Barbara Paradiso

(WOMENSENEWS)–Randy Saucedo learned a great deal about his field of work the hard way: through terrible personal experience.

Now an advocacy and audit director at the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence in Denver, Saucedo was paralyzed at 14 when his mother’s companion shot and killed her and wounded him.

Like many other domestic violence survivors, Saucedo decided to make a life’s work out of helping others in the same kind of trouble.

After college he volunteered as a victims’ advocate for a local police department and then got a job as an advocate with the district attorney. In 1997 he began his law enforcement career as a coordinator for victim services and volunteers with a police department. While a graduate student at the University of Colorado he worked with Denver-based Project Safeguard, a service agency for domestic violence victims.

But he decided he could use some formal schooling to expand his knowledge base on domestic violence and hone his professional skills.

In the summer of 2002 he took a course on domestic violence in public policy at the University of Colorado at Denver, which began the nation’s first graduate degree program in domestic violence administration at its School of Public Affairs in 2000.

Since the program launched, it has graduated 47 students with master’s degrees in administration and many, like Saucedo, are domestic violence survivors.

"The course and the professor were the catalyst for my decision to go to the graduate school as a full-time student. The program helped me much more than any other training I could have gotten," says Saucedo, who adds that the contacts he made in the program, such as Ellen Pence, a movement leader since 1975, continue to help him do his job. "They’re good resources," he says.

That Saucedo could find an advanced degree program specializing in domestic violence suggests the extent to which a scrappy, decades-old grassroots movement to provide public shelter to shield people from danger in private lives has begun to acquire the earmarks of an established profession.

Outgrowth of Anti-Rape Movement

There was a huge influx of development of domestic violence organizations in the late 1970s that stemmed from an outgrowth of the rape crisis movement and the second wave of feminism, says Barbara Paradiso, director of the graduate program Saucedo attended.

Women’s resource centers were planned and developed so that women could gather and share stories. "A lot of them were saying they were being battered and needed a safe place to be."

Many of the domestic violence organizations that started in the 1970s survived, grew and are celebrating their 30th anniversaries. Today, there are over 2,000 shelter and service programs across the country.

The movement saw dramatic change in 1994 when Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, and a large amount of federal money became available for domestic violence organizations. Staffs increased from 4 to 10 and budgets from $200,000 to $800,000, says Paradiso.

But all the expansion worried Paradiso, who has been working in domestic violence for nearly three decades. "That kind of growth is difficult for any organization," she said.

The inability to survive growing pains happens regularly for domestic violence organizations. "Almost every one in Colorado has gone through some level of turmoil," Paradiso says. There are staff coups and walk-outs. People who were drawn into the field by their passions and ideology were increasingly called on to run budgets, staffs and programs that relied on skills more common to the business world.

Answering a Professional Trend

Around 1997 Paradiso, who was then the director of domestic violence programs at the Sunshine Lady Foundation in Wilmington, N.C., and others saw a trend as budgets grew.

"As leadership turned over, boards were looking for people with abilities to bring in that kind of money and spend it wisely, not necessarily people with backgrounds in domestic violence and understanding of the issues," says Paradiso. "If that trend continued, we were concerned that the bottom would fall out of the movement."

Paradiso turned to Rita Smith, a consultant who since 1993 has been the executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, based in Denver. Smith agreed that the domestic violence field could benefit from a professional training ground.

Other colleges and universities offer minors and courses in family violence prevention, often in education, social science or women’s studies departments.

The James and Jennifer Harrell Center for the Study of Family Violence at the University of Southern Florida in Tampa offers a "Violence and Injury: Prevention and Intervention" certificate. Sociology students at Virginia Commonwealth University can earn a certificate in gender violence intervention. The University of Central Florida offers a graduate certificate in domestic violence.

But Paradiso and Smith felt that the time was ripe for an advanced, concentrated training program.

"People’s lives are at stake," says Smith, who started working in the field in 1981 as a weekend crisis counselor in a shelter. "If we don’t do a good job at providing services, women can be killed. Women and children will die. So we need to be very conscious about how we address the issue."

Blending Advocacy and Administration

The program that she and Paradiso envisioned blends administration with advocacy. "It’s not just about providing a shelter and a bed," Smith says. "That’s not what’s going to stop violence in this country. We really need people who understand the complexity of the issue and come up with some creative solutions in our society to stop the violence."

To that end, the seven-year-old program at the University of Colorado requires courses in both public administration and domestic violence. Students who do not have one year of work experience with a domestic violence organization or management-level experience are required to complete a semester-long internship to strengthen their management and policy development skills.

The program’s courses are offered online and require short residency periods on the Denver campus each quarter. Paradiso says the majority of the students are women, like 85 percent of the victims in domestic violence cases. They are also nontraditional students who have been in the work force for a long time and have not been in academic settings for years.

The Sunshine Lady Foundation provided start-up funds to develop a curriculum and promotional materials, identify faculty and recruit students. The Altria Group, the New York-based consumer goods conglomerate, supported the program with $100,000 for four years from 2001 to 2005. Other grants have come from the federal government, foundations and corporations. Tuition costs average $20,000.

The program has graduated 10 to 15 students a year since its start. "This year we’re having a banner year as far as enrollment," says Paradiso. "Last year we accepted 13 students. This year it looks like we’ll have at least 23."

Angeli R. Rasbury, a writer, educator, artist and lawyer, writes about women, girls and culture and works with youth in New York City.

This series is supported by a special grant from Mary Kay Inc.

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For more information:

"Dangerous Trends, Innovative Responses":

University of Colorado at Denver, School of Public Affairs:

Safe Horizon, Domestic Violence Shelter online tour:

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