Community Domestic Violence Advocacy Program

The Puyallup Tribe of Indians' Community Domestic Violence Advocacy Program seeks to address domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking in the Puyallup tribal community by using a holistic approach that emphasizes healing as a necessary component of justice. The program provides a broad range of victim services, including advocacy, in-court support, a women’s shelter, and support groups that bring tradition and culture into the healing process. In addition to victim services, the program runs a culturally-based program for offenders, where men can address their underlying issues and break the cycle of violence. Finally, the program engages the whole Puyallup community by increasing awareness of domestic violence and providing information about available services.

Program Running Length: 1998 - Present

Land Characteristics: The Puyallup reservation is a contiguous land base of 28.5 square miles in Tacoma, Washington. The Puyallup reservation is one of the most urban reservations in the United States. 
Population: There are 4,541 enrolled members in the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, approximately 2,500 of whom live on the reservation. In addition, there are over 27,500 non-Puyallup Native Americans who also reside locally and have access to Puyallup services.
“Part of healing is remembering who you are. And you are strong, powerful Native women who can do anything.” – Billie Barnes
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Problem to Be Addressed

Before the program opened in 1998, domestic violence was a major challenge in the Puyallup Tribal community. There were few resources available to assist victims, and it was difficult to address the problem holistically using the western adversarial court model. Puyallup elders felt that the tribe was not able to address violence in ways that allowed the family and community to find healing. The Community Domestic Violence Advocacy Program sought to address those gaps by increasing access to services for victims, creating opportunities for healing among those who have been affected by domestic violence, and educating the community.

Target Population

The Community Domestic Violence Advocacy Program seeks to help victims and families who are experiencing domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, or stalking. The program serves both male and female victims, but only women and their children are allowed in the shelter. The program is primarily designed to serve tribal members, but it is open to anyone who calls the program hotline, including individuals living with tribal members and other Natives Americans living on tribal land.

Program History

In the mid-1990s, several severe incidents of domestic violence in the Puyallup community motivated an elder named Carol Walker to create the Community Domestic Violence Advocacy Program. At the time, a lack of resources and coordination among law enforcement, prosecution, court, and service providers made it extremely difficult to offer support to victims and address domestic violence effectively.

Ms. Walker approached tribal leaders about the need to increase access to justice for victims of domestic violence and was eventually hired as program coordinator. She convened a multidisciplinary team, which in 1996 applied for and won a Social and Economic Development Strategies grant from the Administration for Native Americans. The grant enabled the tribe to contract with Katherine Horne, of the South Puget Inter-Tribal Planning Agency, to help develop the tribe’s first comprehensive domestic violence action plan.  

During the next few years, the program hired several new domestic violence advocates and began conducting trainings with the tribal court judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers to help departments work together to protect victims and families in the tribe.

The Domestic Violence Advocacy Program encountered some challenges in the early 2000s, such as losing its office as a result of the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake, and later, cuts to its program staff because of funding issues. In 2009, however, the tribal council donated a 5-bedroom house to the program and allocated funding to remodel the house into program offices and a children’s playroom. In 2015, the program was awarded several competitive grants from the Department of Justice, which have allowed the program to expand and strengthen their existing services.

“The mission of the Community Domestic Violence Advocacy Program is to address the violence and abuse affecting our community, provide support and advocacy to victims and survivors, and embrace our traditional values promoting honor and respect toward all people. ha?A I(i) adslabcebut (Watch over yourself well).”
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Program Goals

The program staff has worked hard to ensure that Puyallup traditions have been incorporated into the program. At its core, the Community Domestic Violence Program is about finding healing within the self as part of seeking justice. To help victims and survivors find healing, program staff have created a curriculum that incorporates Puyallup values. Additionally, the program uses traditional drum circles and the gift of singing to help victims and abusers move through the healing process.

The program has three primary goals:

  1. Help victims of domestic violence, and the community, to find safety and healing.
  2. Advocate for positive changes in the justice system’s response to domestic violence.
  3. Increase community awareness around domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking.

Program Design

The Community Domestic Violence Advocacy Program works with clients to help them break away from their abusers and obtain safety for themselves and their families. The program takes a diverse approach to addressing domestic violence in the Puyallup community, offering a variety of services and programs:
  • Advocacy Program 
  • Shelter
  • Women’s Group
  • Domestic Violence Treatment Program
  • Community Outreach and Public Education
  • Sexual Assault Program
Advocacy Program: While breaking away from an abuser is challenging for many victims of domestic violence, it can be particularly difficult for Indian women who live in close-knit communities. The program’s domestic violence advocate helps victims create a safety plan and work toward achieving it. The advocate also helps victims gain access to services and navigate the justice system. For example, the advocate explains the legal process to victims, helps them obtain orders of protection, and can also accompany victims to court. The advocate can also refer clients to other services in the community. 
Shelter: The program operates a five-bedroom shelter located in a safe, remote location. The shelter has 16 beds and can accommodate women and their children. The shelter does not serve male victims. The tribal council donated this building to the program in 2010 to provide a safe space and transitional housing to survivors of domestic violence. During their stay, women are encouraged to participate in individual counseling and group sessions, seek out new housing and employment, and engage in traditional crafts. 
Women’s Group: The program runs weekly support groups and educational sessions for women. These groups include a drumming circle, training programs, and volunteer events. A support group called the Women’s Healing Circle invites survivors to come together and support each other in healing while they share their experiences. The Women’s Healing Circle meets for four hours each week, and incorporates traditional aspects of Puyallup ceremony and medicine such as smudging, brushing off with a feather, drumming, sharing a meal, singing, praying with tobacco, and storytelling, to help the women come together and find healing. The program also offers a children’s support group.
Training programs have included a ten-week Safe Dates dating abuse prevention program, and a twelve-week life skills training course. The Safe Dates training is based on an existing curriculum, which program staff adapted to meet the needs of the women in their community. The life skills training course works with the women’s support group and the children’s support group to offer lessons that can help strengthen families. Additionally, as part of an empowerment initiative, the program also partners with an organization known as Warrior Spirit to send victims and survivors to participate in a retreat program called Leap of Faith.
Domestic Violence Treatment Program: The Domestic Violence Treatment Program is a state-certified, culturally-relevant, batterers intervention program that has a Men’s Healing Circle and is run by one full-time counselor and one part-time counselor. Similar to the circles used in the women’s group, the Men’s Circle uses traditional medicines to help the men heal and come to terms with their actions as a part of their healing. The program is careful not to use shame-based tactics, and focuses instead on forgiveness as an aspect of healing. Participants may be mandated to the program by either state courts or tribal courts, but can also participate on a voluntary basis. 
Community Outreach and Public Education: The program’s community outreach efforts include information booths, classes, and events intended to increase awareness of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. Events include an annual candlelight vigil, the annual Night Out Against Crime, and participation in powwows. Program staff also give presentations at local high schools on teen dating violence. The program has also conducted surveys on sexual assault in their community and has submitted articles to the tribal newspaper.

Sexual Assault Program: The program has recently received a grant to begin offering advocacy and outreach to victims of sexual assault and will be expanding their services to offer a sexual assault women’s support group. Also under this new grant, the program will be developing and performing a silent play focusing on understanding the dynamics of sexual assault and healing. 

Program Administration

The program’s main office houses the program director, legal advocate, community advocate, children’s activity coordinator, office assistant, and two counselors. Separately, the shelter is run by eight full-time staff—seven “house sisters” and one shelter manager/advocate.

Case Flow Process

Eligibility Criteria

The Community Domestic Violence Advocacy Program works with victims and families who are experiencing domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, or stalking. The program serves both male and female victims, but only women and their children are allowed in the shelter. Though the program’s primary focus is on members of the Puyallup Tribe, it provides services to anyone who calls their hotline, include individuals who are living with tribal members or those living on tribal land.

Referral Process

Clients can be referred by the tribal court, Kwawachee Mental Health, and Takopid Health Authority. In addition, the program is open to walk-ins and self-referrals, including individuals who call the hotline for help.

Supervision and Compliance

Victims Services – There are no supervision and compliance requirements for the victim services component of the program’s work as all services are voluntary.

Batterers Program – The program reports to probation and the court regarding participants’ compliance with the batterers program.

Termination Criteria

Program services are terminated only when the client and advocate determine that he or she is no longer in need of services. The shelter generally limits a client's stay to six weeks, during which staff assist women in setting goals to stabilize their lives, find employment, and secure safe housing. Shelter stays can be extended if a client needs more time and is working to become independent.

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The Community Domestic Violence Advocacy Program was initially funded by the Administration for Native Americans. In 1996, the program also received a STOP Violence Against Women grant from the Department of Justice to build program infrastructure, revise the tribe’s domestic violence code, and develop a comprehensive domestic violence action plan. STOP Violence Against Women funding continued until 2006 and was used to enhance the advocacy program, offer trainings, and develop protocols, policies, and procedures. STOP funds were also used to create weekly support groups, increase prosecution of domestic violence cases, and support court-mandated participation in the batterers program.

From 1998 to 2005, the program received funding from the Department of Justice’s Grants to Encourage Arrest Program. This funding enabled tribal law enforcement to hire a domestic violence investigator and allowed the prosecutor’s office to hire two support staff. In addition, funding helped the program provide training for tribal court judges, develop a domestic violence bench book, and increase collaboration between tribal, state, and regional domestic violence task forces.

Additional funding has also come from the federal Administration for Children and Families, Office for Victims of Crime, and Office on Violence Against Women. This funding has allowed the program to enhance services for victims, such as hiring a domestic violence treatment counselor and implementing the Safe Paths curriculum.

Technical Assistance

The program often contracts with the WomenSpirit Coalition, located in Olympia, Washington. Among other services, the WomenSpirit Coalition has helped the program administer sexual assault trainings, offer staff self-assessments, and refine the program’s policies and procedures.


The Community Domestic Violence Advocacy Program developed early relationships with Mending the Sacred Hoop, located in Minnesota, and Sacred Circle (Cangleska), from South Dakota. The program has also partnered with several local organizations, such Warrior Spirit, in order to offer additional programing including Leap of Faith, an empowerment retreat and training program for survivors of domestic violence.

Factors Contributing to Success

According to program staff, three main factors contributed to the program's success:

  1. Grant Funding – Grants funding has been crucially important to building and maintaining the program for nearly 20 years.
  2. Tribal Funding – In recent years, the tribe has been a main source of program funding and has supported the continued expansion and enhancement of the program.
  3. Committed Staff – Program staff have been willing to go beyond their job descriptions to keep facilities and programs running, and to help keep victims safe.


  • Staff Shortage – Maintaining sufficient staff to run the programs and the shelter has proved difficult. Although there are technically eight full-time staff at the shelter, illness, family medical leave, and other issues often mean that the shelter is run by as few as four staff.
  • Burn Out – Staff are asked to work very hard, put in significant overtime, and deal with challenging and emotional situations. There are times when staff can feel overwhelmed. The program director explained that it can “feel like I’ve picked up sand and it’s going through my fingers.”
  • Shelter Location – The shelter is located in an isolated area. This location helps to keep victims safe, but it also poses challenges. Many clients don’t have a car, and the nearest bus stop is miles away. This lack of reliable transportation makes it extremely difficult for victims staying at the shelter to seek employment and access other needed resources.

Lessons Learned

 “Each client has their own experiences and deserves to be supported in their life.” 

“It is best to give clients responsibilities instead of rules and to have their own goals and how they can reach them instead of program goals.”
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Number Served

The program serves over 200 clients per year. In 2013, there were 178 clients who actively used the Domestic Violence Advocacy Program in addition to over 400 one-time contacts. The program also housed 30 women and 35 children in the shelter that year.

Program Effectiveness

The program measures its effectiveness using the following performance measures.

  • Number of people served and the services provided.
  • Clients are safe.
  • Clients no longer need services.
  • Clients become more self-sufficient and need less assistance.
  • Clients obtain their own safe housing.
  • Clients learn how to set healthy boundaries.
  • Clients start providing advocacy and referring other clients to resources.
  • Clients graduate from the domestic violence treatment program.
  • Clients form friendships in the program.

Success Stories

During a women’s circle, one newer client asked for help and a long-time client offered suggestions for resolving housing issues and getting a restraining order. “It is always rewarding to see the clients take the knowledge they have gained and pass it along to support each other.”

One woman who struggled for months to find housing finally rented a place and got furniture with the help of program staff. She is excited and happy to be living in a secure space of her own. 

A client who had to move and change her job many times because of stalking by her spouse has obtained a divorce and settlement, found a safe place to live, and secured a job she is thriving in. Staff stay in contact with her and report how happy and vibrant she is.

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