By Jennifer Nozawa, public relations specialist, College of Social Work
Salt Lake City is one of only two sites in the U.S. currently piloting a program that could change the way social service and criminal justice professionals address domestic violence. The program, Circles of Peace, is a community-based response to domestic violence that uses principles of restorative justice. It brings an individual who has been abusive together with family members (who may or may not include the victim), support people, a trained professional facilitator and community volunteers to develop a sustainable plan for change.
“The Circles of Peace approach is both innovative and promising because it gives the victim the option to contribute to the batterer treatment process,” explains Rob Butters, the director of the College of Social Work’s Utah Criminal Justice Center, and the principal investigator in a study that examines different batterer intervention models. “Victims are certainly not required to participate, but the Peacemaking Circle empowers them by giving them that option. If they choose not to participate, trained victim advocates can step in to speak on their behalf.”
Often, survivors of domestic violence do not leave (or choose to return to) an abusive relationship for a wide range of complex reasons. “The Circles of Peace model acknowledges this reality,” says social work doctoral student Karla Arroyo, who works with the Utah Criminal Justice Center as a research analyst and as a clinician in her private practice. “Circles of Peace provides an opportunity for individuals or couples to explore ways to improve their relationships. It’s an alternative way for them to find healthier and safer ways to relate to each other, without engaging in traditional couples therapy.”
“Community volunteers play a critical role in Circles of Peace,” says Butters. “They represent the voice of the larger community about domestic violence and reinforce that domestic violence is a community problem that affects us all. It can be challenging, but the volunteers report finding the experience powerful and rewarding. I encourage anyone interested in stopping domestic violence to become a volunteer for Circles of Peace.”
The Utah Criminal Justice Center will hold a free Circles of Peace Community Volunteers Training on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016, 4-6 p.m., in the University of Utah College of Social Work’s Okazaki Community Meeting Room (SW 155-A). Please register in advance by emailing Lani.Taholo@utah.edu.