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Abusive Power and Control in the Shelter System

open letter to National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

To: National Coaligion Against Domestic Violence
Date: 05/29/2002

To: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)
Cc: Friends & Allies

Hello NCADV,

I have just received a "conference information guide" for the upcoming NCADV conference in August, and noticed that the proposal I wrote, "Implementing Survivor-Centered Mechanisms to Hold Service Providers Accountable," apparently did not make the cut. Needless to say, I was very disappointed. (See the proposal at )

As I further investigated the list of all workshops, I noticed that there are exactly zero workshops that deal with the issue of holding service providers (i.e. ourselves) accountable to the actual needs of survivors seeking services. There are many workshops that deal with the unique needs of specific populations or those that may challenge the direction of the anti-domestic violence movement, but nothing that recognizes the power imbalance between the service provider and the client and attempts to implement structures to prevent abuse of power within our shelters and services.

Does this mean that NCADV does not think that abuse of power happen within anti-domestic violence movement? Or that the problem is minimal? Based on my own observation while working at DV shelters and the preliminary interviews I have conducted with survivors over the last year, I feel that this is a significant problem facing our movement to end violence - one that cannot be resolved simply through more sensitivity trainings or our own feminist consciousness, but requres structural changes.

The workshop I proposed would draw wisdoms and strategies from various other movements that have successfully incorporated client-controlled social service model in areas such as homeless advocacy, HIV/HepC prevention, among others. I have presented on this topic in several occasions in the past (Color of Violence 2002, keynote for New York University's Women's Herstory Month, and a national meeting on DV in queer Asian communities held by Family Violence Prevention Fund), and feel that it is essential for NCADV to include this discussion if it were to truly empower survivors of domestic violence.

I ask you to once again consider including my proposed workshop or at least someone else's that address this very real issue facing our movements.


Emi Koyama
Community Board Chair
Survivor Project
PO Box 40664
Portland OR 97240

-- * Putting the Emi back in Feminism since 1975.