‘Duluth Model’ shines on global stage

In the 30-odd years since Ellen Pence and Michael Paymar introduced the "Duluth Model" for addressing domestic violence, the initiative has been replicated in all 50 states and more than a dozen countries around the world.

Press conference
Mona Dohman, Minnesota public safety commissioner, speaks during a news conference at Duluth City Hall about the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program’s “Duluth Model” on Tuesday afternoon. The program has been awarded international recognition by the World Future Council as the top program for the prevention of abuse of women and girls in the world. (Clint Austin /

In the 30-odd years since Ellen Pence and Michael Paymar introduced the “Duluth Model” for addressing domestic violence, the initiative has been replicated in all 50 states and more than a dozen countries around the world.
The model has earned national and international recognition for pioneering mandatory arrests in domestic abuse cases and forging collaboration between agencies, including police, courts, probation officers and human services.
On Tuesday, the model earned perhaps its biggest honor yet: It was named the best policy in the world for addressing violence against women and girls.
The World Future Council, an international policy-driven organization, announced the Duluth Model as the “gold star” winner of the Future Policy Award for 2014. The model was selected from among 25 initiatives, laws and policies from around the world that were previously named as finalists.
“We just love that it’s a policy that’s being awarded - not just people,” said Melissa Scaia, executive director of the nonprofit Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs. “There are people who created it and now people who are moving it forward.”
Paymar, co-founder of the model and a state representative from St. Paul, and John Beyer, former Duluth deputy police chief and a DAIP board member, traveled to Switzerland to accept the award,
while local domestic abuse victims’ advocates and law enforcement officials gathered for a ceremony in Duluth.
The policy was selected for its “coordinated community response,” World Future Council officials said.
Karin Heisecke, the organization’s senior project manager for ending violence against women and girls, said many national and local jurisdictions around the world have implemented domestic abuse laws and policies, but rarely do they translate well from paper to practice.
“The Duluth Model is exemplary in that it really addresses what other laws and governments have not achieved,” Heisecke told the News Tribune in a telephone interview from Geneva. “It’s important to have a policy on paper, but you need to get all of those stakeholders - all the people involved in the implementation - to work together for it to be successful.”
Duluth Police Chief Gordon Ramsay said he and many others working in the local criminal justice system have never known any other way of handling domestic abuse cases.
“As we’ve had people from around the country and around the world come here and study how we handle domestic incidents, it’s made me realize how fortunate we are and how engrained in our system it has become,” he said.
Ramsay said he can see why it is hard for other communities to adapt the ways in which they handle domestic abuse cases. Change is a slow process, he said.
“It’s hard to make changes in these systems,” Ramsay said. “I can’t imagine the process they went through back in the late ’70s and early ’80s when they were pushing these changes.”
Scaia said she regularly fields questions about the model from around the world, mostly from advocates and officials who read about it online. The recognition that comes with the Future Policy Award could change that, she said.
The World Future Council will actively promote the model to policymakers, Heisecke said.
The Duluth Model aims to take the blame off the victims and give them a voice, Scaia said. The sometimes-controversial program also focuses on giving treatment and counseling to men who batter in an effort to prevent future abuse.
St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin commended advocates and officials for their “relentless efforts to address the scourge of domestic violence.”
“The work is often heartbreaking, exhausting and overwhelming,” Rubin said. “However, the struggle is so rewarding because working together, we truly do make a difference. The lives of women and girls who have been victims of domestic violence are changed for the better - hopefully forever.”
Duluth Mayor Don Ness spoke about his mother, who worked at a battered women’s shelter for 20 years. He said he’s proud to have the community’s name associated with a program that has been among the world’s most successful in combating domestic violence.
“Duluth is blessed with community leaders who have continued this effort for 33 years,” he said. “Hundreds have given their careers, given their time, to keep this model alive, to promote it across the world.”
U.S. Sen. Al Franken wrote a letter of support, congratulating the program on its success and thanking advocates and officials for their work to end domestic violence.
“We’ve shown the world that a single community that desired to end domestic violence can, by forming vital partnerships, saving lives and giving voice to victims and their experiences,” Franken wrote.
State Rep. Mary Murphy of Hermantown said the Duluth Model was the program that made state legislators take notice of domestic abuse issues and allocate funding for the needs of victims and treatment facilities.
Still, Murphy said, it’s a problem that has not gone away.
“It’s kind of bittersweet that we’re winning an international award for the work that’s been going on for so long, and yet we have no less need for the help that we have to give to the people that come for our service,” she said.
The World Future Council selected the topic of domestic abuse for this year’s award because it’s as “pressing as ever,” Heisecke said. The council has in previous years awarded policies that address topics such as disarmament, protection of oceans and coasts, biodiversity and food security.
“One in every three women is affected by some form of violence,” Heisecke said. “It’s happening with pandemic proportions, and we need to scale up policy responses that work.”
The World Future Council on Tuesday also recognized the following governments and organizations:
* Burkina Faso, a small African nation, for its 1996 law prohibiting female genital mutilation.
* Austria, for policies that provide legal and social assistance to victims of domestic abuse.
* The Council of Europe, an international human rights organization, that has initiated a global treaty aimed at preventing and combatting violence against women.

Melissa Scaia
Melissa Scaia, the Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs’ executive director, speaks Tuesday at Duluth City Hall about the “Duluth Model,” which has won international recognition. (Clint Austin /

Related Topics: POLICECRIME
Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or
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