In previous decades, communities often dismissed domestic abuse as a "family matter." A woman who was abused by her husband or boyfriend and filed charges faced—at worst—revenge, and—at best—an ineffective and indifferent legal system. Beginning with police responses, which relied on the personal discretion of officers, cases were routinely screened out of the criminal justice system. Batterers rarely received convictions, rehabilitation, or jail sentences. Any policies concerned with victim protection or batterer prosecution were implemented in a fragmented fashion.
The Domestic Abuse Intervention Program in Duluth, Minnesota, was created in 1980 to help eliminate domestic violence through the development and enforcement of written procedures, policies, and protocols governing the intervention and prosecution of criminal domestic assault cases. Required procedures include: mandatory arrest of domestic assault suspects; outreach and advocacy for victims; aggressive and prompt prosecution; court-mandated participation in batterer rehabilitation programs; and monitoring of compliance with agreed policies among law enforcement, the judicial system, and social services. Administered by Minnesota Program Development, Inc, a nonprofit agency supported in large part by funds from the Minnesota Department of Corrections, the program coordinates the efforts of city officials, police, attorneys, and nine public and private agencies.
The adherence to procedures and protocols ensures that criminal cases of domestic violence do not "slip through the cracks" or become relegated to resolution in informal settings. This system also eliminates sex, race, and class biases in intervention of domestic assault cases. Domestic assault arrests increased from 22 in 1980, when arrest was at the discretion of the police, to 175 in 1983, when the program's policies were in effect. Previously, a disproportionate number of minority males (33 percent) were arrested; today the percentage is 8.5, a level that more closely reflects the population of Duluth.
The main goal of the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program is to protect and advocate for victims and their children. A domestic assault charge can be filed by a police officer or intervention advocate; a victim need not sign the criminal complaint herself. Once a charge has been filed, emergency shelter and legal assistance as well as emotional support are offered to the victim.
The Domestic Abuse Intervention Program secondary goal is to bring domestic abuse cases into the court system to deter, punish, and rehabilitate batterers. It starts with a community-wide shift in the perception of domestic abuse that holds the perpetrator, not the victim, accountable for his abusive behavior and for stopping the abuse. The program provides nonviolence classes to help assailants change their abusive behavior and ensures that continued violence will result in increasingly harsher penalties.
The Domestic Abuse Intervention Program has changed the way communities view domestic violence; Duluth's consistent and comprehensive approach has become the foundation for domestic abuse programs throughout the United States. The historical tolerance of abuse between intimate partners has been replaced by law enforcement, criminal justice, and human services agencies holding batterers accountable for their violent behavior, offering safety and support to victims, and treating domestic assaults as crimes, while seeking to rehabilitate abusers.