A Portland Program’s New Approach To Ending The Cycle Of Domestic Violence

By Margaret Foley

A flyer on a university campus introduced Carrie Banks, the founder and executive director of Domestic Violence Safe Dialogue (DVSD), to domestic violence work. “I was studying for a master’s degree in political communication at the University of Arkansas, and I saw a flyer for night advocates at a local women’s shelter,” she said. “I loved the work, but I didn’t know then that I was beginning a career.”

Based in Portland, Oregon, DVSD is one of the country’s only domestic violence programs that uses a restorative justice model to work with both survivors and offenders. In restorative justice, the focus is on repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior by including victims and offenders in the response to the crime to create accountability and make amends.

Banks became interested in the restorative justice model while obtaining her Ph.D. from George Mason University. “I saw a study about a program where rape survivors would go to prisons and talk to offenders,” she said. “They got to ask questions like ‘why?’ and whether or not it was something they did, and they found out it was never about what they thought it was. They got closure, and it made me wonder if something similar could work for domestic violence.”

carrie image
Carrie Banks founded Domestic Violence Safe Dialogue in 2006. Photo courtesy of Carrie Banks.

DVSD facilitates professionally supervised, safe conversations between survivors and offenders who have never met before to work toward stopping the domestic violence cycle. Banks began with a pilot program in 2000 in Oregon’s Washington County and officially founded Domestic Violence Safe Dialogue in 2006. The program now operates in five counties in the greater Portland metropolitan area and has worked with hundreds of survivors of domestic abuse.

Two programs form the core of DVSD: the survivor impact panel and the dialogue impact program. To participate in either program, participants are chosen based on a set of criteria and given support; in some cases, they must be referred by their counselors. For the survivor impact panel, a small group of domestic violence survivors speak to an audience of approved participants in battering intervention programs to describe how their lives were affected by domestic abuse.

In the dialogue impact panel, a survivor and an offender with no prior contact engage in conversation in a structured environment that includes support and facilitation teams. “Survivors get out of these programs what they need,” she said. “It can be the act of telling an offender how it impacted them or hearing offenders be held accountable for their actions.”

Because DVSD is the most well-known program to work with both survivors and offenders, Banks has learned to deal with criticism. In practice, restorative justice brings victims into contact with offenders, and the use of restorative justice in domestic violence is controversial because of the intimate, personal nature of the crimes. Critics argue that this type of program has the potential to revictimize survivors, many of whom suffered years of abuse. Most domestic violence programs focus on survivors and don’t include offenders, but DVSD includes them as a core part of its structure. “For the men, it’s a way to give back to the community they harmed, and they learn a lot,” she said. “For many of them, it is really the first time they are hearing about the violence and its effects.”

Another concern is for the psychological safety of victims, who are rebuilding their lives. “Critics are coming from a good place,” said Banks. “What we are doing is having survivors go into rooms with offenders, and some people say that could revictimize them or that it’s not what survivors need, but when survivors find out about our programs, they ask to participate. In the dialogues, it’s a way for survivors to get answer to questions. I see hope and strength in the panels and a lot of things people in the domestic violence community don’t see.”

One-fourth of all women will experience some type of physical violence in their lifetime, but until recently, there have been few avenues to discuss these issues in public. “I’m always looking for ways to bring more people into the conversation about domestic violence,” she said. To foster discussions, Banks is currently working with a local school system to create a program for domestic violence prevention to be used in schools. Two years ago, she started a conversation series to bring speakers on domestic violence to Portland. Past speakers have included Denise Brown, the sister of Nicole Brown Simpson, and ex-NFL player Ray Rice and his wife, Janay, who discussed his termination from the Baltimore Ravens for a domestic violence charge and how they are working through it.

More recently, the #metoo movement is bringing sustained attention and energy to issues of violence and harassment. “I’ve never seen anything like this before in terms of consequences and public accountability,” Banks said. “It’s amazing when people speak out because there is always backlash and criticism for speaking your truth. I think the speaking out will continue because there is strength in numbers with such a tremendous amount of #metoo. People are reading their stories, realizing that when they speak out, they will not be alone.”

For more information on Domestic Violence Safe Dialogue, please visit their website.


Margaret Foley is a writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. You can read more of her writing and connect with her at http://www.margaretfoley.com.

Cover photo by Christian Gertenbach via Unsplash

Copyright © 500 Pens. January 2018