Domestic Violence Network: 20 years of fighting domestic violence

By Lynn Sygiel, editor, Charitable Advisors

Nonprofit networks vary in shape, size and mission. Some are satellites of national organizations and others establish connections and facilitate collaboration.

Ask Tracey Horth Krueger or Kelly McBride about the Domestic Violence Network (DVN) in Indianapolis, and they’ll tell you that after 20 years, it is still vibrant and relevant. That is in large part because of its ability to adapt and respond to community needs, according to Horth Krueger, the network’s first executive director, and McBride who has been in the position for the past 3½ years.

In reality, the network has been around since the 1980s, first as a grassroots movement. Regular monthly meetings were informal conversations that provided opportunities to collaborate and make connections. At those gatherings, direct service providers would discuss what they needed to support their work, but would then leave and return to clients and caseloads. There wasn’t an entity or staff support that would advance those initiatives between meetings.

“In 1997, the decision was made to try to secure funding to get a staff to really build the domestic violence network,” said Horth Krueger, who is now CEO of the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault. “In my opinion, everything that is DVN now is built on what preceded it for the 10 years or 15 years prior to that. It is an extension of the work that that committed group of advocates has been doing in this city for years.”

DVN started with three employees and now brings numerous nonprofits to the table, including at least a half dozen area domestic violence shelters. One initial obstacle was overcoming nonprofits’ fear that such an entity, while worthwhile, would add to the competition for existing funding dollars. Organizations wanted to be set apart and be attractive to funders on their own.

“It was Mayor Peterson, a strong advocate for this work, who was able to say, ‘We’re a team, let’s keep our eye on the ball, we do much better when we’re working together.’ And then backed it up with having his deputy mayors in the meetings and involved. It was a great opportunity for DVN to really grow because we had support,” said Horth Krueger.

“What we were saying was, ‘Let’s come at this from a position of power. We’re going to be way more powerful if we’re working together than if we’re continuing to have the walls up,’” said Horth Krueger. “We were really shifting the conversation and saying that is an issue that cannot operate in isolation. We really need each other.”

While DVN’s mission has remained consistent – engage the community to end domestic violence through advocacy, education and collaboration – its delivery has not. Education and training have adapted to what’s happening in the community. DVN has always served in a coordination role.

“As we’re learning what national best practices are, we’re bringing those here, but at the same time we’re learning about what our city is doing. We’re merging those together, so that they fit everyone’s needs,” said McBride, who is a trained social worker.

While Horth Krueger is no longer involved in the day-to-day, she thinks the network also works because it focuses on the broader issues. As a former reporter/anchor at WRTV-6, she worked to bring visibility to the issue. First with the Safe Haven Campaign, which was designed to raise funds for additional transitional housing for victims of domestic violence. That campaign resulted in the opening of Coburn Place, a transitional housing and support service for domestic violence victims. The campaign, which is ongoing, was also designed to raise awareness about domestic abuse.

“That campaign did a phenomenal job at breaking through perception. It was just telling the stories of people that you might watch and think, ‘Whoa, it attacks all of us and our preconceived notions about others.’ So it’s really opening up all of us to be thinking about, ‘God, this really could be happening in my own family.’ And that’s powerful,” said Horth Krueger.

Staying focused on trends and identifying gaps in services gives the network the ability to look more strategically and more comprehensively at community needs and ultimately prevent domestic violence.

“DVN is not serving the needs of victims day in and day out, which is precious important work and needs to be the focus of nonprofit organizations. A community needs that other piece where an entity can be stepping back and looking more broadly,” said Horth Krueger.

That’s a role DVN has embraced since its beginning. In 2000, Peterson’s first year as mayor, he led more than 100 citizens in a roundtable discussion that prompted a call for a community action plan to end domestic violence. DVN took the lead, and the Family Violence Community-Wide Plan was issued in 2001.

Four years later, a second mayor’s roundtable identified new priorities for addressing domestic violence, including public awareness and education, economic justice, health and legal issues, prevention and targeted outreach to Hispanic populations. The second formal communitywide plan, Peace in our Homes: A Call to End Domestic Abuse in Central Indiana, was released in 2009. It was a catalyst to establish a coordinated community response.

In 2013, the Community-Wide Plan to End Domestic Violence 3.0 was released by DVN and used the Results Accountability framework. There was a focus on making a measureable improvement in the quality of life for entire communities.

Plans varied in duration from three to five years.

McBride said putting Band-Aids on things is not enough.

“We provide funds for emergency transportation, we have these great shelters to help victims, but how can we stop it in the first place. Domestic violence does not exist in a silo. Our domestic violence victims are coming in with mental health issues, addictions issues and everything else,” said McBride.

The newest community plan is focused on intersections and how poverty and domestic violence are intertwined and how crime and domestic violence are interconnected. It is designed to dive into the root causes of domestic violence, and change the issue in six months. The first — economics – resulted in a study of housing for domestic violence victims. Behind the scenes, a committee will continue the work for the duration of the plan.

“That is such an important conversation because it is all tied together. And if you can solve one or make headway on addressing one of these societal ills, it will have a positive impact on the rest. I see that as the very critical role that they are filling now and are leading it,” said Horth Krueger.

Marion County and the doughnut counties are the focus for the network, and participation is free. It represents people in the Greater Indianapolis area who serve domestic violence victims, and includes not only the shelters and the advocacy programs, but also law enforcement, the legal community and work in hospitals.

“It’s the full continuum and what needs to be in place to address the needs of victims and hold perpetrators accountable and prevent abuse. It’s the repository of all of this information about who’s doing what in the community and how,” said Horth Krueger.

DVN publishes two reports a year – “The State of Domestic Violence in Central Indiana,” a compilation self-reported by the nonprofits that serve the population and which provides a snapshot of the number of clients served. It’s designed to present an update on the state of domestic violence in Central Indiana based on similar reports compiled in 2014, 2013, 2011 and 2008.

The second report connects data from the IMPD, Julian Center and the Marion County prosecutors’ office to get a better understanding of what domestic violence looks like in the criminal justice system. The report hasn’t had consistent funding, but currently has government funding, and will put out preliminary statistics in the fall .

“That’s more of the arrests and the convictions. What does recidivism look like? Are we seeing domestic violence reported to the police in more spots within Marion County? That doesn’t mean it is happening more, it’s just reported more there. So then we’ve taken that data, and we share with our network and our partners and then we can help identify better prevention strategies or intervention strategies,” said McBride.

Most funding is local, but DVN holds a national grant in partnership with IMPD, the city, Julian Center and the prosecutors’ office. Called the Baker One Initiative, it is an IMPD-led policing initiative to identify high-risk offenders early in order to prevent homicide or serious assault. The original project, started in Mecklenberg County (Charlotte area), North Carolina, in 2002, has proven successful in preventing lesser crimes from escalating to seriously violent or fatal acts.

“Baker One Initiative’s initial data shows that it is working,” said McBride. “We’ve applied for several other federal grants in partnership with those folks as well, and we should find out about those in the next couple of months.”

While funding ebbs and flows, McBride said it is important that programs remain consistent. Recognizing that a service provider could lose funding for a program, for example, DVN assumed the responsibility for youth and employer education.

“There were people doing that, but their grants would ebb and flow. So if they lost a youth-prevention grant, then they would lose that program. So it wasn’t sustainable within the community,” said McBride.

“We’re not only educating our advocates but our community members. And we also educate high school and middle school students on how to identify and respond to teen-dating violence, what a healthy relationship looks like and what consent looks like,” said McBride. It’s been in place for three years this fall, and it has branched out to include a youth network once a month to engage peers in healthy relationships.

While the advocates’ network still meets the first Tuesday of the month, there are now trainings to provide ongoing support. In addition, DVN offers best practice trainings nine months of the year, and there is a monthly wait list. The remaining months DVN hosts a commemoration and holiday party, and a retreat to focus on self-care for direct service providers.

What’s next? In an ideal world, Horth Krueger sees the network working to make domestic violence unacceptable like Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

“The perpetrator is the one making them leave home, and so why are we putting it on the victim to relocate to a part of town they’ve never lived in, not that they have anything against that part of town, but they don’t know where the grocery is, they don’t know where the drugstore is, they don’t know the schools. So the movement has had to be aware of that and try to make those accommodations so they don’t feel completely removed from all they know.

“The housing issue is huge, but I think we need to think differently about the housing issue and maybe we don’t bring everybody to one building. We have scattered sites. We need to be out in these communities, we need to have partnerships with different organizations.”

Lessons learned

McBride and Horth Krueger have been immersed in the issue of domestic violence. And over the 20 years Domestic Violence Network in Central Indiana, they’ve learned a thing or two about how networks function.

They were willing to share some practical tips for nonprofit networks in order to stay relevant.

  1. Don’t become stagnant. Be flexible and adaptable and continue to pay attention to trends, issues and the needs of the community. The work is not black and white and has to be ever evolving.
  2. Relationships are key. Keep building and recognize that they can be ever changing.
  3. Do your homework. Find the influencers. Talk to people who’ve established networks or continuity. You’re never done. Talk to people who have been in your shoes.
  4. Don’t tie your efforts to a specific politician. If you tie the issue to an elected official, then you’re not thinking about sustainability. You want that support, and you want to be a priority to them, but you cannot become an office of because them.
  5. Listening is very, very important. It helps to have that skill set so that when you have multiple voices around a table, you can come to a consensus, and help people come to a consensus. You have to have the ability to listen and make sure that people feel heard and are heard. There are awesome ideas everywhere, and it’s important to elevate people’s ideas.
  6. Recognize that domestic violence intersects with almost every other social problem. With domestic violence affecting 1 in 3 women, and 1 in 7 men, you know someone who’s been touched by domestic violence. Keep asking: How can we pull together the community.
  7. Continue to work better and continue to communicate.

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