On Saturday, January 19th at the Society for Social Work Research conference in San Francisco, law professor Leigh Goodmark will speak on a multi-faceted policy approach needed to decriminalize domestic violence.

In Goodmark’s book, Decriminalizing Domestic Violence: A Balanced Policy Approach to Intimate Partner Violence, she notes one aspect, of many, to be considered—the relationship between community and intimate partner violence:

The development of community-based responses to violence relies on two core intuitions: (1) developing relationships deters violence; and (2), with support, communities have the capacity to intervene. …

Social Support and Networks

Social supports within the community color the experience of intimate partner violence. Violence decreases where social ties within neighborhoods are strong and residents are willing to intervene. Interacting with social networks can increase the scrutiny of a couple’s relationship, prompting others to step in to protect the abused partner, bring cultural and religious proscriptions against violence to bear, or confront abusive partners about their behavior. Family and friends often provide material and emotional support to people subjected to abuse. Social support from family members is linked to both a lower likelihood of being subjected to intimate partner violence and a lower frequency of abuse. Social ties with friends may also deter intimate partner violence. …

Collective Efficacy

Collective efficacy is central to community interventions to interrupt violence. In neighborhoods with higher levels of disruption (like poverty and high residential mobility), community members may be less able to prevent violence because they lack social connections and trust. Those deficits can be overcome, however, in neighborhoods with greater collective efficacy. Collective efficacy reflects a community’s belief in its capacity to act to end violence and a resulting active engagement by community residents. To exercise collective efficacy, residents must have mutual trust and the willingness to intervene to exercise social control. Strong preexisting personal ties among community residents are not necessary. Collective efficacy relies on the capacity for social action—a shared commitment to intervening to stop violence and the readiness to act on that commitment—not the interpersonal relationships of the actors. The existence of both cohesion and willingness to intervene are essential in decreasing violence. While social ties make the exercise of control possible, violence abates only when control is exercised. Collective efficacy also contributes to the prevention of intimate partner violence. Studies have repeatedly shown that communities with less collective efficacy experience more intimate partner violence. And inversely, intimate partner violence decreases in communities with greater collective efficacy. Similarly, increasing social capital (a measure including collective efficacy, psychological sense of community, and neighborhood cohesion) can decrease domestic violence. Each 1 percent increase in social capital was associated with a 30 percent decrease in intimate partner violence among families in a study in North and South Carolina.

This relationship might exist for a number of reasons. First, in neighborhoods with higher collective efficacy, people who might otherwise abuse their partners could be deterred by the knowledge that their neighbors are likely to intervene. Collective efficacy could also make people subjected to abuse more likely to confide in or seek assistance from their neighbors, who are more willing to provide that assistance. Even if neighbors do not directly intervene, people who abuse might be loath to risk the stigma and shame resulting from their neighbors’ awareness of their actions. Whatever the reason, the relationship between collective efficacy and intimate partner violence is significant enough to bolster the case for approaching intimate partner violence as a community problem.

Hear from Leigh at her session at SSWR this week. And learn about Decriminalizing Domestic Violence and consider for classroom use.