Issues in Domestic Violence Tracking at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metro Chicago
Ward, Zachary F.
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The purpose of this work is to provide an analysis of domestic violence tracking as conducted by a not for profit legal aid clinic. The scope of this analysis will focus on the efforts of the Northwest Office of the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago to comply with grant requirements detailed by the Legal Assistance for Victims Grant Program. I show that a tracking system, as communicated through the LAV Grant Program, creates a data collection initiative that complies with the Department of Justice's desire to see women successfully separated from their abusive partners without any clarity on how to define 'success' or 'separation.' This vagueness complicates any practical application of the conclusions drawn from the tracking data. It especially threatens to marginalize the individual and collective experience of ethnic minority women in their struggle against domestic violence, through the standardization of a 'universal' battered experience; one that conceals aspects of the struggle against male violence, specific to Latino and South Asian neighborhoods. The very area the Northwest Office intends to serve through partnership with Mujeres Latinas en Acci6n and Apna Ghar. Through my work at LAP, I have come to believe that any tracking methodology should be developed in conjunction with community organizations (in this case both Apna Ghar and Mujeres Latinas en Acci6n.) This would not necessarily include the participation of the branch offices of LAP, except where necessary. Seeking unsolicited contact with women attempting to escape from male violence is an exercise fraught with ethical peril for those without current information on the woman's situation. This is especially the case for male trackers, who must gain the woman's trust over the telephone, and in some instances, call women that still live with a violent, and potentially jealous male. Battered women fleeing the grips of an abuser are often inaccessible, most especially through the telephone. This notion that a legal clinic is going to renew contact (i.e. track) and build rapport with battered women to evaluate the 'success' of its service is flawed and unrealistic. The ignorance of the U.S. Department of Justice on this matter is revealed by its encouragement of a grant that requires tracking from an agency that was unclear about how best to do it. The DOJ fails to acknowledge what it means to be a successful survivor of domestic violence and ignores that racism obstructs the opportunities of minority women to escape their violent partner. Last, data collection is often impossible for some collaborative effort. In some respects, this work represents a ground level analysis of the kind of domestic violence advocacy and collaboration sponsored by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994, reauthorized in 2000. This act is important because it represents the first federal legislation to address male violence comprehensively (Elman, 1996). It links violence with equality (Schneider, 2000) and acknowledges that most violence against women is determined by gender (Elman, 1996). The VAW A set aside government funding for shelters, a national domestic violence help-line, a rape education/prevention program, and training programs for federal and state judges on battered women's legal needs. It created the VAWO through the U.S. Attorney General and. the DOJ. The LAV grant itself was approved in the VAWA reauthorization of 2000. This paper will be divided into three parts. First, it offers a more in depth description of the grant partners and their relationship through the grant. It continues with a discussion of the terminology describing male violence and the weaknesses there within. Our current statistical understanding (according to government study) is explored, noting the limitations intrinsic to domestic violence studies. Second, it provides a brief history of domestic violence in the United States, with attention to the feminist naming of that violence and the subsequent professionalization of what once was a feminist movement. Last, it concludes with an analysis of a tracking requirement, and as noted above, will highlight the tracking system's impracticality in general and marginalization of battered ethnic-minority women specifically. The first two-thirds of this paper will serve as a foundation on which to build a criticism of tracking as an impractical concept rooted in the professionalization of the battered women's movement. Several brief recommendations for the Northwest Office and the Department of Justice are included. This work must not be construed as an expose of the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago as a whole, or the Northwest neighborhood office of the organization in particular. The vast majority of what I can include about the Northwest Office of LAF would be very positive. I respect the agency's work and the dedications of its attorneys to battered women. Most information that I will include on the particular details of the grant proposal come from internal documents within the office, whose use in this paper have been approved by the agency. My main concern in is with elucidating the terms of agreement in the collaboration between the Northwest Office and its grant partners.