Working Together to Stop Domestic Violence: State-Community Partnerships and the Changing Meaning of Public and Private

Article excerpt

The increasing reliance in the United States on state-community partnerships to address social problems represents both new opportunities and new dangers. This article presents examples of both possibilities through a consideration of contemporary collaborations between state and nonstate actors in the development of a public response to domestic violence. This discussion provides the basis for an elaboration of a conceptual approach to public/private relationships that replaces the traditional dichotomy with a triangular relationship, of state, family and community. By improving on our ability to think through the complex relationships between these three spheres, it is argued that this model that can assist those who are committed to pursuing the positive potential of community-state partnerships while avoiding their dangers. John Braithwaite's theory of responsive regulation, and the regulatory pyramid that structures its operation, is discussed in terms of its ability to provide additional insights into the relationship between formal and informal responses to social problems.

Keywords: domestic violence, community state-partnerships, responsive regulation, social problems, collaboration, battered women

Introduction

The trend in recent years, toward more frequent and varied collaborations between state and nonstate actors in the development of public responses to a range of social problems has become difficult to ignore (Minow, 2002; Cohen, 2002). The increased interest in exploring the potential of state-community partnerships correlates with the intensification of the challenges posed by highly complex social problems that require multifaceted solutions characterized by a high degree of innovation and flexibility. When viewed from this optimistic angle, the growth of public/private collaborations represents a multitude of exciting opportunities for improving our collective capacity to meet the needs of individuals who are caught in cycles of violence, poverty, addiction, and so on. Even so, as both critics and supporters of the trend point out, it is vitally important to be aware of the many dangers inherent in even the most successful collaborations.

My goal here is to contribute to current debates about how best to avoid the potential pitfalls of state-community partnerships while maximizing the achievement of their potential benefits. My ongoing interest in this subject arises from my belief that the trend is here to stay; indeed, it has so transformed the regulatory landscape that new conceptual frameworks are needed to assist with the important task of evaluating its impact. With these things in mind, in what follows, I consider the perils and the promise of combining state and community-based responses to social problems through an examination of contemporary efforts by the battered-women's movement to address domestic violence in the United States. This discussion provides the basis for the elaboration of a conceptual framework that, I argue, can significantly enhance our ability to realize the promises of community-state partnerships while minimizing their dangers. This discussion is followed by a consideration of the ways in which John Braithwaite's theory of responsive regulation further enhances our ability to assess the implications of state-community partnerships. Although the focus is on domestic violence, I believe that the frameworks (developed by both Braithwaite and myself) and the insights that they make possible can be usefully applied in the wide variety of contexts in which state-community partnerships have become common.

A Short History of the Battered-Women's Movement

The battered-women's movement is a particularly apt exemplar of state-community partnerships because of its longstanding commitment to the simultaneous development of both a community-based and a state-sponsored response to domestic violence. During the early 1970s, movement activists began calling attention to the prevalence of violence being perpetrated against women by men with whom they are intimate. …