The history of Denton County Friends of the Family (DCFOF) has its roots in currents of social change in the 20th century that produced a profound shift in the status of women in the U.S. and around the world. In turn, these social trends created significant changes in the perception and tolerance of violence against women, whether committed by strangers or by those within the family.
There is abundant evidence that violence against women has long been a feature of human life in most, though not all, cultures throughout history. Women have been subordinated to male control and authority for most of this history, as reflected in economics, religion, medicine, politics, education, and cultural norms and values. Yet the primary setting for violence against women historically has been within the family (Mill,1869; Lerner, 1987).
In the U.S., until late into the 20th century, the abuse of women and children was not recognized as a public problem, socially or legally. These issues were hidden, pervasive, and generally accepted. Once referred to as “wife battery,” terms such as “domestic violence” and “family violence” are of very recent coinage, introduced into public discussions in the 1970s and 1980s, respectively. These shifts in language accompanied not only new ways of understanding the phenomenon, but of marking this abuse as a problem worthy of larger public intervention (Gosselin, 2018).
In the U.S., the “second wave” of the women’s movement (the first being the early 1900s fight for women’s right to vote) emerged in the 1960s to challenge the many inequalities women faced. There was an early emphasis in the movement on violence against women, both by strangers and within families. Rape crisis hotlines, often just the phones in networks of activists’ private homes, began to receive calls from women whose attackers had been their husbands and boyfriends. Gradually, more women began to speak up about these experiences, despite the prevalence of a “blame the victim” mentality in society. More women broke through barriers to professional occupations and political office and began using their power to address this deeply rooted problem. The phrase “the personal is political” emerged to reflect a new approach to women’s equality that included those previously hidden “personal” issues. (Gosselin, 2028; Lee, 2007; Braithwaite, 2002).
A vivid sign of this shift is found in a review of articles in the Journal of Marriage and the Family. Not one article containing the word “violence” was published from 1939 until 1969. After that, an explosion of research and awareness began to occur. The Power and Control Wheel—developed in 1984 by battered women attending women’s groups at the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, MN—is but one example of this new research which highlighted the range of controlling and abusive behaviors exhibited by abusive partners. Importantly, this shift in understanding domestic violence underscored the complex and intersecting reasons why victims would find it impossible to “just leave” their abusive partners (Gelles,1980; Gosselin, 2018; Pence, 1999).
From this period onward, the widespread influence of the women’s movement was seen in the emergence of rape crisis and domestic violence hotlines, advocacy organizations, battered women’s shelters, and legal changes, all transforming the way violence against women was viewed and approached.
One central issue the movement faced, primarily because of political forces, was how resources and actions were to be directed. In the early years of awareness of family violence, some policy makers focused on addressing the issue through social controls outside the legal system – marriage and family therapy, counseling, and other clinical professions. Family violence was cast as a product of “dysfunctional family dynamics,” best addressed in private therapeutic settings, and focused on the rehabilitation of both spouses. Not only was there an assumption that both members of the relationship were equally responsible for the violence, but the overarching perspective was on individuals (Gosselin, 2018; Lee, 2007).
As professionals began to grasp the deeper roots of family violence in larger cultural values, norms, and institutions, more nuanced approaches to this violence began to be adopted. Of note, as more awareness of the dynamics of power and control within families and dating partners has grown, so too have understandings of who might be victimized. Today’s movement to end domestic violence recognizes how cycles of power and control perniciously operate to sustain abuse more widely, including in LGBTQ+ relationships and across a range of non-marital relationships (Gosselin, 2018).
As a result, today we approach family violence with a broader lens and an understanding that fundamental change can only occur on a societal level. Agencies such as DCFOF provide myriad services to individuals, and at the same time focus far-reaching efforts on changing the larger social systems that create and sustain the problem. One such effort is a coordinated community response which works within and across agencies to protect victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking while holding offenders accountable (www.bwjp.org).
THE RAPE CRISIS AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE MOVEMENT IN TEXAS
During this time, many different organizations and groups around the country began forming programs and services to address violence against women in their communities. The state of Texas was no exception. Crisis centers expanded services to include rape and domestic violence, women’s advocacy organizations stepped up, and a variety of local responses existed by the early 1970s.
Soon an overarching organization emerged to coordinate and support these local efforts – the Texas Council on Family Violence (TCFV) was born in April 1978. Representatives from nine Texas communities – Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Denton, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, and Waco – resolved to coordinate efforts among local entities, and to provide a unified statewide connection with political office holders (https://tcfv.org).
TCFV assembled coordinated efforts to lobby for legal changes and to gain financial support from the Texas legislature for prevention and intervention. In 1979, a pilot funding program through the Texas Department of Human Services (TDHS) appropriated $200,000 to the initial nine agencies. A year later, the Family Violence Program was established in TDHS and the legislature increased funding to $1 million, making it possible to support more than 30 programs statewide. Since then, every subsequent legislative session has continued to increase funding and the number of programs has expanded throughout Texas (https://tcfv.org).
TCFV soon had a staffed office in Austin and, with support from private foundation grants and dues from member programs, the work of this central organization began to make great strides in optimizing local work with clients and forging a respected presence in the state legislature. In 1982, TCFV toured every shelter and domestic violence program in the state, and TDHS contracted with them to provide technical assistance and support to community agencies, including manuals and handbooks that laid out evidence-based practices (https://tcfv.org).
With state and national legislative funding expanding throughout the country, Texas became a leader in coalition-building, an example being TCFV’s forming the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV). State coalitions of agencies have since been formed in every state. NNEDV also worked closely with members of Congress to pass the landmark legislation, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994. The importance of this legislation cannot be overstated. (https://tcfv.org; https://nnedv.org/content/our-history; https://www.womenshealth.gov/30-achievements/12).
A vital step forward came in 1989. TCFV advocated to establish the Battering Intervention and Prevention Project (BIPP) in agencies throughout the state. This was one of the first – if not the first – state-funded civilian programs for intervening with offenders; TCFV brought together national organizations and stakeholders such as Men Stopping Violence, Emerge, Dr. Ed Gondolf, and others to advise in the development of program guidelines. Criminal sanctions for offenders have continually been upgraded and expanded, with expertise from TCFV. (https://tcfv.org).
TCFV also sponsors the National Domestic Violence Hotline – since 1996, this 24-hour, national, toll-free hotline, based in Austin, has provided an immediate link to lifesaving help for victims of family violence and abuse (https://thehotline.org).
DCFOF is also a member of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA), a statewide coalition of rape crisis centers, advocates, and survivors. The birth and emergence of this coalition follows a similar path as TCFV, evolving over time into a significant entity pushing for social change and social justice for those impacted by various forms of sexual assault and/or abuse (https://taasa.org).
HISTORY OF DENTON COUNTY FRIENDS OF THE FAMILY
The origins of DCFOF emerged in the late 1970s, when two organizations worked together to launch services for battered women and their children, and for sexual assault survivors. These were the Denton chapter of the National Organization for Women and the Denton Area Crisis Center, which operated a 24-hour a day/7-day a week crisis hotline, both participating in planting the seeds of the agency as we know it today (F. Danis, personal communication, April 23 and 25, 2022).
As was the case across the country, basic crisis hotlines that had been initiated for a variety of crises, regularly received many calls from women victims of violence needing assistance, including, in some cases, shelter. The two Denton organizations set up volunteer training to respond to both crises – domestic violence and sexual assault. Soon a small, 900 square foot shelter was opened near the Texas Woman’s University campus and shelter services began in late 1978. The Women’s Project was born, providing services with one paid staff person and trained volunteers. In 1980, Fran Danis was hired by the Crisis Center to oversee the Women’s Project (F.Danis, personal communication, April 30, 2022).
Financial problems impacted the Crisis Center and, through a series of community meetings soliciting input about rape/domestic violence services, the City of Denton made a commitment to support a new organization with this focus. On October 1, 1980, Denton County Friends of the Family officially launched with a press conference announcing the incorporation of the new agency. Organizational bylaws, articles of incorporation, attainment of 501(c)(3) IRS status, and a board of directors were all made possible through the efforts of local attorneys, government representatives, and concerned citizens (F. Danis, personal communication, April 30, 2022).
A $16,000 grant from the City of Denton gave financial footing for the fledgling agency, staffed by the first Executive Director, Fran Danis, and supported by community volunteers and social work students from Texas Woman’s University and the University of North Texas (F. Danis, personal communication, April 30, 2022).
Private donations were (and still are) critical in supporting the agency, and so staff and volunteers fanned out across the county to join the speakers’ circuits of various women’s and men’s service organizations to educate the public about the realities of rape and domestic violence, and to ask for support. Having two universities in one community has proved to be a boon from the beginning of the agency until now. Benefits include internship placements for social work and psychology students, service projects performed by sororities and fraternities, and faculty members who served on the board of directors, invited DCFOF speakers to their classes, and forged links with university administrators to bring services to campuses (F. Danis, personal communication, April 30, 2022).
An enormous step forward for the agency occurred in 1982, when Denton resident and benefactor, Eugenia P. Rayzor saw a need and donated the land and structure of the 4,400 square foot residential shelter. The Denton Benefit League provided funding for the beautiful children’s playground. The far-reaching generosity and support of the Rayzor family has been a crucial element in the growth and success of DCFOF from these beginnings (F. Danis, personal communication, April 30, 2022).
In 1982 the agency became a Denton County United Way agency and earned grants from the Texas Department of Health and Human Services (TDHHS) for the domestic violence program and an expansion of the sexual assault program. TDHHS also helped fund the beginnings of the Battering Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPP), as did the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in 1989 (https://www.tdcj.texas.gov/divisions/cjad/index.html).
June 2002 marked the beginning of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program. Collaborative efforts by DCFOF and the Children’s Advocacy Center, as well as medical, legal, law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies made this possible. This new response to the needs of patients reporting sexual assault grew from dissatisfaction at the way victims were often treated in hospital emergency departments following assault. Many children’s advocacy centers now use the SANE approach for working with child sexual abuse victims. SANE programs have become a crucial component in the coordinated community response, working with advocacy, law enforcement, and prosecution (Campbell, Patterson, & Lichty, 2005).
From these beginnings, DCFOF has grown in size, expertise, and outreach as other programs, services, and partnerships have evolved. DCFOF is the sole provider in Denton County of shelter and free outreach services to those affected by domestic violence and/or sexual assault. From its very beginnings, DCFOF emerged as an effective and responsive agency. Over the years, it has evolved into an indispensable community partner.
DCFOF funding comes from federal, state, and local governments, the United Way of Denton County, corporations, foundations, groups, individuals, bequests, and endowments. Programs of service have evolved and expanded and the legitimacy and value of the agency to all Denton County residents has been demonstrated for over four decades. Most importantly, the lives and futures of DCFOF clients, and the communities in which they live, have been changed, strengthened, and enriched.
The agency looks forward to carefully designed expansion of existing programs and new initiatives to increase awareness of DCFOF services and to help those impacted by rape, sexual abuse, and domestic violence. The generosity and support of the Rayzor family continues in the donation of land that will become the Family Justice Center. The center will reduce the number of places victims must go for help, increase access to services and support for victims and their children, while enhancing Denton County’s coordinated response (https://www.familyjusticecenter.org).
By Linda L. Marshall, Ph.D., MSSW, ACSW, Associate Professor of Social Work Emerita, Texas Woman's University, Denton, Texas
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