Cooptation: Repressive Bureaucracy and its Effects on Activists and Advocates for Social Change

© October 1995, updated September 2013, and December 2014  by Rose Garrity

Cooptation: Repressive Bureaucracy and its Effects on Activists and Advocates for Social Change; Why Doing Not-for-Profit Advocacy Work in the United States is so Difficult


This paper will use domestic violence programs as a useful example, yet the same issues apply to all regulated/licensed/controlled by funder programs.

Most of us who began to offer domestic violence and other advocacy services in the earliest days of the battered women’s movement (from the early 1970s) did so with at least a rudimentary understanding of social change work, organizing and working within a framework of social change activism. We had watched the inspiring work, passionate organizing and demands for justice of the Civil Rights movement, (indeed, some of us had participated in that movement), and participated in the Women’s Movement and the earliest development of Rape Crisis Centers.

Some of us had participated in protests of violence against women, particularly sexual assaults where even little girls were mistreated horrifically by law enforcement and other parts of the criminal-legal systems.

Some of us had read Rules for Radicals (about community organizing) by Saul Alinsky, and other works outlining social change organizing and working toward social justice while advocating the end of all oppression. Some of us had been present for sit-ins at police stations and public protests when rape victims and battered women were blamed, mistreated and re-victimized. We had a clear vision of what was necessary to ensure adequate and just responses for survivors of abuse, rape, child abuse and woman battering. (“Wife Battering” was the most common term in those days for intimate partner violence).

Many of us were reading early movement articles and newsletters such as Aegis, put out by FAAR, (Feminists Against Abuse and Rape.). Early contributors to that wonderful magazine, produced out of the Washington, DC area, included Barbara Hart, Kathleen Carlin, Beth Richie, Suzanne Pharr, and many other early leaders of our movement. We knew what we needed to see happen, and we knew that women’s lives were dependent on us organizing for social change that would lead to freedom from patriarchal domination and male privilege. We were determined to see social change that would lead to an end to sexist control and oppression of women and children.

We developed the earliest programs for survivors of “woman battering” and they started with women providing refuge and respite in our own homes, n church basements, YWCA rooms and other safe spaces. We developed an “underground railroad” for awhile where women and children were hidden as they fled from abuse and we worked out of our own living rooms and other safe spaces to develop the options that would eventually become the “battered women’s movement”.

By the late 1970s a number of officially recognized program’ were opened and operating shelters for battered women and their children. By 1990 nearly every county in the country had a domestic violence program. In 1978 the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence was formed, as was the NYS Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Soon after every state had a state coalition, and quickly other national and state organizations began to form, open and develop to address domestic violence.

Realities of the Work

Doing domestic violence work anywhere is extremely stressful and difficult. The work-load never decreases, is always urgent, is always demanding, crisis laden and often feels endless and defeating. Domestic violence workers are available 24 hours every day, 365 days per year. Most shelter intakes and crisis calls happen nights, weekends or holidays. Daily workers deal with women whose lives are being threatened, and hourly they talk with women who are bruised and terrorized, shamed and blamed. Reports of sexual abuse, rape, battering, stalking, threats, despair, hopelessness, suicide threats, child abuse and incest are part of this daily routine. All of this occurs within an atmosphere of uncertainty around funding, inadequate salaries and few benefits for domestic violence workers, and often in cramped and inadequate work spaces, with never enough time or resources to meet all of the requests for services and safety. These conditions exist in most domestic violence programs.

In New York State it can be even more difficult and sometimes impossible to give meaningful help to battered women because of the way the system is structured, funded, monitored and regulated by the State. In 2013 the *added burdens being created and imposed by state government, its departments and governor are making the bureaucratic burden so much more onerous for not-for-profit organizations who operate with OVS, OCFS, DOH, DCJS and other governmental funds. A program administrator can be heart-achingly tempted to “dump it all” and get a job bartending or selling widgets. Many of us who do this work as administrators have been doing it for 20, 30 or 40 years out of a sheer belief and dedication to providing safety and support options for victims of abuse, sexual assault, child abuse and other crimes. We can feel nearly crazed by the additional hours and hugely frustrating, mostly meaningless “busy-work” being added by politicians and bureaucrats who seem to have little better to do than to impose additional work on underpaid and overworked human services professionals and underfunded organizations. We are already forced to spend weeks and weeks of our work time writing grants, begging for funding, begging, essentially for our lives, then have increasingly silly or transparently political mandates added to our already overwhelming schedules. And the killing blow to top it all off is that none of the governmentally administered funds are allowed to be used for administrative work like the vast load of it they keep adding to our contract requirements.

By 2014 under the Andrew Cuomo administration many newly created additional mandates were becoming outrageously silly and time consuming. Nearly all mandates that require regular, dedicated responses are now online and each of the many entities to which program administrators must respond constantly have a convoluted set of steps using various passwords that they require each responder to constantly change, so that every time one tries to log in to answer their ridiculous questions one must then go once again through some administrator to make another new set of passwords, (at least three different ones for each of the positions required in each program to respond to different aspects of their bureaucracies.) It is Kafkaesque!

*Examples of bureaucratic demands and mandates being exponentially increased (beyond already existing and long practiced monitoring and reporting, auditing procedures in place for years, also with increasing components and time-consuming mandates) include having to fill out dozens of interactive forms and reports on the internet to swear that your program is not donating to or supporting Acorn, (a defunct organization that had a number of years ago come under federal scrutiny for the ways in which it raised and used money for programs addressing social change), that you are not donating to or involved with organizations linked to international terrorism, (paying no attention to the fact that what abusers do to their victims 24/7, 365 days each year is nothing short of ongoing, often perfectly legal terrorism), and that as an organization you are complying with dozens of other empty rules, causing us as users to constantly change passwords to each of these on-line sites, costing untold hours of wasted and frustrating time, to the exclusion of completing any real work, Article 38 requirements, User Security and Use Policy and Forms, the ‘Acorn statement’, etc., etc., ad nauseum. I retired from my Executive Director position at the end of 2014 after nearly 28 years with the organization I created, developed, nurtured and grew, no longer feeling I could cope with the volume of people over-seeing our programs, some who appear to be mindless robots, at best.

If lawmakers and politicians and other bureaucrats who make up these rules were held to even a small percentage of the requirements not-for-profit organizations with *governmental funding must fulfill we would learn about far less corruption and illegal activity in the centers of our various levels of government!

*It should also be pointed out that the governmental funds for rape crisis and domestic violence services are monies gleaned through huge lawsuits by the state and federal attorney general against large companies and entities who create their wealth using illegal and harmful means, thus resulting in many millions of dollars in fine and fees, all which are designated for serving the victims of crime. These funds should provide far more adequate funding than they currently do, because legislators and other governmental entities salivate at the huge amounts and find ways to hold them back, use them for other things, etc. (No surprise there!)


How We Began

There are about 109 licensed programs in New York State to address domestic violence, and several unlicensed programs are run by churches or other organizations. The oldest of them, a very few, are over 36 years in existence and many are less than twenty years old. Some are private not-for-profit organizations that started from a “grass-roots” perspective, wishing to provide safety, empowerment and other alternatives to women and children who are battered and otherwise abused by the adult males in their lives. Others are “add-on” programs, incorporated into existing agencies such as anti-poverty programs (or Community Action Programs), mental health associations, religious organizations, or rape crisis centers. Some programs provide only safe shelter. Others provide only non-residential services; still others provide both residential and non-residential services. There are some that are ‘comprehensive crime victims programs’ meaning that any crime victim is eligible for services, including advocacy, benefits claims, support, counseling, etc.

Domestic violence shelters grew out of the women’s movement of the 1970’s after women organized, and began to provide rape crisis hotlines, then quickly learned that many of the crisis calls were women being battered by their male partners, and organizing then expanded to create havens for battered women attempting to escape their abusers. As this work grew and the demand for the services became more frequent than we had resources to fulfill, an understanding of the commonalities shared by almost all battered women began to be apparent. This resulted in the development of a philosophy around which the movement could provide meaningful, successful interventions, not only for the women seeking help, but for the important social change goals of organizing for and demanding systems changes and changes around cultural attitudes that supported the continuation of men’s violence against women.

What We Know

What we have learned in thirty-five years of working in the battered women’s movement is that battering is a behavior choice by the abuser, a choice that is supported and created by the cultural ‘norms’ within which we live. The abuse is maintained as a part of a pattern, used to maintain power and control over the battered woman, who is, even still, seen by many as his ‘property’, as his to do with as he sees fit. Though she is often blamed for the abuse, especially by the abuser, only the abuser is responsible for his behavior and its consequences. Abusers believe that they have the right to maintain control of the victim, who they see as their property, and they use many tactics of abuse to do so. We live in a culture that still supports abusers, particularly males, in that view in a great many ways. This includes the ways that systems and institutions respond to the issue of abuse when it is brought to their attention, often blaming the victim, and often believing the abuser, supporting his use of tactics, and other reinforcing behavior. Intimate partner abuse may be lots of physical violence, and it more often includes recurring and regular emotional intimidation, sexual abuse, economic abuse, manipulations and threats regarding the children, the use of ‘male privilege’, and other forms of abuse or terrorism more often than physical abuse, (since physical abuse is needed less often to maintain the control, once it has been used to show what will happen if the victim does not comply with the abuser’s demands and desires.)

Intimate partner abuse is frequently perpetrated among intimate partner relationships. In heterosexual relationships, about fifty percent of women are hit at least once and twenty-five percent of women are abused regularly while males in those relationships are abused far less, but it does occur. Same sex relationships often include abuse as well. In the United States three women and one man are murdered every single day within domestic violence, and many children are killed as well. Often when males are killed it follows years of their abuse against a partner who then kills in self- defense, or feeling it is the only way to escape the abuse.

Batterers do not define their behavior as ‘abuse’. Societal institutions support batterers in their behavior and beliefs in numerous ways, assisting them with blaming the victim, empowering  them to feel as though they should be in control and dominant, enforcing rigid gender roles, devaluing women, charging women with “failure to protect” their children when the male partner is perpetrating abuse against the mother, encouraging violence and control patterns, and in many other ways. At the same time when women are charged with abuse against an intimate partner systems and institutions readily believe the allegations and stand ready to swiftly and strongly hold the female accountable.

Batterers do not abuse because of any ‘pathology’; they usually appear to be exceedingly ‘normal’ in all other aspects of their lives. Woman battering grows instead out of a *”cultural pathology” that holds women to be inferior to men, and devalues women in countless ways, while fully supporting male privilege and domination in countless ways. (Men’s violence against women is a hate crime. While we have to repeat this information all of the time and often are not believed it is ironic that we do not hear the same arguments about those who commit racist acts and even hate crimes around racism, heterosexism, and anti-Muslim attitudes, or anti-Semitism, and we do not hear that the Nazis were mentally ill for their hatred of and extermination of millions of Jewish people in the early 1940s.) *Social change activists who are feminist or pro-feminist call this cultural pathology patriarchy.

In the first twenty years of the battered women’s movement, abused women were studied by many mental health professionals, researchers and writers in numerous research projects, as though we could somehow discover the cause of their abuse by looking at their characteristics.

Articles were actually fairly routine that talked of the “characteristics of battered women”. The truth is that any woman can be battered and her ‘characteristics’ have nothing to do with how a batterer chooses to behave. To study battered women and write books about their ‘characteristics’ is to blame them for the behavior of another. (Ironically, however, no one ever seemed to think the battered woman was responsible for any admirable accomplishments of batterers.) The lingering effects of those earliest attitudes, “research” and books are still with us today as we hear almost daily “why doesn’t she just leave?”, as though that is easy to do, and as though he is ‘only doing what is expected’, and if she does not like it she would not stay. Seldom, even today does anyone ask why abusers batter intimate partners, why they feel the right to do so, why it remains so easy to get away with, why so many women are murdered every year by male intimate partners, and why we live in a society where hundreds of shelters are needed across every county in the country are still overflowing with women and children and some men fleeing intimate partner abuse.

How To Best Help

We have learned that the best way to help abuse victims includes providing safe shelter for survivors and their children, arresting and holding batterers accountable, and doing so within a context of community coordination where all parts of the systems hold batterers accountable, while protecting the victim’s right to safety for her/himself and the children. This is best accomplished when domestic violence programs are funded to provide this coordination and training in their communities, and when advocates and other domestic violence professionals are providing the leadership and guidance with the full support and cooperation of all systems, including law enforcement, courts, corrections, social services and other institutions who touch the lives of families as they cope with abuse.

We have seen a beginning proliferation of projects, research and programs to provide *intimate partner violence prevention, sexual assault prevention, and even hate crime prevention, and we have been aware of child abuse prevention efforts for many years. We have also seen a vast proliferation of programs for men who batter for over twenty-five years, yet still they reach only a tiny percentage of abusers, and the research on these programs has shown them to be ineffective in most cases. (Please see further discussion of batterer programs on pages 27 and 33.) *Note the changes in language used to describe the issue of men’s violence against women as the years go by; “wife battering” became “spouse abuse”, then “domestic violence”, now a common term is “intimate partner violence”. All of these changes were in response to the desire by funders and society to cover certain truths of the gendered aspects of abuse as well as who the vast majority of the perpetrators are. (I will never forget a famous cartoon in the 1970s in a well-known men’s magazine where they showed a man dipping a woman into a huge pot of boiling batter and lifting her out, dripping, with the caption, “Battered Wife”! The trivializing and victim blaming that has always existed when we speak of men’s abuse of women is astounding.)

What Other Systems Know

Domestic violence has tremendous costs to many parts of society. 40 to 50 percent of all emergency room visits by women are due to battering. 25 to 40 percent of all suicide attempts by women are battered women. Battery is the single largest cause of injury to women, more significant than car accidents, rapes and muggings combined. The health care costs are staggering. Medicaid and Medicare pay out billions of dollars as a result. So do private insurance companies, including carriers of disability insurance for employers. The costs are no secret to the insurance industry; State Farm one year was found to be routinely denying insurance or cancelling existing policies because the policy holders were battered women. We routinely hear of housing opportunities being closed to victims of domestic violence.

The American Medical Association has had major interest in the issue of domestic violence for several years, and has done research and published information about the needs in health care settings to diagnose and document domestic violence as the cause of a huge percentage of injuries seen, not only in emergency rooms, but even more by physicians in private settings, and to provide appropriate assistance, documentation and referrals.

Absenteeism from work is another ‘invisible’ cost of domestic violence to society. Billions of dollars are lost every year due to victims missing work because of their injuries or situations.

Jobs are lost as well, as abusers interrupt and stalk the work place (this is one of the most frequent tactics of abusers; they harass their victims at work, calling, bursting in, threatening co-workers, and stalking their partners at *work), or the victim loses her job due to absenteeism; unemployment and public assistance is then needed, and the costs continue to rise. *In fact, often when people are murdered in a work place the core issue has been domestic violence.

Some studies have found that 75 percent of all high school dropouts are from homes where domestic violence is occurring. Absence from school is frequent, inattention in class, failure at school work, social problems and other problems are significant when children are living with domestic violence. These children often face futures that have reduced opportunities for financial success, and may need unemployment, welfare, Medicaid, food stamps and other help. They also have increased risks of being abusive themselves as adults. These children also face a far larger  chance of ending up in prison. Current studies are also showing a life-long negative effect on the health of women who are abused, with health consequences that even shorten their life spans.

Traumatic brain injury is very common as are severe back problems, hearing losses, and trauma arthritis.

Up to 75 percent of abusers also abuse the children in the home. Children are often injured as the abuser assaults their care-taking parent, usually the mothers; infants in her arms get hurt, or older children who attempt to protect or help her can also get hurt. Medical care to abused children costs in the billions of dollars, and the social costs are immeasurable.

It is routine for abusers to destroy or take phones and other electronics, use cyber stalking, cyber bullying and other tactics using technology, smash walls, break off or smash doors, shatter windows and otherwise trash property. Landlords bear much of the repair expenses, and insurance is often billed as well. At the very least the repair costs eat into the family’s budget and lifestyle.


What is our consciousness as we do domestic violence work? Is it one of a ‘human services’ perspective, mimicking mental health-type approaches, or social service ones, or is it one that retains the politics and analysis we held commonly at the beginning of the battered women’s movement? Susan Schecter, a well-known author, researcher, activist and leader in the battered women’s movement said,

“The vision I am articulating is feminist. By feminist I mean an analysis that understands the socially created nature of women’s oppression and the unequal power men hold over women in this society. That men beat women is one example of this power and this relationship of dominion. By feminist I do not mean women striving for advancement and careers. I do not mean the aggrandizing of individual women at the expense of the community. First I would like to remind us that the battered women’s movement came out of the women’s movement, the rape movement which also came out of the women’s movement, and women working in neighborhoods. If it had not been for years of civil rights and anti-war struggles and if it had not been for years of struggle by women to articulate the fact that women are oppressed in this society, there would be no such thing as a battered woman.

Women would, of course, continue to be battered and killed. But it was the women’s movement that set the groundwork so that we could later articulate that this behavior was not individual or aberrant but rather social and political; that this behavior results from a social relationship of dominion and power. I reaffirm these roots to a women’s movement and to women in their communities because without these roots we have no basis for a social analysis of why women are beaten and of how to stop this violence. No analysis of individual pathology or family systems breakdown ever can adequately explain to me why millions of women are beaten each year and why this behavior is socially approved by many. Also without an understanding of ourselves as part of other social movements, we have no one to turn to for protection and support if and when we are further attacked by right wing movements. The analysis that feminism provides me of why women are battered is extremely convincing and powerful. If it is correct it should help us determine our directions. I want to share this analysis with you and then suggest we need to broaden its vision to include issues of race, class and power. These issues have often been ignored and all too frequently left out of feminist analysis.”

This excerpt of Schecter’s writing was taken from Fight Back: Feminist Resistance to Male Violence, Cleis Press, 1981. The whole piece is recommended reading. Similar information is contained in Ms. Schecter’s book, Women and Male Violence; The Struggles of the Battered Women’s Movement, South End Press, 1982. These older writings were chosen to illustrate that the issues we face are far from new ones in the movement. (While most of Susan Schecter’s writing is out of print it is still easy to obtain it in used book markets.)


For many years domestic violence programs were funded from various sources, including federal LEAA grants, the New York State Crime Victims Board, the NYS Department of Social Services, with what were called “maintenance grants”, Federal Family Violence Prevention Act monies, New York State Division for Youth grants, New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, the New York State Department of Health, local fund-raising, foundation grants, United Ways, churches, and whatever contracts any given program could negotiate with the local departments of social services to receive per diem payments for services rendered. No woman was required to be a Social Services recipient to get services, nor were they required to qualify in any way except by need for the services.

Program staff and volunteers have historically spent immense amounts of time on a continuous basis writing grants and doing fund raising. All grants require yearly re-application, and each funder operates within dramatically different requirements and reporting procedures. Monthly and quarterly statistical reports are required for each funder, as well as monthly and quarterly fiscal reports. Often yearly reports are required as well. It is not unusual for programs to have to submit upwards of 160 reports per year to various funders and to host six to eight visits per year from program monitors. (And remember, all of this must be done with few or no support staff –many grants do not allow expenditures for “administrative” staff — and on strict deadlines.)

Monitors from each funding source periodically visit programs to examine files, check the accuracy of statistical data submitted, talk with staff, inspect facilities where programs operate and give directives about requested changes to program directors. None of these monitors are domestic violence experts or even have experience working in a domestic violence program; they are State bureaucrats, focusing upon fiscal, statistical or physical plant details.

Programs were originally able to give battered women what they most needed, and to tailor that service to each individual’s specific situation. As the variety of government funders increase (it is not uncommon for a program to have grants from five or seven or more different government funders) the freedom to provide services, as the battered women’s movement knows best, decreases. More and more control by funders has meant less and less freedom to serve battered women, and to do domestic violence prevention with the huge amount of expertise we have gained over the past thirty years.

Safety and empowerment have been the primary goals of the movement, both to give individual victims access to options and the knowledge that she has the right to do so, and to *empower women as a segment of society to address violence against them as part of an organized movement against oppressions and abuse. These primary goals have been gradually but dramatically eroded by the necessities of maintaining funding, and also of doing things the way  bureaucrats have dreamed up to exert more control over programs. *Empower: To give a person the power or ability to act. From the earliest days of providing shelter and escape options to abused women and children advocates and programs with a grassroots understanding and analysis always knew that the most healing and empowering gift they could give to survivors is the knowledge that what is being done to them is not at all about them as individuals, or even about the abusers as individuals, but is about a large system of beliefs and rules that work to maintain the patriarchal status quo.


The State Gives and the State Takes Away

In 1982 Susan Schecter warned in an article about the future of the battered women’s movement,

“New York State is thinking about licensing ‘foster homes for battered women’, just like it does for children.” What will we do,” she asked, “when the State wants to license shelters, inspect records and set staff qualifications?” The answer in New York State was, we helped them!

Until the late 1980’s the only domestic violence programs in New York State that were required to operate under a state license were the ones that fell under the designation of “Special Care Homes,” fitting under a broader regulatory category that monitored and regulated any residential facility such as group homes, children’s homes, facilities for the disabled and the like, and held licenses from the New York State Department of Social Services. By 1990 all residential domestic violence programs were required to be licensed by the New York Department of Social Services in order to receive per diem payments based upon the welfare eligibility of each person we serve for residential services provision.

In the name of these licenses we are *now held hostage by the State bureaucrats who do not have the foggiest idea what it means to be a battered woman, or a domestic violence worker. Male inspectors come to investigate our shelters in unannounced and announced visits to look for cracked windows, missing light bulbs, tiny brown specks in dark corners, unlocked medicine cabinets, cluttered closets, soap under the sink, and even to chastise and threaten staff about where and how the furniture is placed, telling them they have no right to even move a piece of furniture without his prior approval. They “write up” the program for sometimes ridiculous details, and demanding ‘correction’ and notice of the correction in a certain number of days, “to avoid any threat to your license,” and even sometimes becoming abusive to program staff if a letter does not arrive when he thinks it should. (In one instance we know of an inspector using a flashlight spotted a very tiny brown speck under a sink, admitted he was not sure what it was, saw no other evidence whatsoever for bugs, and required the program to submit proof that they had contracted with an exterminator for regular monthly service.)

Though concern is shown and correction demanded for the tiniest, and sometimes seemingly unimportant details of shelter housing’s physical plant, there is never the slightest curiosity or concern shown by the State bureaucrats for what conditions the woman came from, or for what she will move into when she leaves the shelter. If for a few days, or weeks at the most, it is of the utmost importance to have every “nook and cranny” of the housing arrangement monitored in such detail, how is it less important to care about the conditions under which she and her children  will be living upon leaving the program? The answer appears too obvious to us, and is very cold and calculating.

It should be recognized that those who care enough to be providing emergency housing to women and children escaping domestic violence will usually do so in the best possible ways, maintaining cleanliness and safety without the interference of inspectors and bureaucratic licensing; survivors and their children need safe, temporary housing, not environments where they are monitored, given curfews, have their rooms searched, are forced to live by myriad rules and regulations, and treated like prisoners. These are adults with whom we are working, adults who already have life skills and home management styles.

*It should be noted here that now (in 2013) some of the state personnel who do the inspections and monitoring have changed and there is improvement in their relationship skills as they work with programs. They seldom use such boldly threatening tactics now and are much more cooperative, supportive and helpful, however the same ethic of “watching over and monitoring” us remains. I should also say here that I do not in any way believe programs ought not have to be accountable or meet basic minimum standards; most already would, and it serves all of us to have the standards. It is just not necessary to go to such obscene lengths as governmental entities seem to always do to keep operations honest, clean and safe. The real reason so many bureaucrats continue to come up with more and more rules, mandates, forms and monitoring nonsense beyond the sensible basics is to make themselves seem needed and to ensure the ongoing guarantee of their own lucrative jobs.

A NYS license is also required to receive federal or state funds that are administered (not granted) by NYSOCFS. The old “Maintenance grants” were ended, and all NYS OCFS funding was then channeled through an increased (in most cases) per diem payment; the rates were set by NYS and counties were required to pay those rates, if the woman and her children qualify for ‘welfare’ help.

If sheltered survivors do not ‘qualify’ the domestic violence program must often “eat the cost” or bill the woman and exact payment from her. Very few victims who have stayed in a shelter have the ability to pay even a small portion of the cost despite being ineligible for “welfare.” Partial payments by DSS are common, paying a sometimes small portion of the per diem billed amount, and they tells the victim and the domestic violence program that the woman is responsible to pay the rest to the domestic violence program. (Women too often leave the shelter at this point, fearing that the domestic violence program will bill them for huge amounts, or even garnishee their wages, after being told these things, often by DSS workers in some counties.) Other funding channeled through NYSOCFS is largely federal money that is administered by NYSOCFS. (More about that later).

Some Effects of State Regulation

Licensing and standardized per diem payments brought with them newly created sets of regulations and rules about how programs may operate. Language used by programs, for instance, was affected; NYSOCFS insists that domestic violence is “gender neutral,” and we may not talk about “battered women,” but must be open to serving “battered men” as well. (ANHC has always offered services to males and we even shelter men, but few other programs do this, even today.)

Regulations were developed to apply to non-residential services also, even though no set-aside, regular state funding is provided for those services. (Programs are left to try to negotiate a contract with local Social Services departments for non-residential services. Though each county is required to either provide or contract for these services by state regulation, no “teeth” exist to enforce it. A county may opt to give a wholly inadequate amount of money to the domestic violence program for these services, or may decide to provide them at the Department of Social Services, even though they are not the professionals in the field, and few women would ever go to DSS to receive such advocacy.) Here too, NYSOCFS looks at “gender neutrality;” they have actually visited programs to examine files of male clients to ensure that the program is not discriminating against men!

The slow de-politicization process that results from our funding realities has resulted in other troubling language changes. We use terms now such as “spouse abuse” or “domestic violence” routinely rather than ‘woman battering;’ such euphemisms mask the reality of the situation. We have become the “domestic violence movement.” Most programs have caved into the practice of calling victims “clients”; this is direct opposition to empowering ways of serving folks, and it reinforces the position difference between the workers and the victims; this is not a model of empowerment, but one of creating dependency and hierarchy.

We are forced to explain our work in ‘professionalistic’ terminology to make it acceptable. This means reinterpreting beliefs into traditional social service language. We can then easily lose sight of the real differences between our beliefs and theirs. We cannot, under these conditions, do the work as we know it must be done. To become another traditional services *‘agency’ is to turn our backs on everything the battered women’s movement has learned; our identity should be with abused women, not as an “agency”.

*I will not call our organization (A New Hope Center) an “agency”; the designation literally means that you must be the ‘agent’ of another. We are an independent organization, doing our best to provide the most effective and empowering services possible to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and other abuses.

In the past the qualifications to work with battered women had always been determined on the basis of experience, empathy, and philosophical approach. To have licensed people/programs, and requirements interferes with the goals of self- help, empowerment and peer support.

Standardization and regulations that create licensing and classifications of programs mean increased costs to meet standards, and visits by inspectors and government bureaucrats invade the privacy of women and families, and negates vital confidentiality. As more regulations were imposed more programs were required to hire staff with certain qualifications, such as MSW, CSW, and other graduate degrees. Many excellent advocates were crowded out or fired, and ‘clients’ suffered.

The State is about control, not autonomy; it doles out small amounts of money in exchange for regulations, inspections, licensing– in short, power– and control; a familiar topic to us.

2013-2014 Update

As of this year there are some work groups set up in Albany, including members and consultants from various domestic violence programs, to study ways to revise the system New York State uses to fund shelters and DV programs. This is good news, and to me it seems long overdue. It will be interesting to see what emerges and how well it serves programs and victims.


All of the uncertainty and chaos around funding channeled through any DSS/OCFS source is only a part of the funding struggle faced by domestic violence programs. Other funding sources that supplement these monies are also being reduced or eliminated. NYS funding is vulnerable to cuts year after year because of the cuts ordered by State administrations and federal departments as well, across the board for all State and federal agencies. As recessions, natural disasters, the costs of various and unending wars, decreasing funds are the reality everywhere the landscape for stability in DV programs remains uncertain. At the same time private funding sources are drying up or becoming more difficult to obtain. Economic environments of “downsizing,” jobs losses, vanishing industries, outsourcing, privatizing, jobs sent overseas, and the resulting economic distress increases needs for income supplementation and other services.


It is in the interest of those in power to keep us providing services for low wages, supporting individual women through their crises, and helping them to get crumbs, rather than having victim groups organize those same survivors into groups to take action in their own interest, to demonstrate at welfare and housing offices, and State capitols, etc. It keeps us patching wounds, not stopping the war on women. We must do more than bandage today’s victims if we want to stop intimate partner violence and other forms of violence against women and children and men. Fund raising for a group’s immediate well-being helps us fall prey to the ‘enemy’ (those who would close all programs like ours and who would wish to reinforce and continue all of the oppression, privilege and status quo to keep us where we are; certain *’father’s rights’ groups, or as I prefer to call them ‘abuser lobbies’ are well organized to stop our work, attempt to close shelter and to make untold numbers of false claims, such as insisting that women are far more violent than men, for instance). In the face of such attacks it becomes easy to lose sight of the overall goals of the movement. Scraping for funding and worrying about survival as programs leaves us vulnerable to a serious potential for in-fighting; this is destructive in numerous ways.

We “prove” we can’t get along and that we are not unified, (reinforcing our internalized sexism and other oppressions), we do not address the real issues when we fight with each other for our personal and program agendas, we destroy one another, we hurt the movement, and in the end we deprive victims of the services and the movement they deserve. Everything must be done within the interests of the whole movement and shared goals if we are to succeed in our mission.

*In the past three years the attacks from the abuser’s lobby groups are increasing and one leader, a so-called researcher named John Hamel resulted in him winning a contract to write and edit a series in a well-known professional journal calling his series something like “The State of Domestic Violence Work Today”. In his introductory article he wrote of our thirty-some years of sweat, pain, blood, tears, activism and gut-wrenching, low-paying hard work to create a network of shelters and a movement to end violence against women, calling us a “cult” because he wants people to believe him in his claims such as that women’s violence is equal to or greater than that of men!

The chaos, restrictions and regulatory pressures and conflicts of bureaucracies and abuser lobby-type of opposition to our work force us to make difficult decisions. Program cut-backs, changes in survivor-supportive processes and more programs becoming “system compliant” result from funding and political realities like the ones I describe in this paper. The ramifications to individual programs can help feed internal conflicts in programs where staff end up feeling exploited and abused, and blame it on management persons and boards of directors, and may even carry complaints and misunderstandings outside the organization. This can feed the difficulties of programs by making funding even more difficult, by exaggerating the sense of isolation and exploitation remaining staff may feel, and by making the jobs of management and boards more difficult, feeding a vicious circle with no answers or solutions.

This problem illustrates one dimension of how successful the tactic of “divide and conquer” is. The more stressed and inadequate the resources the more exploited workers feel, which leads to entitlement feelings against those perceived to have the power and to scapegoating and setting upon one another rather than unifying against the real source of the oppression.

Dividing us works on the “micro” level, and it works all the way up to the “macro” level. Witness the recurring, deliberate scapegoating of the poor, of immigrants, people of color, women, gays, lesbians, transgender folks, people with HIV/AIDS, etc. When we focus one another oppressed group or person we leave entirely blameless the real causes of the problem (those with the power, privilege and resources) and we leave them to do whatever it takes to enforce the self-serving status quo, and they retain their power and continue to control all resources to serve the vast majority of the population while showing absolutely no concern at all about the huge transfer of wealth from working and middle-class citizens to the elite few who control nearly all of the wealth of the world.


While few mechanisms ever seemed to exist to force local DSS agencies to do the right thing, the environment of making them responsible for funding and services provision gave them direct control over domestic violence programs in many ways. They alone decide how much funding will be provided for non-residential services. They have the right to come to the domestic violence programs where they have contracts (or even if they do not, some hold, because the programs are licensed through NYSOCFS, their administrative body) to examine records, look at client files, ask for monthly data reports, and the like. (A caring DSS administrator does not use these powers, and we have been very fortunate in our county to work with DSS officials who are cooperative and always supportive of our work.)

Federal monies funneled through NYSOCFS may be applied for each year by any program, domestic violence professionals or not; NYSOCFS requires that the local commissioners of Social Services give support to the proposal, or they will not fund it. The monies in question are federal, and have no cost factor to local DSS, in fact they actually can save them other monies by supplementing the program to provide required services. Requiring the local commissioner’s approval gives wide control over domestic violence programs to commissioners, some who actually want the domestic violence programs to close; they sometimes ask to read details of proposals, and exert often inappropriate control and intervention over programs they have no professional expertise to oversee. The situation is a political one; it is not about fiscal expediency, but about control of programs, some who have historically been adversarial with DSS, especially about their treatment of abused women and poor families. All of these relationships rest on the history of relationships between DV program administrators and commissioners and other administrative staff at DSS. Each county is different, and there can be vast differences depending upon changes from time to time in administrative personnel.


We are told that local DSS’s control over domestic violence programs as was implemented was “the wave of the future,” and to look for a great deal more control by local commissioners in the future as Republican ‘reforms’ took place. This created not only increased funding inequities and the potential for tyrannical control by persons not committed to providing the best and safest services to victims and their children, but it had the potential to take away the ability of domestic violence programs to be effective advocates for the individuals they serve. NYS regulations require domestic violence programs to act as advocates for clients in dealing with various systems, yet when local DSS offices deny benefits, deal abusively with a client, terminate benefits, threaten to take away children from their mother, or other possibly inappropriate acts, the domestic violence program is in a position of being required to advocate against the funding/control source for their programs. Most do not and cannot do this without the threat of dire consequences to the program. This, in effect, silences domestic violence programs and it takes away the rights of victims and their children to effective advocacy.

The irony seems to be that the more cold, bureaucratic and ineffective for battered women a domestic violence program is the better some DSS bureaucrats seem to like them, and the more caring, innovative, empowering and effective for battered women a program is the more suspicious some DSS bureaucrats seem to be of advocates, and the more grief they can cause the program.


When any victim of domestic violence asks for and receives shelter from a domestic violence program they *must apply for social services, going through the entire application process, providing every personal detail of their life, pay stubs, life insurance, social security cards, bank statements, landlord statements, birth certificates, titles to any property, children’s savings accounts, health insurance, etc., etc. They must answer personal questions, bare their life to unconcerned strangers who see them as “another welfare case,” and amid their crisis, grief and fear, in the midst of being homeless because of the abuser’s treatment of them, they are often told  that “it is very expensive to keep you at that shelter; are you sure you have the right to be there?

Aren’t there any friends or relatives you can stay with? You know if you don’t qualify, and you probably won’t, you must pay this gigantic bill for shelter. We will place a lien on any property you own to recover all of this money we spend on you.”, and the threats and intimidation by some DSS agencies and staff do not seem to end for many victims. (Many local DSS agencies actually do place liens against any property that the victim owns, and the lien payment is taken at the time of sale out of the proceeds of the victim’s portion of the profits!) *The application process is required by the licensing and state regulations in order for the shelter provider to receive payment for serving this family or person.

If the victim manages to navigate the waters of uncertainty and shame in the process of application and intake, she then faces ongoing urging, sometimes harassment, by DSS workers to leave the shelter, get an apartment, threats she will be cut off, on-going demands for additional paperwork, investigations into her parenting, charges that she placed her children in danger by ‘allowing’ herself to be beaten while the children were present, and other punitive and distressing processes. To be sure, the astute and competent domestic violence program advocate will support her through these events and try to reassure her that the program will not be suing her for her shelter bill, and that they will help her as long as she needs their services. It should be noted here that as of 2013 and the years before when the current commissioner was there, these punitive behaviors were not used in Tioga County, however they remain in some other counties, some nearby with whom we regularly work. In another local county however the “domestic violence liaison”, (the title given those DSS screeners who decide on shelter placement, and related issues) had a huge poster in her office where she interviews abused women that read, “The firsttime you are beaten you are a victim. The second time you are beaten you are a volunteer”!

Yes, our advocates saw this while accompanying survivors to that office. A number of people submitted complaints to the state about that county and they were chastised, yet still bragged to staff that they did not intend to change their practices. The poster, however, was taken down.

The unchanging truth is that the victim feels further threatened by a cold and bureaucratic system, and as she continues to negotiate her way through the courts, police reports, school registrations, pressure from the children to return to daddy, stalking and or threats received through relatives or visitation contacts, terror that he will find her, and all of the other myriad details that she must contend with, she often begins to feel that her only viable option is to return to the abuser. (CPS .. Child Protective Services…then pounces on her and charges her with neglect and/or endangering her children for being with her abuser; some counties are worse than others about this process, and again, one nearby county with whom we must work is particularly guilty of these attitudes and practices.) The system as it is now structured does not ease her terror and help her transition to a safer life, but too often discourages her in every way possible from successfully escaping her abuser, then when she does not she is blamed and threatened for that.

NOTE: Many local commissioners/DSS districts are finding further ways to reduce their costs by reducing the options of DV victims. For example, NYSOCFS regulations say that a DV victim may obtain safe shelter for herself and her children for up to 90 days in a licensed shelter in any given year; some local commissioners are forcing domestic violence programs to sign contracts for residential services that limit the stay to 30 days. When programs appeal to the State for clarification and help they are told that while the State regulations allow 90 days of shelter for each victim that nothing precludes local districts from limiting it further. The truth is that NYSOCFS has little or no control over what local districts do to recipients or programs to cut costs and deny services. Depending upon the skills of the DV advocate longer stays can be negotiated, even beyond the 90 day limit when one is working with a DSS employee who is reasonable and even somewhat caring. On the other hand when complaints of abuses by a local DSS are shared with the State OCFS little to nothing is done to ensure a correction or any oversight of the department.


Philosophies and Purpose

The New York State Department of Social Services, now called the NYS Department of Children and Family Services, (NYSOCFS) operates based upon a unified philosophy, using consistent methods to obtain the results they desire. It is a huge bureaucracy (one-half of the NYS budget is DSS, one newspaper article claimed recently; how many thousands of workers do you suppose actually are employed by DSS/OCFS in Albany and regional offices? How many in the whole State?  Over 20,000, for sure, and it is not hard to imagine that the total salaries, including commissioners, assistant commissioners, department heads and thousands of line workers equal at least $400,000,000!!).   DSS is filled with administrators and workers seeking to keep as many people as possible “off the dole,” to encourage as many application “withdrawals” as possible, to deny every possible request for assistance, to terminate as many cases as possible, to discourage as many people as possible from applying for help, and to watch every recipient as carefully as one would a known burglar in the house to be sure to catch the fraud they ‘know’ the person will ‘likely commit’.

On the positive side, DSS also provides a “basic living” allowance to many families who have no other income, and provides a housing allowance, administers food stamps and Medicaid, and provides other necessities to families experiencing fiscal crises. They provide preventive services around child abuse issues to families in various dysfunctional situations, and numerous other services are available to meet very specific needs, including foster care options for children who may need to be placed outside a parent’s home.

At the same time each worker, especially higher ranking employees of the system, will maneuver information and those with whom they deal to ensure that their own jobs remain “essential.” (This is not to say by any means that there are not very caring and helpful people who work in any DSS office; we regularly meet many who fit this description. The sad reality, however, is that most do not because they cannot and still retain any value to the system for which they work.) The restrictions within which DSS workers must function and the unwritten demands made upon them by their supervisors cause them to at best give minimal services to recipients, and at worst to abuse and humiliate them. This all occurs within a societal milieu of hatred and disgust for “welfare recipients,” and other poor and working class folks, a milieu that is deliberately fed by unscrupulous politicians and other leaders who want to make citizens, especially voters, believe that all fiscal crises of the State and of local counties are due to “greedy welfare mothers,” and other “lazy” sorts who are “on the dole.” This is vastly untrue, of course, yet many readily believe the hate-mongering we are fed, which also routinely keeps most of us from looking at larger issues such as corporate welfare, corporate greed and those enforce keeping wealth where it is, at all costs.

Domestic Violence Programs’ Philosophies and Purpose

Domestic violence programs who are doing the best work based in the analysis of the movement, on the other hand, are operated based upon the desire to do anything possible to help and empower the people they serve. Workers and volunteers do everything within the law and within their power to give victims a sense of trust and justice. Safe shelter, clothing and food provision, accompaniment to court, child care, support groups, individual counseling, referrals, medical advocacy, housing assistance, transportation, legal advocacy, furniture and household goods provision, and any other need the program can reasonably meet are given.

While DSS workers usually receive adequate or average salaries for the work they do, and they receive standard county or state benefits packages, domestic violence program workers are often volunteers who receive no pay, or they are modestly paid program staff, usually with few benefits, and usually no retirement funding and too often* no health insurance. They do not work the standard 35 or 40 hour week, but are on call 24 hours per day, and often work much more than “full time.” *This issue should be mostly resolved through the Affordable are act, yet we still hear plenty of stories of those unable to afford the premiums demanded of them, so they end up with penalties at income tax time.

The staff of domestic violence programs are mostly women. Women have been trained to be servers and nurturers; this helps the system oppress us in the work we do, and exploit us. We have been validated for endless compassion and selflessness; this helps to keep us trapped in the quagmire of endless chaos created by the funders and politicians who control programs.

Most domestic violence programs are private not-for-profit organizations. Because these organizations are separated from the State and from each other and from public service employees,  New York State cannot be held to consistent wage rates among workers doing similar work and being paid by NYS funds.  (NYSOCFS in the past funded the NYS Coalition Against Domestic Violence Newsletter, and censored it regularly; one of the topics that was not allowed to be even mildly mentioned in the Newsletter was the pay scales of domestic violence program staff.)

UPDATE:  NYSCADV, as of late 1996, published its newsletter with funds other than those from NYSDSS, making it free of DSS censorship.


NYSOCFS has a very strict commitment to maintaining confidentiality for its clients, and those policies are enforced at every DSS office, state, regional or local. Many precautions are taken to ensure compliance with these policies. The reality is, however, that poor people can never receive confidential services; the purchase of food with food stamps is anything but confidential; every clerk in the world knows who they are, as does every adjacent shopper. Food stamp shoppers are subjected to hostility and humiliation at every turn. Newspaper readers are very familiar with letters to the editor about what the welfare recipient at the check-out in front of the writer was purchasing with food stamps. Every landlord knows who the “welfare recipients” are; statements are required on a regular basis from landlords for every person who receives any public assistance. Every health care provider knows who the Medicaid patients are; many will not even serve them. Every drug store employee knows who pays for prescriptions with Medicaid. Every school administrator knows which children qualify for free or reduced price lunches, and so do the teachers and the other children. Some children choose not to eat rather than endure the taunts and humiliation forced upon them for receiving subsidized food. Every person who works at any human services agency providing food hand-outs, heating assistance, clothing banks, jobs training, or other services aimed at ‘poor’ people knows who the recipients are. Examples could continue, but it should be very clear by this point how ‘confidential’ any facet of welfare is.

Domestic violence programs hold as their core the absolute requirement that all services are entirely confidential. This is extremely important because of the safety of the women, men and children served as well as their right to service with dignity and respect. The most important goal of services provided by domestic violence programs is to enhance the safety and empowerment of the victims they serve. What happens to this right to confidentiality, safety and empowerment when they are forced to become recipients in the systems described?

What happens to their empowerment when they are humiliated and scorned by Social Services workers and others with whom they must interact as “welfare recipients?” What happens when their names and locations are entered into a statewide computer system at DSS, as every recipient must be? What happens if they are in a different county because an abuser threatened to kill, and the abuser or his mother, brother, etc. works at a DSS office, and can simply type in her name and identifying data to find out where she is? Even though it would be grounds to fire the worker from DSS how could anyone ever prove that was how the abuser found his victim? (Cases such as this are already known by domestic violence programs.)

Domestic violence programs in the state and elsewhere must, at the demand of funders and bureaucrats, collect information which invades the privacy of victims and their families. This data is used to provide information and sometimes funds to researchers in academia, to make State entities like OCFS look caring and productive, and provides a pool of data from which destructive conclusions can be drawn that harm victims of domestic violence.

Empowering Women Versus Suspecting and Accusing Them

Domestic violence advocates, as we have learned in previous sections, believe and support victims of abuse. The milieu in shelters and non-residential programs is one of empowerment; the goals of escaping violence and other abuse, of appreciating one’s self for the incredible strengths displayed (in coping with being terrorized, beaten, threatened, and stalked while raising children, keeping a home together, working outside the home, nurturing the batterer, and myriad other skills), of accessing options and rights, of building a life free of violence and terror, of parenting one’s children in healthy and loving ways, free of coercion and manipulation by an abuser, of finding ways to safely cope with court-ordered visitations, of pursuing the goals the victim desires rather than those prescribed for her by the abuser and others, and dozens of other life-enriching options are offered.

Freely given follow-up is offered, and no limits are placed upon the number of times she may seek and receive services, (at least in the best programs who still follow the analysis and philosophies of the early battered women’s movement.) All services are *free of charge, and free of threats about ‘fraud’ and other coercive and victim-blaming rhetoric.

*The fees that apply to shelter provision are charged to the local DSS who pay, or not, based upon the woman’s eligibility, under the current funding mechanism. Few programs that I am aware of  pursue victims for per diem payments after DSS denies payment; most women who are denied for payment are working at very low wages and could not pay even the most minimum bill.

DSS treats recipients differently than do domestic violence programs. Denials of services are routinely given whenever any reason can be found to do so, no matter how inconsequential the reason may seem to the casual observer. Applicants are often encouraged to “withdraw” their applications, being told they will never qualify, being given many unreasonable demands for compliance, being humiliated and abused in the process until they walk out, (thus “withdraw” the applications, according to the official file; one Assistant Commissioner was heard recently to tell an audience of middle and upper class people that the Department had increased its denial and withdrawal rate from 19 percent two years ago to 38 per cent this year! They call this “up-front detection” intimating that that those who withdraw or are denied were trying to defraud the system.)

Once a person manages to overcome all of the hurdles of getting assistance it is common to find them getting denied or “withdrawing” within a month or two. Women in shelter in some counties are consistently told, or warned, that they must find other housing. They are questioned about their abuse, told they are not really abused, that they don’t really qualify to be in shelter (even though the regulations clearly state that it is the domestic violence program’s responsibility to decide who qualifies, because we are the professionals who know how to do so). They are asked to provide ‘proof’ of their status in ways that may be impossible given their current situations, and otherwise hassled, resulting in incomplete applications, or “non-compliance.”

This results in humiliation and fear for the victim, often in her returning to the abuser, or going to a place that is not safe, and also results in the program receiving no payment to cover the expenses of serving that family. Rather than expand options for victims of abuse, and give them access to options and rights, DSS often severely limits options, services, care, time to address problems, access to education, child care, housing and other life essentials. Domestic violence victims as “welfare clients” is a counter-productive premise for all concerned.


How We Got Here

It is important to be clear that all of these problems are not the fault of local Departments of Social Services. The process of looking for creative and stable funding for domestic violence programs included research and proposals that originally came out of a committee fostered by Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein and Senator Tarky Lombardy years ago. Begun in about 1989, the committee included representatives from the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and the New York State Department of Social Services. Domestic violence program directors from a cross section of programs around the state served on work groups with this committee, and in meetings over several years consulted about the plans that had been drafted by Assemblywoman Weinstein and the NYS DSS. These work groups also served as consultants on the writing of the DSS regulations that would apply to domestic violence service provision.

What NYSDSS and Weinstein had drafted was the plan to eliminate “maintenance grants” and to replace them with a per diem rate schedule that would fully support the shelter programs’ needs; a major change was to then require that individual domestic violence program clients apply for public assistance to establish eligibility. It was at this point that licensing of all residential programs was instituted also.

Non-residential services were ignored until the residential per diem rates and plans were established and agreed upon, and non-residential regulations were written later (even though the vast majority of women who seek help do so through non-residential avenues; fewer than ten percent of domestic violence cases served are residential). They require that local DSS either contract with a domestic violence service provider or that they provide the services themselves. There is no requirement to provide any particular funding level for those services, and it is left to the domestic violence program to negotiate whatever they can get DSS to provide. Some counties have adequate contracted funding, and others give only a nominal amount of funding that does not begin to pay for the services.

This process is also a part of so many other state mandates that continually shoved all services provision in many arenas as mandates to local counties, further impoverishing local governments, and causing the conflicts to exist among local governments and residents rather than keeping them at the state level where many feel they belong.

While all of these changes in funding mechanisms provided a more stable funding base for domestic violence programs, in theory, and in fact resulted in substantially increased revenues for many programs through DSS, they did so in ways that created new inequities for programs and for Social Services districts; the funding tends to work well for some counties that are highly populated and affluent, and they tend to punish programs in areas with low populations and or low incomes. Whether they work well or they do not these funding requirements pit domestic violence programs against local DSS in several ways. Adversarial relationships are often created when domestic violence program directors are forced to negotiate with DSS commissioners for contracts to provide mandated services, and to do so in an environment where the state has continually forced service provision mandates and the funding of them from the state level to the local level.


Domestic violence programs thus become one more “pariah” to the counties which are forced to pay for them. When the domestic violence programs attempt to comply with regulations that say they must act as advocates for battered women in “systems,” including the DSS’, they are faced with going against the entity that funds their programs, and monitors them. When a domestic violence program accepts abuse victims and their children into shelter, and they qualify for DSS assistance that means that the department is liable for a sometimes hefty bill at the end of the stay. This payment covers the rent, utilities, food, counseling, transportation, staff assistance and systems advocacy, child care, support groups, accompaniment, and many other services. Salaries of domestic violence workers, overhead to run the program, food, clothing, utilities, rent and other expenses must be met. The local DSS receives reimbursement from the state and from federal sources for 50 to 75 percent of the costs paid to domestic violence service providers, however a hefty amount is still left to be funded at the local county level.

Every spring all NYS domestic violence programs must submit to NYSOCFS a detailed fiscal accounting of all domestic violence costs and incomes for the previous calendar year. If high shelter occupancy resulted in “excess” funds from per diem payments for that particular period the program then will receive a reduced rate for the calendar year following the one in which the report is made (two years after the “excess” was acquired). Even if the program used the “excess monies” to pay for a deficit incurred in a previous year when per diem payments did not cover the expenses, the program still faces a reduced rate for the next year. This insures that the program will have a deficit the year the reductions come, and if it turns out to be a year when occupancy is low or costs are higher than expected the deficit is even deeper. This “accounting” procedure seems insane and punitive to logical thinkers. It is a perfect example of the lunacy that gets created when bureaucrats dream up rules that impact organizations, businesses and survivors about whom they know nothing!

Whatever complaints may be made about local Social Services with regard to the way they respond to domestic violence program needs and abuse victim’s needs it should be recognized that they had no choice in the decision to make them responsible for domestic violence which they see, understandably so, as one more mandate. It was a decision made by bureaucrats on a state level, some of them NYSOCFS, some of them legislators and legislative staff. It should also be recognized that the people involved in crafting this mechanism for funding domestic violence did so with a legitimate desire to find a way that worked better than what we had before.

What is also true is that there were domestic violence program people involved in the work groups who foresaw many if not all of the complications and problems we are now experiencing, and whenever they tried to express the concerns they were silenced by those who felt that this current plan was the only possible chance we had for any improvement. We are now stuck with a real mess in terms of the way things do not work; the problems are innumerable. Many will point out that there are millions more dollars available to domestic violence programs under the current system than we had before. While this is true there is little equity to who has the funds, and I would remind us that the benefits are to organizations, not to victims of domestic violence. In fact, if we advocate for this funding mechanism because we as organizations benefit from it we are colluding with the system to put abuse victims women at further risk! County DSS agencies do not like the required process, and many domestic violence programs do not like it. New York State is the only state in the country that has made domestic violence a welfare issue in the way programs are funded and victims are categorized.

Welfare Reform and Domestic Violence

Welfare reform is always one of the hottest topics with which politicians stir up voters’ emotions;  it is easy indeed to get support for promising to get rid of welfare, to cut off the ‘bums’ the ‘cheats’ the ‘greedy’, and the single mothers who *”have babies just to get the welfare check,” and to make the ‘lazy bums’ get work (whether any work exists or not) and to otherwise make the poor scapegoats; it is easy to demonize the poor, to make people believe that the  “lazy welfare recipients” are the only or primary cause of our fiscal woes, never talking about the billions of dollars in welfare to the rich that is so well hidden in our systems.

Welfare “reform” as it was crafted during the Clinton administration only exacerbated all of the concerns and problems listed in this document, and it created many more problems and revictimizations, with time limits, child care and medical care reductions, work requirements, further stigmatizing, and many other complications for abuse victims.

*A federally funded study prepared for the Department of Health and Human Services by Child Trends Inc., a nonpartisan research firm, challenges the claims that welfare is a cause of the dramatic increase of ‘out of wedlock’ births in a recent 30 year period. The report says that there is little evidence to support the “widespread contention that teenagers and single women are having babies to get welfare”. They concluded that the birth rate has changed very little, and that it’s just that fewer people are getting married.

Requiring abuse victims and their children be ‘welfare recipients’ as their primary identification effectively buries the issue of domestic violence in the one of welfare and welfare reform, and threatens the very existence of domestic violence services. Governor Pataki’s administration was moving toward the concept of totally burying all social services programs in “block grants,” reducing the total amount of money to each county, and reducing mandated services. The 1995 budget just barely escaped having domestic violence monies placed in these block grants, after huge numbers of intense communications from supporters of domestic violence programs, asking that domestic violence be removed from the block grants. We are told that this ‘success’ is temporary, and to expect that we will not continue to escape this end. We have also been warned that per diem rates will be reduced, rather than increased for future ‘cost-of-living’ adjustments. Meanwhile our costs continue to escalate and the need for services increases.

Because the system of funding domestic violence in New York State is so complex and so complicated, and it has been effectively combined with “welfare” it is very difficult to organize support for lobbying toward funding and changes. Many domestic violence program staff do not understand the complexities of how programs are funded. To explain it in simple terms to lay people who could help lobby for improvement is almost impossible. Many domestic violence program boards of directors also do not understand the funding complexities and their connection to “welfare reform.” On one more front we are silenced, by the powerful politicians and bureaucrats who now totally control and regulate us.


Federal Family Violence Prevention Act Monies

NYSOCFS  provides through grants of  federal monies a large share of the funding for the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. This funding helps the Coalition provide technical assistance and training to local domestic violence programs and to other organizations who deal with families experiencing the effects of violence and abuse in the home. It also helped them to provide a *statewide hotline with an 800 number and referral service, to print a regular newsletter in both English and Spanish, and helped keep their office open.

The cost of this funding to the goals of the Coalition, as many see their role, was steep. **NYSOCFS exerted editorial control over the newsletter, and strictly limited what could be printed and distributed through it. The Coalition was monitored and regulated by OCFS/DSS because of their funding in ways that limited its viability as a lobbying and political action arm of the movement in New York State (and this needs to be the primary function of the Coalition.)

*The NYSCADV lost the funding for the hotline in about 2011, due to staffing and reporting problems, and that funding is now given to a crisis program in the western part of NYS. **As noted earlier this is now changed. I leave the example in the paper, however, to show the kinds of ways that subtle and more obvious control is so often exerted on funded programs.

NYSOCFS is the conduit for Federal Family Violence Prevention Act monies. Every year they issue “RFP”s (Requests For Proposals) before distributing these monies. They continue to put severely limiting parameters on how these monies may be used, and who may qualify to receive them. In spite of much feedback and consultation from domestic violence advocates outlining what the problems are, and how they might be more responsive to program and client need, they remain adamantly committed to the ‘same old’ ways of distributing funds.

They retain the requirement that local commissioners of Social Services must support the successful funding request, in spite of the fact that this money has nothing to do with local departments. They insist upon continuing to ask that programs submit requests for “new and innovative” programs, and that they be prepared to put other funding in place after the first year, because these grants are for one year only; this is counter-productive to every possible program need and rational planning process. It is irresponsible to develop and set up any program that can only be funded for one year. They have been asked by the Coalition and by other domestic violence program professionals to simply equitably divide the monies among domestic violence programs, and to not ask them to do the impossible to get these meager, but much needed funds. They have ignored this advice from the professionals who know best what their programs need to survive and serve victims. Other funding is nearly impossible to find, and is increasingly so.

Once they did award these funds they imposed standards and parameters that were alien to the domestic violence field. They insisted for a few years that survivors and anyone else that the program served were “customers,” and programs had to use the language dictated by DSS to satisfy their requirements. They imposed “performance targets” and “performance funnels” that had absolutely nothing to do with what the program accomplished, but that were based upon what the “customers” did or didn’t do. Monies were then withheld at quarterly payment time for any performance targets that were not met. “Proof” had to be submitted at report time for the targets that were completed, and their decision of what was or was not accepted as this proof was arbitrary and continually changing. It was often unreasonable, and unattainable.

Staff at NYSDSS often did not understand or know what acceptable “performance” was, what exactly they were asking programs to do for the money, and what patterns they were following as they asked domestic violence programs to totally change the language, understandings and parameters within which they were working. Programs ended up feeling that it was not possible to obtain and retain the monies that were intended for them to enhance the work they did. These funds had become one more tool of ridiculous control and stress for domestic violence programs.

NOTE: In 1997, following repeated requests by the NYSCADV a portion of the FFVPSA funding would be distributed non-competitively to residential programs in danger of closing because of occupancy rates under the per-diem payment system.

Violence Against Women Act Monies (VAWA)

New federal monies through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) were available beginning in 1996 to fund programs that address violence against women; these monies were/are carefully targeted to enhance law enforcement training and staffing, to provide training to judges and prosecutors, and to fund direct services to victims of violence. The intention of the federal legislation that created this funding stream was to provide monies directly to domestic violence and rape crisis advocates in order to fund more and better services to victims.

As soon as the monies were about to be released, maneuvering began to grab the administration of the dollars that would come to New York State. Meetings were held, and many were invited; domestic violence advocates and professionals such as the Coalition, and the NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence were initially left out of the negotiating. The Division of Criminal Justice Services won the right to be the administering agency, and have since been open to hearing domestic violence program needs and concerns, and have worked closely with the Executive Director of the NYS Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Meetings were held across the state to ask for local program input about need and how the monies should best be spent. At these meetings other programs “came out of the woodwork,” claiming to serve battered women, claiming to give domestic violence program services, asking for the federal monies to provide batterer programs, to supplement mental health programs, to supplement “Alternatives to Violence” programs, etc. No substantial monies reached any local programs before 1997. (1996 monies were barely sufficient to begin trainings and administration on the State level.)

Domestic violence programs were left once again to fear the worst in terms of expecting fair and equitable treatment, in receiving their due for the years of developing the field and for being the only experts with regard to what victims need and how to provide it. We feared from experience and knowledge of how the system works that we would never see the majority of the monies originally intended for the experienced and deserving advocates and programs. Even if substantial monies did reach programs, rather than allowing us to then meet needs and provide programs with the funds, we feared that NYS would simply withdraw any State monies and expect us to replace the currently inadequate funding with this federal money.

2013: In fact some of our worst fears were realized. Many grants from this source were requested and received by programs with no expertise, no background, no connection at all to the movement, to commitment, long experience, or to the knowledge of the work and movement, while many long-standing and expert programs never saw a dime of this money. Locally for instance, for several years a program primarily doing Headstart and child care received grants from VAWA to provide a transitional housing project to survivors of domestic violence. They received a far larger grant than a local rural program with all of the experience and skills ever got anywhere, and they did not do a thing to help survivors; what they did with the money is a travesty, yet the ways that funding is set up allows such miscarriages of justice to occur. Because this  program  had a full time “development” person whose business it was to write and receive grants, (a luxury that few if any domestic violence programs have), they were able to leverage the VAWA funding. They then begged local domestic violence programs to assist with their project, promising payment, and they later refused to even pay for the collaborative services they received from the domestic violence program’s overworked staff. As of 2014 we know this same program continues these tactics of obtaining and retaining funds.


Old History: Governor Pataki Fires THE Domestic Violence Professional in NYS

In September of 1995 Gov. George Pataki summarily and without reason fired Karla Digirolomo, the Executive Director of the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. Ms. Digirolomo had been with the organization from its inception as the Governor’s Task Force on Domestic Violence. She was with ‘the Office’ throughout its growth, when it became an Executive Office, then finally in 1992 when it became a New York State agency. Ms. Digirolomo served through three State administrations, and had always been bipartisan. She had the respect and trust of domestic violence staff across the State, and was well known in New York State and nationally for her competent leadership in the field.

Ms. Digirolomo was replaced some time after her firing by a retired NYS trooper, a woman who was not known in the domestic violence field, had no background in domestic violence and was partial to police views and beliefs about domestic violence, (which can often be very punitive and  non-helpful to battered women.)

*The announcement of this woman’s appointment as the “Acting Director” said that she would be appointed the next January as the Assistant Director when a permanent Executive Director would apparently be appointed.

*We then heard rumors that Governor Pataki planned to merge OPDV under DCJS, (the Division of Criminal Justice Services.) These actions were chilling to the climate of doing domestic violence work in New York State; they bespoke an indifference and a frightening, uncaring arrogance toward everything the field stood for. We could not feel secure in any aspect of our programs or services provision in such a climate. It was not unreasonable to expect that programs would slowly be eradicated as a part of the network of services and programs in NYS. Already programs were threatened with closing because of the funding crises, and many had reduced their programs and services. The Governor’s appointee to head OPDV was later confirmed as the permanent Director, and the OPDV then began to report to the Governor through NYSDCJS, thus those fears were also realized. Since those years  there have been several more Directors of OPDV who have had less power than when the director reported directly to the governor. (This does not mean that OPDV staff are less experienced, helpful or critically important to the work in NYS, it simply means that they must now also go through layers of bureaucracy that they did not have to when their executive reported directly to the governor; it may also mean that less resources are available to them to impact facets of domestic violence in NYS.)

2014 update: The current Executive Director of the OPDV, Gwen Wright, is a woman who has been involved in the battered women’s movement nearly from our beginning, and who fully understands the issues of policy, survivor needs, training and funding. She could not be better qualified to do this work!

Doing More With Less

Politicians keep saying that we all must “do more with less” as we strive to cut taxes and enhance the “business environment” in New York State. We should all share the cuts and reductions to programs, they say. If we were all relatively equal to start with that might be a defendable position (however it is always amazing to look at what is on the table to be cut, and what always escapes the cuts.)

The fact is that domestic violence programs have always done more with less than just about any other kind of program (as have rape crisis centers). We have produced unbelievable amounts of services, work, results and accomplishments with few paid staff, with staff who are exploited be

cause they are paid less than average workers elsewhere, with little or few benefits, with physical plants that are cramped, in poor repair, and otherwise inadequate. The average yearly funding to domestic violence programs under “maintenance grants” in all of New York State was a total of about $1.2 million. Divide that by 109 programs to find that the average program received only $11,000 per year, to do everything that was accomplished. Since the welfare-based per diem reimbursement was instituted the income of residential domestic violence programs has risen, however we remain grossly under-funded to accomplish all that is demanded of us, especially including the ridiculous and ongoing new mandates for silly forms, assurances and signing into a variety of bureaucrat-created, time consuming and meaningless mandates, satisfying these demands designed for nothing more than ensuring the jobs of those who create them.

If all of this were not enough domestic violence programs continue to receive requests and referrals to serve the neediest and hardest to serve individuals. DV programs end up with mentally ill people who have no place else to go after all of those services were shut down by governments.  DV programs have been named as the best places to provide services o survivors of trafficking. While this is a good fit DV programs have been given no increased funding at all to provide this work-intensive and complicated level of services, little to no training to do it well, no incentives to want to do it, and no real way to accomplish what must be done to adequately address the needs of victims of trafficking.

Other State funding seems to never be threatened, no matter how ludicrous the funding may seem compared to life-saving crisis work like ours. For instance the Boxing/Athletic Commission in the NYS budget, and other obscure or little-known budget boondoggles never seem to be noticed, let alone threatened, and then looking to what we spend on stadiums, sports complexes, and member item funding for certain other entertainment-type projects, (like several hundred thousand dollars each year that was given to a local city’s wealthy, elite chairwoman to create elaborate New Year’s Eve celebrations, when the same legislator, after a great deal of meeting, begging, and encouraging managed to get one single ten thousand dollar item for a local DV program in a twenty year period!) Or, compare domestic violence funding to the approximately $400,000,000 we pay DSS workers annually in NYS).

Today programs fare somewhat better with per diem payments as mentioned above, and some getting contract payments for non-residential services; that is all dependent however on the graces of local commissioners, and other political factors under the control only of local legislatures and commissioners, and the problems, inadequacies and further victimization of survivors are covered elsewhere in this document. It also means that much precious administrative time and energy must be used to court relationships, study available funds, create the best language to ask for funding and to curry the favor and relationships to retain the funding we do receive.


Aside from allowing ourselves to be coopted by the provision of a few funding crumbs that effectively silenced us while setting up mindless and destructive competition among us, (the old ‘divide and conquer’ tactic), and watering our programs down to suit our funders, (owners-controllers), we have as a movement made some other mistakes.

We have allowed ourselves to be caught up in the “issues of the moment,” creating programs for partners of alcoholics, child abuse, women who use alcohol or drugs, and supported the setting up of thousands of *batterer programs, most proven to be vastly ineffective, while very few abusers ever get held accountable in any way including batterer program participation. Batterer programs have become a huge industry, often set up to make money, and too often taking funding that would be better used to support shelters and other aspects of domestic violence programs. Many batterer programs show absolutely no accountability to survivors or domestic violence advocates and programs, and many pay little attention to the safety of survivors as affected by the programs they are operating. They set up false hope in millions of survivors that the abuser will change and become the partner they desire, and reject the large amount of research that has shown that these programs rarely do anything to change the behavior of abusers.  This twisting ourselves to fit prevailing demands and beliefs in order to receive funds and survive results in a dangerous loss of direction, goals and philosophy of the movement, in fact the movement has morphed into a field with no unifying analysis or commitment to one another.  *More writing is available on batterer programs, including a position paper I authored, and one can also check the website of the New York Model for Batterer Programs, where I have collaborated and helped since 1989 to build a model that is accountable to advocates and battered women. (web site on page 34)

We failed on a broad scale to build strong community-based support that is based upon recognizing our deep allied interests and connections. We failed to ally with other progressive struggles with which we should have been mutually supportive, not seeing the mutuality we should have been dedicated to from the beginning. We have been divided from rather than unified with the rape crisis movement (our foremothers!!), sexual harassment interventions and other work, other parts of the women’s movement, we have especially divided ourselves from issues of the  reproductive rights movement, progressive parts of labor movements, community-based movements struggling for decent housing, jobs, child care, health care, economic justice and living wage struggles, education and other necessities of a decent life. We failed to join anti-racist and gay rights work, not to mention disability rights, classism oppression, and ageism fights; we failed, in other words, to base our work within an analysis and framework of anti-oppression understandings and dedication to this broader  framework that could have made  a huge difference in the achieving of our goals of ending violence against women, children and men.

Only through building alliances with other political justice struggles will we have the strength we need to survive and thrive. Our biggest mistake has been to become “acceptable”, middle class, white, heterosexual social service agencies.

We need allies, perhaps now more than we ever have before; where are they?  Is it possible to rebuild connections and support?  Must we return to a small grassroots movement with a few volunteer groups providing self help and peer support groups and secret havens in private homes? Perhaps then we would at least be able to speak truthfully about the real needs of  survivors.


We can and should demand health care, housing, child care, education opportunities, training, jobs with living wages, and safety from men’s violence against women. We might have a chance of becoming a multi-racial, multi-class movement that is filled with survivors and allies who all can tell the truth about battering and other oppressions, and be a unified voice.

This unified voice is what we have been robbed of as we have grabbed the State’s hand, and “professionalized” our movement. Make nomistake though; we colluded in starting something that will not be stopped. If everyone of us left our positions in the movement/field  today, our shelters and non-residential programs would be snatched up by social workers, mental health professionals and other agencies looking for a way to expand their empires. We already have programs, perhaps a majority of them at this point in 2014, who do not have a single loyalty to the movement, or to where we came from, or to the philosophy and analysis we built, or for that matter, to survivors. We do not have the option in real terms of returning to “how it was”.

Note: I have begun to use the term “field” to replace “movement”, because most programs today are not part of any movement, but operate as a part of a “field of work” and indeed see themselves that way.


If we had broad based community support we could “push back” against the control exerted by funders, legislators and regulators. We could exploit the State’s desire to appear concerned about survivors. They would work to maintain control and we could work together to confront bad government services masquerading as helpful solutions.

Another helpful strategy would be to build political action groups linked to but separate from domestic violence programs. These “PAG’s” could mobilize help when we need it, make political

demands for institutional change, build strong power bases and save the depletion of staff’s limited time, energy and other resources. These kinds of groups and processes worked for us early in the development of the movement. Why not return now to some of the most viable ideas?

We must not be silenced, or kept from telling the truth:

1)  Violence against women is a political problem, not one of deviant pathology.

2)  We need a progressive agenda with a vision of ending violence against women and all intimate partners within the context of ending all oppressions.

3)  We need to ally with groups that share a vision of justice, especially economic and racial justice.

4)  We need to build allying relationships within our communities to ensure a power base.

5)  We need to do ongoing organizing while developing leadership for now and in the future.

6)  We must be led by survivors, working class women, and women of color.

7)  We must not be led by self-serving bureaucrats or white, middle-class social services models.

8)  We need to welcome, work with and guide pro-feminist male allies who have demonste an ethic of accountability to feminist women and survivors, groups such as the National Organization for Men Against Sexism, (NOMAS).

9)  We must learn to organize, communicate, educate and otherwise do our work within the modern world of social media and worldwide conversations and activism.

10) We must struggle together against violence and cooptation, and work to change institution and society in ways that address ending violence against women, that make it possible for women to leave abusers, and that challenge the structural dependence on men. We must do this within the context and analysis that addresses ending all oppressions.

**It would be well for all of us to remember that even if our budgets continue to be cut, and we lose more staff, and even if more programs close, the one thing that cannot be taken away from us is what we know, what we have learned. We have an analysis of domestic violence/ intimate partner violence that tells the truth about who or what is at fault, and gives us approaches of empowerment and social change that allow us to move forward without the shame and blame that was always placed on us before. We can never be forced to not know that again. It is also important to recognize that there are those who want to silence us because we tell the truth, and because our truth threatens their privilege.


Whenever we engage in discussions of funding and grants for doing domestic violence work, when we talk to legislators and ask for support, when we ask for local funds, when we negotiate for changes in funding mechanisms, or any of the other work we must do to stay alive we are seen as the ‘beggar,’ as the ‘burden’ to add to the tax base, as a service that may in some people’s eyes be unnecessary or frivolous, as one more cost to the system.

One often overlooked aspect of domestic violence programs is what they give to the communities and counties they serve, to DSS and other agencies and organizations, and to the state in which they operate.

An average domestic violence program serves many thousands of people in a given year. One small rural program, for instance, provides free services to about 1,200 to 1,500 persons or families per year. Each case is open and served an average of six months. In the course of services hundreds of individuals are referred and accompanied to other organizations. Often the domestic violence program is able to provide for the family’s needs, saving other entities large expenses of intervening.

Ten to fifteen staff may work on average in a small to medium size program, live in the communities where they work, spend their incomes there, occupying housing, paying taxes, supporting

charities, volunteering in other programs, buying food, clothing, utilities, medical services, entertainment, and other goods. Larger programs, in counties as small as 120,000 populations, employ twenty to thirty staff.

Nearly every program provides hundreds of free trainings and community education services to their communities. Schools regularly receive free prevention programs for their students, trainings for their teachers, and other services from these programs. Thousands of educational materials are distributed in communities from the domestic violence program through schools, clubs, churches, agencies, organizations, individuals, libraries and events.

Materials and supplies are purchased locally by domestic violence programs, rents are paid, daily lunches are purchased, utilities are purchased, and jobs are provided in the community for local residents. Local banks receive substantial business from domestic violence programs; it is not unusual for a small program to pass $400,000 to $900,000 or more through the local economy each year. Larger programs pass millions of dollars through their local economies each year. Multiply this by all of the programs in the state, and it is apparent that domestic violence programs are not only a “human service” sector, but a group of businesses that greatly benefit NYS, and contribute immensely to its economy.

In addition domestic violence programs enrich the communities they serve in many other important ways. Access to safety is provided to many women and children. Men are well served in many programs as well. Lives may be saved by the intervention provided. Survivors are able to become stable wage earners, sometimes moving from dependent to financial independence, or maintain their roles as productive citizens because of the services they receive.

The presence of domestic violence programs ensure that communities appear safe and sensitive, and that enhanced services are available to ensure non-violent and inexpensive solutions to dangerous situations. The community can market itself as one that provides necessary services and interventions as needed. The presence of domestic violence programs help to ensure that law enforcement, prosecution, Social Services and other municipal services and agencies are sensitized to the needs of families and are trained to better serve survivors of domestic violence, and to better hold offenders accountable.

Professionals in all criminal justice and human services agencies are able to receive information and training around family violence and abuse issues more readily and more appropriately when domestic violence programs are present. They can also call upon advocates in domestic violence programs to assist with situations and cases with which they are confronted.

The mere presence of programs and all they do to prevent domestic violence and reduce its effects is extremely valuable to communities and, in aggregate, to the State. Young people have the opportunity to learn from domestic violence programs how they might ensure healthy, violence and abuse-free relationships in their adult futures. They receive services and prevention information when they are engaged in dating violence situations, and they have the opportunity to be empowered to know that they need not accept violence and abuse and they need not accept any kind of domination as a way of life. Young men have the opportunity at the same time to learn about rights and options, and to learn ways to build healthy and violence-free lives where they can be seen as partners, allies and non-threatening friends, neighbors and co-workers. In addition many DV programs accept interns form various university degree programs and provide extremely valuable training and experience to them as they finish their degrees and decide on their future career paths. This free training provided to university students is invaluable to so many.

Faith communities have the opportunity to refer members and others to domestic violence programs, to provide volunteers from their membership, to obtain free information and training for the benefit of their members, and to help their constituents to contribute to the atmosphere of non-violence, and to a no-tolerance attitude toward intimate partner abuse among their members, serving as role models for their communities while providing important referral and services information to their congregations.

Health care providers such as clinics, private health care offices and hospitals have access to invaluable resources in domestic violence programs who refer to them, take referrals from them, provide assistance when needed in emergency room cases where an advocate is requested, and get training for nurses, physician assistants, doctors and other medical staff regarding domestic violence.

Legislators where domestic violence programs are located can proudly point to them as evidence that the area is a great one to live in, locate a business in, work in, build a home in, or go to school in. Progressive domestic violence programs have been working hard for over twenty years to build, support, help maintain and guide organizations of systems representatives, called CCRs, or Coordinated Community Response Networks. CCRs help to ensure that the region has services that help the whole system work better together when domestic violence  programs are present, for this coordination is one more (free) service that domestic violence programs often provide.

Funding Footnote: Many people believe that funding for local domestic violence and other crime victim programs from state and federal entities such as OCFS, OVS, DOH, VOCA and VAWA is money that came from taxpayers through income and other taxes. The truth that few are told is that the vast majority of such funding is obtained through criminal justice fines, fees and lawsuits by attorneys general against state,  national and multi-national organizations, convicted of various crimes, up to and including those that result in multi-billion dollar fines. These funds are designated for services to victims of crime. (See also page 3.)

Domestic violence programs clearly hold their own when it comes to ‘giving back’ to the community, to the county and to the state.


When some of us have questioned the structure currently used to fund domestic violence in New York State we have been asked by legislators and bureaucrats what should replace it. We have been greeted with a sometimes angry and disbelieving response, as though we are malcontented, ungrateful trouble makers for not being happy with what they have done. We are treated as though we simply want to criticize; it is easy to forget that some of the same “troublemakers” were vocal as this nightmare was crafted, pointing out the flaws, and being silenced, told to “not mention that now,” “we’ll have to deal with ‘minor’ problems later,”, etc. We were silenced with claims that there is no better answer even remotely possible in New York. We were told that we would not see any changes for a very long time because it was so very difficult to manage to get even what we have now.  Some of that was obviously true. We are now, in 2013-2014, seeing movement to change domestic violence services funding mechanisms in New York State and will be waiting nervously to learn what those changes will bring. It did, indeed, take a very long time.

In the midst of State administrative cuts, firings, and promises of more cuts, as this position paper was being written and updated, and comments being solicited for inclusion, the warnings come again, this time from those within the movement, to “watch out what we ask for”, (e.g. having funding removed from DSS);  NYS may just do that and not replace it and we’ll be left with NO funding at all. These warnings have apparently come from those inside the bureaucracy, those who are aware of our concerns. I believe that the warnings come out of genuine concern that it may happen just as they warn, especially given numerous administrations’ desires to cut and eliminate as much human services funding as they can get away with and not be unmasked. I believe that there are bureaucrats within the NYS system who do truly care about domestic violence, in fact we all know that to be the case. The real problem is not with individuals, it is with systems. We have been between the proverbial “rock and the hard place” as we have had to discern what we thought best, what we are asked to share with regard to how to proceed, how our fears of others’  potentially self-serving goals may impact funding decisions, and how to share the truth of our positions while not threatening our current funding.

(I recently sent back a somewhat sarcastic note to one funding administrator about a ridiculous requirement they had just handed down to us, on behalf of the governor, and later learned that the receiver of my note was aghast, showing it around their offices while exclaiming disbelief that anyone who is ‘gifted’ with their funding would have the nerve to speak out in this way. This particular funding administration… one who largely passes federal funding through  their state agency…  is always very quick to point out that their funds may not be used for administrative work!

So they have no problem handing out increasing amounts of administrative demands to busy crisis services, yet if we even mildly protest we are in danger of their seriously negative judgment.)

“They” (the system) have had us right where they have wanted us, and we risk almost everything to try to remedy the problems. The truth is that NYS is the only state in the country that funds domestic violence this way, and one of the difficulties lies in trying to adequately explain where we are now and what would work better, and that the system has been so muddled and complicated that it can indeed look impossible to change. It is so complex and difficult to explain how the various levels and types of funding are operated and administered, and what programs must do to maintain them, that is becomes nearly impossible to organize any efforts to change the vast mess it has become.

Funding could and should be simplified and stabilized, and it should be done without the loss of any revenues we now have. Cost savings could be immense for New York State and for programs by getting this process out of the expensive clutches of  NYS bureaucracies. Many local DSS commissioners, for instance, would be delighted to have domestic violence removed from their purview and responsibility.

So Where Should We Go With This; What Was the Legacy??

The most logical State agency to administer and monitor domestic violence programs would have been the NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence; Ms. Digirolomo’s firing years ago and the subsequent moving of this Executive level office to be an agency subsumed under the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services, (during an era of many mergers and state agency changes),  make that option a rather risky and maybe impossible one at this juncture. The funding should be administered by an organization that has the trust and respect of programs and domestic violence advocates, boards and managers.

Under DiGirolomo’s leadership OPDV administered the funding for the pilot domestic violence batterer programs created by 1989 legislation, and did it with the trust and cooperation of the pilot programs involved. That funding was designed to create a pilot program in the state to ascertain whether batterer programs should be supported as an alternative for holding abusers accountable and whether they could be designed and run in a way that was accountable to the domestic violence movement, to survivors, and operated in such a way that they did not further endanger or give false hope to survivors.

The model created and refined over the next 20 years, and now operating in several locations in the state as well in other states where NYS professionals have provided training, is a rare exception to the way most batterer programs operate. What is called “The NY Model for Batterer Programs” is accountable to the leadership of domestic violence advocates and feminist domestic violence movement leaders. Programs are carefully operated as a service to the courts, an option for sentencing that fills a gap when a more serious consequence may not be available. NYMBP programs make no claims of change for the men who attend the classes, yet always remain hopeful that abusers absolutely can stop abusing if they so choose. The model provides educational classes based upon the same information provided about domestic violence  to any other audience by domestic violence professionals who work within the original analysis and philosophy of the domestic violence movement. This analysis is based upon an understanding that sexism, male privilege and patriarchy is the root cause of men’s sense of ownership and control of women that allows them to think they can abuse to maintain their male privilege, that domestic violence is not about a pathology in abusers, and that it is instead, a product of the idea that men have a ‘divine right’ to control women, whom they see as inferior to men.

It remains to be seen whether the Office can retain or regain a trust and respect level among the domestic violence community that would support them administering program funding. (OPDV stopped funding batterer programs some years ago.)  In some states the Coalitions Against Domestic Violence administer funding to programs. While this structure could work it nullifies the role Coalitions are most needed for, that of a political voice and lobbying organization for the work, and for survivors. NYS agencies have highly paid professional lobbyists working for them, as do other bureaucratic organizations, businesses and industries; the domestic violence movement needs at least one independent lobbying voice in Albany.

Funding for domestic violence programs should be stable, adequate to pay living salaries and benefits, not varied based upon occupancy rates, not dependent upon survivors’ “welfare” eligibility, nor held hostage to the whims of local commissioners and other non-domestic violence professionals and bureaucrats. Funding should not be dependent on dozens of reapplications, redundant reports, and other “make work” criteria, and not muddled and complicated by reams of regulations and rules that give State and local bureaucrats total control over programs about which they really know nothing, and justify jobs for those bureaucrats, (who all get paid at much higher salaries than the domestic violence workers get, and have adequate benefits as well.)

While periodic monitoring is important, and regular planning and needs assessments are essential, logic dictates that it is wasteful in the extreme to force domestic violence managers to spend 50 percent or more of their work time applying and reapplying for monies, doing inherently ineffective and spotty fundraising in areas that have no funding to give, and “holding bake sales to fund the defense in a war”, while satisfying untold and myriad demands for meaningless bureaucratic paperwork and useless forms, assurances and other busy-work.

The important on-going need for services should and must be funded in a stable way that recognizes the expertise and the professionalism of the people that have developed the field and have been doing the work of administering the programs and serving domestic violence victims.

Imagine any other critically needed service (hospitals, alcohol treatment programs, mental health clinics, for instance) forced to operate based upon the kinds of limitations and lack of support that domestic violence programs face. Imagine any other skilled service provider expected to work at inadequate salaries with few benefits. We have clearly not valued domestic violence workers in this culture, much the way we have devalued child care work and workers; we need to demand respect, adequate funding and less ‘busy-work’, freeing us to serve survivors, save lives, support families and work to prevent intimate partner violence.

It is ludicrous and not business-like to let things continue as they are, or to deteriorate as we see them continuing to do. If we are silenced by the fears they set up when we are warned to ‘take what we have, or whatever we can get’ we will continue to be devalued, ignored, and deprived of the ability to do the work that must be done. It is not too late to talk together, organize, build alliances, work as a unified voice, and give our all (as we know so well how) to make domestic violence programs as recognized and valued as any other critical service in NYS and elsewhere.

Where the funding is placed and who distributes it is not as important as how it is done. It is critically important, however, to remove this issue from the “welfare” system, and to cease forcing survivors to be ‘welfare statistics’ to get safety and other help. The experience of having worked with programs and knowing the needs and complications of program management and delivery is most important. This knowledge and experience offers the insights and awareness that the State needs in order to correct these inequities and abuses of power that are crippling our programs. There are some seasoned, astute and politically aware program directors, advocates and activists who could consult on it.   Answers can be found.

It should be clear by reading to this point that creating social change, organizing and working to engender social justice, cannot be done within organizations and “agencies” that are funded by any monies that are controlled by governmental agencies and bureaucrats. Other avenues of activism must be available, and used by those who wish to do more than provide temporary options and measures to those dealing with the crises created by intimate partner abuse, sexual assault and other violence and abuse. Those of us who are passionate about working to assist this social change will organize, protest, work together, tell our truths, work with natural allies and do what we must to address injustice and oppression.


-For additional information regarding the NY Model for Batterer Programs go to

-For expanded information regarding the history of the Battered Women’s Movement read Women and Male Violence by Susan Schecter. Another great work by an advocate in our work is Of Sluts and Bastards by Louise Armstrong. To better understand the workings of welfare bureaucracies it is helpful to read Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, Regulating the Poor, and Blaming the Victim, by William Ryan. A more recent addition to wonderful resources is by Barry Goldstein: The Quincy Solution Stop Domestic Violence and Save $500 Billion.

-Another example of funder controls of advocacy work is relative here:

In the 1990s, while I was serving on the board of directors of the NYS Coalition Against Sexual Assault, (NYSCASA) the organization received a modest grant from the NYS Department of Health, (the major NYS funder for Rape Crisis Centers), to develop a training manual for rape crisis programs for use in the state required 40 hour training to certify hotline and crisis intervention workers.

NYSCASA was able to hire Beth Richie, and very well-known early activist, academic and writer in the battered women’s and rape crisis movements, to help us develop the training manual. All of us contributed materials, suggestions and thoughts about what should go into a manual that would be a touchstone for rape crisis programs across the state to ascertain the most important information advocates needed to know to adequately provide for the survivors of sexual assault. This meant everyone we would be serving, from child survivors of incest and other child sexual assault, victims of gang rapes, date rapes and stranger rapes.

All of us on the staff and board of NYSCASA knew that it would be critically important to have one chapter of the manual address oppression and the ways to serve multi-cultural populations and diverse folks as we did our work. Ms. Richie did a great job at helping us put together a chapter that addressed these topics very well.

When DOH looked at the product before we were able to distribute it to all of the rape crisis programs in the state they emphatically said that this chapter was unacceptable and would not allow it to be distributed as a part of the DOH funded manual!

We were devastated, and decided that we would send out the manual as required by DOH, without that chapter, and we then mailed the ‘renegade’ chapter to all programs as an addendum provided by NYSCASA.

The chapter that had been so strongly rejected by DOH was so mild as to be laughable by those of us accustomed to doing anti-oppression work, and this incident served as just one more peek into the repressive nature and behavior of the funding sources with whom we must routinely work.

Organizing is not about “outcomes”!

Organizing that comes out of a clear vision which guides its mission supplies a product.

Its product is not an “outcome” based upon individual participants’ changes or successes; the product is a changed society, achieved by people/groups with a vision of justice and an analysis supplied by truthful inquiry.

This is definitely not what government, business and private funders pay non-profit 501(c) 3 organizations to do.

In fact, they fund *agencies to maintain the status quo in order that society as they know it and want it to be does not change!

*While the word agency can mean “action, operation or power” it is commonly used for non-profit organizations as it is in ‘government agency’: “a business or service acting for others”, i.e. the funder(s). Refer to agent; “One that acts as the representative of another.” If you doubt this take a look at the restrictions, laws and regulations that state or federally designated not-for-profit organizations are required to follow. Look for the history of how and why the federal government crafted 501(c)3 laws in order to control the behavior, practice and use of funds by non-profit organizations.