Would that make it any better?

They did – it’s now called “intimate partner violence.” Ask Mel Gibson. Allegations of violence, threats, intimidation and racist ranting aired in media coverage of tapes made by his ex-companion recently would, if true, make the famous Hollywood star the poster boy for intimate partner violence.

But it’s not just a Hollywood problem. And the problem – by any name – is bigger than ever. Victims include women and children, young and old, rich and poor, black and white.

So what are we going to do about it?

The Junior Leagues were instrumental in the passage of the first federal legislation to address domestic violence in the 1980s, the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act.

Domestic violence remains a focus issue for many Junior Leagues, and the examples of a few demonstrate that effective programs against this long-standing problem can start at the community level, with acts of civic leadership.

The Junior League of Miami’s example goes back to the late 1980s, when the League decided to use a budget surplus of $100,000 in support of women and child victims of domestic violence. The League thought big, and using their initial surplus as seed money, bought an apartment complex to serve as a transitional housing and support center for victims of domestic violence. Inn Transition, as the center is known, is run as a public-private partnership between the Junior League of Miami and Miami-Dade County. Clients of this 20-unit residential center receive childcare support, education and job skills training, mental health counseling and more to break the cycle of violence and enable them to be confident and self-sufficient. In 1992, hoping to replicate the successful impact of INN Transition, and looking to create a long-term impact following the immediate relief response to Hurricane Andrew, the Junior League of Miami decided to found Inn Transition South, a 56-unit apartment complex that provides the same support services so necessary to victims of domestic violence.

In response to Department of Justice studies that indicate that on average one in 12 students are forced into sexual activity in any given month and that more than 65 percent of reported sexual assault victims are under the age of 18, the Junior League of Plano developed the Teen Awareness Program in partnership with Turning Point, their county’s local rape crisis center. The Teen Awareness Program, a weekday educational program for Collin County middle and high school students facilitated by JLP members, uses age appropriate information, games and question/answer time to cover topics such as sexual harassment, sexual assault and dating violence and resources they can turn to for help. To properly gauge the impact of the curriculum, member students are given perception tests before and after the training to evaluate their perceptions of what constitutes appropriate social and dating behavior and how they define sexual harassment. Students gain, on average, a 60 percent increase in knowledge about these topics after completing the program. Although the program operated with an annual budget of $500 it has managed to reach 42 North Texas schools and 50,000 youth over the four-year period after its founding.

Recognizing that witnessing intimate partner violence can be just as traumatic as directly experiencing it, the Junior League of Birmingham, AL, in partnership with the YWCA of Central Alabama developed the Children in Crisis program. Responding to the need for childcare for mothers’ who attended the YWCA’s support group for survivors of intimate partner violence, the League decided to provide more than just childcare by developing a complimentary support program for children. The result is Children in Crisis, a support group for children who have witnessed intimate partner violence in their homes. Children, who often blame themselves for incidents of intimate partner violence, learn that it is not their fault. They also learn that there are healthy alternatives to violence in an effort to break the cycle and teach them that such behaviors are wrong. The program also covers topics such as “good touch” versus “bad touch,” anger management and how to stay safe in an unsafe home in an age-appropriate manner. Mothers are informed about the topics discussed in the children’s group so that they may be better equipped to handle lingering questions their children might have. To date, the Junior League of Birmingham has provided programmatic, financial and volunteer support to the Children in Crisis program for over 15 years.

Can the Leagues “solve” domestic violence? No. But actions we take, whether individually or as a group, make a difference in our communities. That’s civic leadership. And it works.