Reflections on Duluth

Reflections on Duluth

The Duluth conference was a very rare and special event, that left me with a number of questions concerning things I’d taken for granted about family violence service systems in Victoria and elsewhere in Australia. I knew that hearing six representatives talk who have been such important drivers of the Duluth response was going to be an opportunity I’d never get again but what I didn’t expect was what I learnt from understanding how Melissa, Laura, Lori, Scott, Graham and Shaun, and the agencies they represent, work together. Their coordinated community response appears to thrive without relying upon integration meetings, nor significant dedicated funding to support the response.

Through the generous insights that all shared into the world of the Duluth CCR, it struck me how ‘activist’ the proponents of the response have been. Duluth response leaders both do and don’t use law enforcement and criminal justice system levers in traditional ways. It’s not just about accountability through administering consequences, nor even just about giving perpetrators a clear and consistent message. It’s using these levers creatively to intensely understand and follow the victim-survivor’s lead, basing decisions and actions on what she and her children need. I was struck by how much ‘bottom up’ listening is involved, rather than top-down administering. Victim-survivor experiences drive the response … Duluth runs more focus groups with victim-survivors than corporations run focus groups to sell products.

The conference was a wonderful opportunity to understand how bottom-up community organising influences each link in the chain of the response – for example, how women’s advocates and police, and probation and perpetrator programs, work together. Judge Floerke’s presentations and workshops were highly insightful in showing what courts need so that they can be responsive to regular incoming information related to the safety of victim-survivors and accountability of perpetrators. Melissa (and all six delegates) was so clear on how victim advocates need to be at the hub of the response.
I was left positively unsettled, wondering how our reforms are ‘stacking up’ in relation to all that I’d heard.
– Rodney Vlais


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