Circle of Hope Domestic Violence Advocacy Program

The Catawba Indian Nation's Circle of Hope Domestic Violence Advocacy Program provides holistic, culturally-competent services for victims of domestic violence on the Catawba Indian Nation. Program staff provide a coordinated emergency response, including safe shelter, food and clothing, individual counseling, transportation, accompaniment to court and medical appointments, and housing. The program incorporates cultural activities and traditional healing practices. Program staff also offer a range of legal and advocacy services for women with child custody or divorce cases, or who may need assistance filing orders of protection. Additionally, the program engages the community through awareness and prevention programs about domestic violence. 

Location: The Catawba Indian Nation’s headquarters are located in Rock Hill, South Carolina. 

Land Characteristics: The Catawba Reservation comprises two separate sections in York County, South Carolina, both east of Rock Hill along the west bank of the Catawba River.

Population: As of 2006, the Catawba Indian Nation had approximately 2,600 members. Most of the tribe’s members live in South Carolina, with smaller groups in Oklahoma, Colorado, and elsewhere. The Catawba Reservation reported a population of 841 inhabitants for the 2010 U.S. Census.

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Problem to be Addressed

In the early 2000s, the Catawba Indian Nation’s Department of Social Services received a high volume of clients who had been sexually assaulted or abused. The Department of Social Services was not equipped to provide victims with the services they needed, and the community had nowhere else to refer victims of sexual abuse. As a result, victims had few options for their medical, legal, therapeutic, and spiritual needs.

Target Population 

The target population for this program includes any tribal member who has been the victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or sexual abuse.

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Program Goals and Objectives

The primary goal of the Circle of Hope Program is to provide direct and culturally-competent services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and sexual abuse. Secondary goals include educating tribal members about the effects of domestic violence on children and encouraging awareness among teens in order to break the intergenerational cycle of domestic violence.

Program Design

The Circle of Hope Domestic Violence Advocacy Program responds directly to emergency calls, collaborating with law enforcement at the scene of the incident. The program offers emergency housing, a women’s shelter on the reservation, food and clothing, individual counseling, transportation, accompaniment to court and medical appointments, as well as a range of legal services regarding child custody, divorce, and orders of protection.

Program staff conduct an individualized intake assessment for victims who seek services. The assessment includes questions about the victim’s cultural needs, and program staff can use this information to connect clients to cultural modes of healing. For example, two staff members take groups of women to a sweat lodge every other month. One staff member accompanies the women into the sweat while the other waits outside with any women who decide not to enter. In addition, the program’s advisory committee includes both a medicine woman and a medicine man, who help incorporate culture and tradition into the healing process. The medicine woman also works at the local health clinic, where she screens women for domestic violence and sexual assault. The program facilitates client participation in other traditional practices as well, including smudging and traditional dance. At the annual pow-wow, survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault perform a special dance to the Women’s Honor Song, which they learn from tribal elders at the Cultural Center.

Additionally, program staff conduct community outreach and educational activities. The program has hosted two community summits to explain the available services and answer questions from community members. Program staff hope to host future summits in order to continue community outreach and the improvement of its services. As a long-term goal, staff would like to set up a hotline for victims. They currently have at least one advocate on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, using a cell phone.

Program Administration

The program’s staff includes two full-time advocates, one part-time therapist, and one full-time administrative assistant.

Case Flow Process

Eligibility Criteria

The program accepts all referrals and walk-ins, regardless of tribal membership status, and attempts to provide services for any person in need.

Referral Process

Most referrals come from the local police department, which refers all Native victims to the Circle of Hope Program. Referrals also come from family members and friends of victims. Some victims choose to self-refer. There are posters in the community advertising the program’s services, which are intended to encourage victims to come forward. Additionally, program staff conduct direct outreach to youth. Once a referral has been made, services are offered immediately. 

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The program was awarded a grant from the federal Office on Violence Against Women in October of 2009. At that time, basic services were already offered and funded through the tribe’s Department of Social Services—the new grant allowed the Circle of Hope Program to expand services. It took about four months to plan the program expansion, and the program began offering its current range of services in February 2010. The program was re-funded in 2013 under a new grant from the Office on Violence Against Women, allowing the Circle of Hope to become the first program under the tribe’s newly created Department of Justice.

The grant currently pays for the salaries of the program’s two full-time advocates as well as the administrative assistant.  Additionally, the grant covers the first 15 hours/week for the program’s therapist, while a separate grant funds the remaining 14 hours.

The program submits biannual reports to the Office on Violence Against Women that include number of clients served, the number of times each client is served, client demographics (including the type of relationship between victim and offender), and the number and type of services provided.

Training and Technical Assistance

An Office on Violence Against Women training and technical assistance provider conducted a site visit to help the Circle of Hope Program develop program protocols and policies.  


During the early planning phases, the program’s founders included the York County Sheriff’s Department, the tribe’s Director of Social Services, and a tribal grant writer. The tribe recently received funding to start a Boys and Girls Club, and program staff expect to work closely with it once it opens.

Factors Contributing to Success

  • Having a staff well versed in the rules of confidentiality to avoid inadvertently harming or endangering clients. Staff also have the flexibility to meet with clients in a neutral location to protect their identity.
  • Having clearly-defined roles for all staff and partner agencies.
  • Willingness to consider new ideas for expanding and strengthening the program.


One of the biggest challenges for the Circle of Hope Program was establishing a good working relationship with the local sheriff’s department, which hadn’t had prior experience collaborating with victim advocates. Program staff met in person with the sheriff’s department to discuss their role and the specific cultural needs of victims and created a plan to work together in a way that both serves victims and makes the police officers’ jobs easier. The program and sheriff’s department have developed an excellent working relationship.

Lessons Learned

Staff recommends that tribes considering a domestic violence advocacy program conduct site visits to see what other tribes are doing to address the issue. Also, training and technical assistance providers can be very helpful in identifying how similar programs operate at other tribes and thinking about how to learn from their experiences.

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Number Served

The program provides victim services to a minimum of 25 community members each year.

Program Effectiveness

As part of the program’s discharge process, clients fill out an evaluation rating the services provided and seeking recommendations for improving the program. Clients also have the opportunity to provide personal narratives about how the program was helpful to them. The program is currently compiling data from the evaluations in order to identify areas for improvement. 

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