Inter-Agency Response to Domestic Violence

Last updated March 2019

“When practitioners understand the solutions to violence and how their activities link up with those of other sectors, they can more readily carry out their work in ways that also reduce community violence.”[1]

An inter-agency response—also known as coordinated community response, multi-sector collaboration, or multi-sectoral response—is an intervention strategy based on the work of the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project (DAIP) in Duluth, U.S.A. The DAIP’s strategy, often called the “Duluth model,” has been described by its founders as a “system of networks, agreements, processes and applied principles created by the local shelter movement, criminal justice agencies, and human service programs.”[2] Because “widespread use of violence, aggression, and coercion in families is a cultural phenomenon [and s]uch violence is rooted in unjust social structures which the criminal justice system alone cannot unravel,”[3] the only effective structure for combating domestic violence is an inter-agency response.

DAIP found that when different members of the community coordinated their efforts to protect victims of domestic violence and hold perpetrators accountable, these efforts were more successful. The United Nations Population Fund  echoes this sentiment: “Formulating and implementing coherent and multidisciplinary plans that enable collaboration among sectors such as criminal justice, human rights, education, labour, health and social welfare contribute to preventing violence.”[4] Coordination among these entities helps to ensure that the system works faster and better for victims, that victims are protected and receive the services they need, and that perpetrators are held accountable and cease their abusive behavior. A critical first step toward coordinating responses is developing a common understanding of domestic violence. As various agencies, advocates, and other community actors come together to address domestic violence, they must work off of a unified theory of domestic violence.

Inter-agency response programs often work to create a network of support for victims and their families that is both available and accessible. These programs often use the full extent of the community's legal system to protect victims, to hold perpetrators accountable, and to enforce the community's intolerance of domestic violence. They also often engage the entire community in efforts to change the social norms and attitudes that contribute to domestic violence.

The involvement of each participant in the inter-agency response should be guided by core principles of intervention. Praxis International’s Blueprint for Safety sets forth the core principles as follows:

  • Adhere to an interagency approach and collective intervention goals;
  • Build attention to the context and severity of abuse into each intervention;
  • Recognize that most domestic violence is a patterned crime requiring continuing engagement with victims and offenders;
  • Ensure sure and swift consequences for continued abuse;
  • Use the power of the criminal justice system to send messages of help and accountability;
  • Act in ways that reduce unintended consequences and the disparity of impact on victims and offenders.[5]

Coordination significantly enhances the effectiveness of the community's response to domestic violence. As Linda McGuire emphasizes, the implementation of new laws and policies, for example, is most effective when preceded by the development of a community-wide strategy of reform that ensures that all members of the community respond in a consistent manner to domestic abuse and that each member of the inter-agency response can be held accountable for their responses. McGuire notes that in Duluth, Minnesota, the Duluth Police Department implemented a mandatory arrest policy only after important groundwork had been laid: “Before implementation, a coordinating group of police, prosecutors, the court, probation, and advocates determined how, under the new approach, each would respond in a manner that held batterers accountable and protected battered women.”[6] McGuire further notes that:

[I]n some states, a mandatory arrest policy was adopted as law before such a coordinated approach was developed. The criminal justice system was unprepared for it and the response to the new law was counterproductive. For example, the implementation of a mandatory arrest law, without the simultaneous requirement and funding of police training, resulted in arrests being made without adequate investigation by officers, creating cases that prosecutors could not take to trial. In other jurisdictions, mandatory arrest laws have resulted in an unwarranted number of dual arrests, that is, arrest of both parties without regard for whether one party acted in self-defense.[7]

Benefits of Coordination

Coordinated response and cooperation among sectors is at the core of an inter-agency response. It allows those in the community who come into contact with domestic violence to significantly increase victim protection and batterer accountability. The primary focus of coordination should always be increased victim safety. Without this focus, well-intended efforts to carry out an inter-agency response to domestic violence can result in greater harm to victims. Additionally, in order to increase batterer accountability, the inter-agency team should discuss what the particulars of accountability should look like.

Cooperation based in victim safety has multiple benefits including enhancing the value of interdependent efforts, providing a wide array of resources for survivors, increasing the effectiveness of community responses, and providing a mechanism to address related social problems. All of these benefits can be achieved through the adaptability of the original Duluth Model.[8]

Value of Interdependent Efforts

The effectiveness of many responses depends on the effectiveness of others. For example, an order for protection is not effective if police do not respond to calls about violations. Police response to these calls is, in turn, more effective when prosecutors prosecute violations. The effectiveness of prosecutors' response is likewise related to the quality of police work. 

Variety of Resources

Different members of the inter-agency response groups may encounter victims at different points and in different settings. Each has opportunities others may not have to help victims locate the resources they may need. For example, women who may not be willing or able to contact an advocate or shelter may still seek medical assistance; consequentlyhealth care may be a critical avenue through which victims might access support or assistance.

Effective Community Response

Reaching out to different members of the community to ask for their participation in an inter-agency response can increase the effectiveness of the response. The legal system is a critical part of any response. However, in some contexts, other community institutions—religious, economic, medical, media, and education—may have a more far-reaching impact on “creating social norms” than the legal system.[9]

Related Social Problems

A comprehensive inter-agency response can address related social problems that work to prevent women from gaining protection. Emergency shelter and criminal prosecutions are not the only needs that victims may have. Coordinated response programs increasingly focus on related social problems that make it difficult for women to seek protection from abuse, such as poverty, housing, child care, employment, and cultural or religious concerns.


While the Duluth Model is one of the most successful interagency approaches, no one model is appropriate in every context. Domestic violence is a context-specific crime and experiences of both victims and perpetrators of domestic violence are shaped by the community in which the crime occurs. In addition, every community already has a system—or lack thereof—in which activists promoting inter-agency response must work. Melanie Shepard and Ellen Pence caution that there is no "one size fits all" approach to creating a coordinated community response.

Interagency approaches must be adapted to suit the needs of a particular community, depending on the particular needs and resources of each community. However, there are key principles that should be present in every approach. These include the six foundational principles of the Blueprint for Safety, continued trainings for inter-agency response groups, and regular communication between members of the inter-agency response group. In addition, each actor should build opportunities into its response to seek input from survivors of domestic violence. Such input can help participants ensure that the intervention is adequately responding to women's needs and assess whether changes should be made.

This is true within the United States, as well as globally. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) supported the creation of a inter-agency approach in the Mures district of Romania following the passage of domestic violence legislation in 2003. Local NGOs approached the police to engage them in improving the response to domestic violence cases. The district was using an integrated information system for reporting, screening, and referring cases of domestic violence. Building on that initial integration, NGO workers, health providers, and police began to discuss how to encourage women to file complaints. Women traditionally had little trust in the police and the police had been reluctant to get involved. After a year of working collaboratively with the police, more cases were referred to the crisis center. In addition, police began working very closely with the NGOs—regularly taking the initiative to check up on cases, attending awareness-raising vigils, accompanying crisis center staff on home visits to former clients, and even stopping by the homes of former victims on their own to check in. Because many victims don’t want to go to a public—and potentially crowded—police station, a building was refurbished to act as an alternative location for victims to file complaints with the police. Partners in the effort credit the local coordinating committee, the police involvement, and the initiative of local NGO workers with the program’s success.[10]

For communities that are beginning to discuss ways to establish an inter-agency response to domestic violence, Shepard and Pence recommend that the process of creating response team ultimately guide decisions regarding allocation of resources. They explain: "Ownership of the end result of the collaboration will be subverted if the structure of the DAIP in Duluth is transplanted before local needs reveal what is relevant and required." Pence and Shepard emphasize that programs must:

[K]eep a focus on the lived experience of victims of domestic violence in all its diversity and complexity. Understandings of the dynamic and purposes of women's coping skills, their survival strategies and their help seeking should guide developments. The lives of women, men and children are not simple. We should avoid putting too simple solutions in place for them.[11]

In discussing the development of cooperative arrangements between police and advocates, Stephanie Avalon explains:

Replications of these programs are fraught with uncertainty. Replication itself is a misnomer, since the process is seldom replicated and the community conditions are never the same. This said, a new program might still be better than existing practices and worth trying, at least experimentally, as long as safeguards are in place to monitor the effort and guard against [police and advocate] collusion or its appearance. People involved in planning innovative policies or practices should try to anticipate implementation problems and unintended consequences.[12]


[1] Prevention Institute,  Urban Networks to Increasing Thriving Youth, A Multi-Sector Approach to Preventing Violence 1 (May 2014),

[2] Ellen Pence & Martha McMahon, A Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence 1 (Jan. 1997),

[3] Praxis International, The Blueprint for Safety 12.

[4] UNFPA & East European Institute for Reproductive Health, Towards a  Multi-sectoral Response to Gender-Based Violence 6 (2015),

[5] Praxis International, The Saint Paul Blueprint for Safety 1 (2010).

[6] Linda A McGuire, Criminal Prosecution of Domestic Violence 5.

[7] Id.

[8] Praxis International, The Saint Paul Blueprint for Safety (2010).

[9] Ellen L. Pence, Some Thoughts on Philosophy, in Coordinating Community Responses to Domestic Violence: Lessons from the Duluth and Beyond 25, 33 (Melanie F. Shepard & Ellen L. Pence eds., 1999)

[10]  UNFPA, Programming to Address Violence Against Women: 10 Case Studies, 11–20 (2007).

[11] Robyn Holder, Pick 'n Mix or Replication: The Politics and Process of Adaptation, in Coordinating Community Responses to Domestic Violence: Lessons from Duluth and Beyond 255, 267 (Melanie F. Shepard & Ellen L. Pence eds., 1999).

[12] From Stephanie Avalon, Advocacy and the Battered Women's Movement (October 1999) (emphasis added).