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Focus and Dual Teams: Challenges

Many rural communities struggle to maintain multiple teams devoted to responding to multiple forms of violence. I frequently get asked if the community can just have one team. This becomes a question of focus and efficacy. Most teams struggle to effectively respond to sexual violence, even when intending to split their time and resources equitably. It’s a widespread issue. Simply stated: there are challenges and benefits if you choose a dual-focused team.

This post looks at some of the challenges of choosing the dual-focused teams.

  • There is rarely a 50/50 balance. Most dual-teams and agencies predominantly focus on domestic violence. There is a lot of research out there that backs this conclusion. Often, in the dual-focused setting, domestic violence is prioritized as the more “important” crime to be addressed. This means that providers do not adequately address and build an appropriate response to sexual violence.
  • One-Size-Fits-All. Dual focused teams can come to the conclusion that they can take a one-size-fits-all approach to their work. That means they use their DV protocols and practices and try to overlay sexual violence. Domestic violence response and criminal justice processes differ greatly from sexual violence response/processes. This one-size-fits-all approach does real harm to sexual violence victims/survivors in your community.
  • Limited understanding of range of victims/survivors. Many dual-teams will focus nearly exclusively on victims/survivors who are female identified. Language like “violence against women” or “women’s issues” dominate. While both crimes frequently see that many victims are female identified, sexual violence impacts a wide range of victims/survivors. This includes male victims/survivors, victims/survivors who have same gender perpetrators, trans and non-binary victims/survivors.
  • Service providers don’t learn about the critical differences in crime perpetration and context. Domestic violence only occurs between intimate partners and those who share households. This fundamentally excludes every other type of sexual violence perpetration. If teams only focus on domestic violence and sexual violence within DV, then they never learn or adapt their responses to the complex spectrum of sexual violence that is happening in their communities.

These are some of the very serious challenges that a dual-focused team faces. However, this isn’t to say that you can’t have a good dual-focused team. What matters most is how your team intentionally and constantly guards against some of the pitfalls and challenges listed here. Dual-focused teams can be done well, but it takes some truly significant extra work.But, I think we can all agree that both types of victims/survivors deserve our hard work and a meaningful, powerful response. In the next post, I will talk about strengths and benefits of dual teams, when they are done well.

Do you have experience with handling a dual-focused team? Questions or comments on this topic? Leave your thoughts below.