Protocols and Policies
last updated August 2013
Developing policies and protocols can be a critical part of efforts to change the way a system—whether a law enforcement, legal, medical or judicial system—responds to the issue of domestic violence. As Ellen Pence, the founder of the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP) in Duluth, explains:
[The] actions of those located in different parts of a coordinated system need to be centered toward victim safety and organized in ways that complement rather than undermine or subvert each other. With this goal in mind, practitioners' decisions and actions need to be guided by sets of protocol standards and, in some cases, direct policies.[1]
In Developing Policies and Protocols, Ellen Pence and Coral McDonnell discuss the importance of changing the manner in which systems respond to violence and provide practical guidance in designing and implementing policies and protocols.[2] The authors reflect on the lessons they have learned after two decades of policy development in Duluth, and discuss some of the obstacles to and strategies for successful implementation of policy reforms.
Among many other things, Pence and McDonnell explain that policies and protocols for system response to domestic violence need to anticipate potential batterer responses to community intervention:
[Such policies and procedures] must be constructed in a way that allows the practitioner to account for the probability that offenders who are batterers are likely to retaliate against their victims because of actions taken by the state/community. Policies need to account for the likelihood that most offenders will pursue another relationship in the future. The intervention approach must shift the burden of confrontation from the victim to the institution to whatever extent possible and without coercing victims into a certain course of action. . . . In addition, "[b]ecause it is so important to understand how the violence is being used in a relationship, the task of documenting and assessing for levels of danger must be built into the work routines of practitioners and seen as the collective work of all interveners."[3]
The authors conclude the article with a checklist that is used by the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project as a template for thinking through any new policy or policy reform. The template, they explain, "provides an overview of items that should be covered in a complete policy."[4] Pence and McDonnell also warn that policy descriptions for practitioners must be short to be effective; as a result, it is often useful to draft a shorter version of the policy, containing only the first two sections of the template, for distribution to practitioners.
As Ellen Pence and Martha McMahon explain in A Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence, protocols generally govern three different things:
First, they govern individual practitioners' responses to specific cases. For example, they specify under which conditions police will arrest, probation officers will recommend jail time, or jailers will release suspects. Second, protocols govern practitioners' interactions with other practitioners in the system, with victim advocates, and with other community-based agencies. Protocols should reduce system fragmentation. They help coordinate the often widely scattered parts of a legal response. Third, protocols address the issue of accountability by linking the agency with a monitoring system and a mechanism through which practitioners' actions can be recorded and, when necessary, questioned.[5]
An overview of some of DAIP's guiding principles are available on their website under Domestic Abuse Intervention Project and Overview. This site includes DAIP's principles of intervention, guidelines DAIP follows when developing policies, and domestic violence policy checklist.
For a detailed example of a comprehensive interagency policy response tocases of domestic violence, see Pence, Ellen, and Eng, Denise for Praxis International,  The Saint Paul blueprint for safety: An Interagency Response to Domestic Violence Crimes  (2009).
The following pages provide examples of protocols and policies that have been adopted by countries, states, counties, and municipalities. For additional information on the role of different entities in addressing domestic violence and developing best practices, see Training and Victim Advocacy.

[1] Ellen L. Pence & Melanie F. Shepard, “Introduction,” in Coordinating Community Responses to Domestic Violence: Lessons from the Duluth Model 3, 17-18 (Melanie F. Shepard & Ellen L. Pence eds., 1999).
[2] Ellen L. Pence & Coral McDonnell, “Developing Policies and Protocols in Domestic Violence Cases,” adapted from Coordinating Community Responses to Domestic Violence: Lessons from Duluth and Beyond by Shepard and Pence (1999), accessed August 9, 2013,
[3] Ibid. at 3-4.
[4] Ibid. at 20.
[5] Ellen Pence & Martha McMahon, A Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence, 9 (1997).