“Force is all-conquering, but its victories are short-lived” – Abraham Lincoln
For decades the well established rule has been that we, as family and divorce mediators, must screen out cases which involve a history of domestic violence (DV) and refer victims to DV counselors. Most of us still adhere to the rule that cases which involve domestic violence should not be mediated at all. However, as noted by Dee DePorto, Senior Clinician of Psychological Counseling Center at SUNY New Paltz, when we prevent the victim from having a choice to participate in a mediation we, in essence, contribute to the pattern of disempowerment, with which she is all too familiar already.Many victims of domestic violence fear repercussions from an abuser if they go to court, obtain an Order of Protection or contact the police. The abuser may actually effectively manipulate the court system and use it as a tool to further threaten victim – i.e. accuse her of mental illness, threaten to take away the children, etc.Fo the last several years, the Domestic Violence and Mediation Safety Project of the Mediation Center of Dutchess County, Inc. has been conducting a bold experiment in empowering victims of domestic violence by allowing them to choose mediation, provided a detailed safety plan is in place. An experienced Domestic Violence consultant works with the Mediator throughout the process, creates a safety plan to be used during mediation sessions and focuses the mediator’s attention on specific red flags which may come up during the sessions. If successful, this type of an environment can actually empower the victim to advocate for herself and the parties to make constructive decisions in mediation.