs to be agreed by all the team members, when it's appropriate for discharged from treatment. And again, the role of that advocate is not to share specific information from a specific victim, but to share victim perspectives and how these treatment decisions might be beneficial to a victim, how they might be dangerous for a victim. And the other critical piece is always educating the team about victim perspectives, because I want to say, sadly, there are many people that work in this field that sometimes don't understand enough about what the victim is experiencing, what that's like. These victim dynamics can be confusing to other professionals that are perhaps used to working for years as a probation officer or working as a treatment provider. And so, the victim advocate can continually share in that team approach about those victim perspectives.
AREÁN: Thank you, Cheryl. I think these are two great examples of how systems can work to put survivors at the center, and also, of course, community-based organizations.
So, you've spoke a little bit about this, but if there's a program that wants to become more survivor centered that is listening right now, what would be your advice, especially putting the voices of survivors at the center, but as you mentioned before, without jeopardizing their safety? Carmen, what would you say about this?
PITRE: For me, it's all about building relationships. The stronger your relationships are, the better your work will be. And so for me, it would be look for an organization that you can partner with that will allow you to begin to explore strategic sessions around finding intersections around mission and vision, you know, joint team meetings, trainings, and strategic planning sessions that allow you to find out how much intersection you have with each other as two organizations. I think you should pick your partner carefully and wisely and continue to work on your relationship for each other.
Then once you have that relationship established, you know what the intersections are, you share some commonality around mission, vision, you see the intersections, I would say you should look for opportunities for survivors to participate in programming in ways that are safe. You should have them educate the staff in the partnership, and you should certainly set up a structure that allows you to have joint case staffings, and that allow you to ask questions and address concerns.
But at the end of the day, for me, it all starts, and it rests on the quality of your relationship between your two programs. Look for a partner, find the right one, explore opportunities for looking at strategy, intersections for mission, look for ways to have survivors participate safely, and then go about the work of helping families heal. And some of the ways I've mentioned, is the use of survivor surrogate sessions, team meetings, strategy sessions, voices presentations to a treatment program, survivor presentations, and review of curriculum.
AREÁN: Thank you, Carmen. That's very helpful, because clearly, sometimes from the outside, people think that domestic violence organizations that work with survivors and obviously partner intervention programs are almost the same thing, right? And obviously not. And in fact, a relationship of trust has to be created, right? And that requires a process. So, I would be curious from your perspective, Cheryl, when you have a state that in some way mandates these relationships, so how do you develop that relationship or what else would you add to what Carmen said?
DAVIS: Well, Carmen just addressed all that so succinctly. I think the other thing to consider is adding even other professionals into the group, adding probation. And again, I'm talking about doing this safely, but in Colorado, where we have had communities that were able to do exactly what Carmen just outlined, not only between the abusive partner program and victim services, but also probation, also the district attorney's office, also law enforcement.
And again, I realize some of the conversations are more detailed, but you really can help the whole community understand so much more about what victims need, victim dynamics, and how the entire community can work together better.
AREÁN: Excellent, Cheryl. I think that's a very important addition, right? I often say that battering intervention is not programs, but it's, as the research shows, is systems and everybody who is part of the system has to participate.
Carmen, is there anything else that you would like to add today that we haven't covered?
PITRE: I was thinking about the challenge between holding people accountable and holding space for the healing that has to happen. And I think that that is a balance we're always striving for, right? But at the core of our work is human protection and safety for people who are being hurt. Nobody has the right to hurt another human being. And we know that a lot of abusers earn their entrance into programs out of their own victimization, right? They come into these programs having their own life histories around being hurt and harmed by others. And sometimes it can be a delicate balance. And the reason it's so important to have relationships between these programs is we can hold the balance with each other and we can keep our eye on keeping human beings safe, mostly women and kids in this culture, but those men who are hurt, who are hurt by abusive people, also have the right to be safe. We can hold our eye on that north star and also hold space for people who've hurt others to have room to do their own healing.
And I think it's important that we create relationships and partnerships that allow us to do both of those things so we don't become unbalanced in one way or the other, right, where we start talking as if one healing is more important than the other. That's why I think these partnerships are so critical and so important because it can be hard to hold that balance. And we need each other as programs to do that, to say to people who've hurt others, "You have to be accountable for your behavior regardless of what has happened to you."
AREÁN: It makes a lot of sense to me, Carmen. And it is I think an essential balance that we need to keep to do the work well. So, thank you so much for that. Cheryl, anything else you would like to add for our audience today?
DAVIS: I think that, there's always great benefit in keeping our minds open and learning from other professionals. Speaking from experience, so much can be learned and we can all be so much more effective. I've seen it happen time and time again in different communities where people are willing to talk about the intersections, what their common goals are, and learning from each other just has tremendous benefit.
AREÁN: Thank you so much for that, Cheryl. I could be talking with you folks for the whole day. It's fascinating, your wisdom and your experience. And I'm very, very grateful that you made time to be with us today and to share your amazing work. And thank you so much for the work that you do in the world, Carmen and Cheryl.
Over the course of our podcast series, we will be touching on several other topics, including working from a trauma-informed lens, working in Native American communities, and another podcast on other cultural relevant approaches, and one in working with faith communities. And we hope to continue to expand our topics here with these amazing experts that we have access to.
To find the rest of our podcast series, you can visit our national clearinghouse on abusive partner intervention programming at courtinnovation.org/abusive-partner-resources. You probably can Google it and it'll come up.
And if you want to ask questions or learn more about our experts here or about our project, if you want to request technical assistance for your program, please feel free to contact us at dvaccountability, that's one word, firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also learn more about the organizations that were featured here today in our websites, familypeacecenter, one word, familypeacecenter.org for Sojourner, and for the Colorado Domestic Violence Offender Management Board, you can Google Colorado Domestic Violence Offender Management Board. And of course, futureswithoutviolence.org and courtinnovation.org.
Thank you so much for listening and until next time. Bye-bye.