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Ellen Pence: Her Contributions to Fighting Domestic Violence

Crystal D. Gordon is a SoCal-based communications consultant, social worker, and writer.

Thank you, Dr. Ellen Pence

Thank you, Dr. Ellen Pence

Who Was Ellen Pence?

  • Ellen Pence was instrumental in institutional change work and questioned why the state took no responsibility for ensuring the safety of battered women from their violent partners.
  • Pence worked for over thirty years to end domestic violence (DV) among women and children.
  • She sought answers and accountability from many people in positions of authority (e.g., judges, prosecutors, politicians, officers, etc.) for their lack of response to physical and sexual abuses toward women within their community.
  • She co-founded the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, MN, where she made great contributions to the field of DV.
  • Working as director of Praxis International, Inc., she innovated research by incorporating community advocacy to improve training and interventions for DV issues.
  • Pence’s work has caused helping professionals re-evaluate their practices and restructure the services they provide in the area of DV.

Ellen Pence's Background

  • Pence was born on April 15, 1948, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
  • She graduated from St. Scholastica in the city of Duluth with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
  • Her mother, Audrie Pence, motivated her to be an activist and as a young adult in the 1960s, she became involved in anti-war and civil rights efforts, as well as feminist movements and housing advocacy.
  • Pence was also active in the battered women’s movement and during the late 1970s, she advocated for funding to aid battered women’s shelters in the State of Minnesota.
  • In the 1980s, Pence linked up with a group of activists and together they organized the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, otherwise referred to as the “Duluth Model”, which was named after the Minnesota city (e.g., Duluth) where it was developed. This model remains an effective, strategic blueprint for DV issues across the U.S. and UK.

DV Contributions

The Duluth model intends to redirect focus toward interventions.

The Duluth Model

  • It was designed to stop an offender’s use of violence, rather than attempt to repair their relationship.
  • It uses the state’s power to exercise control over an offender’s behavior via arrests and prosecutions.
  • It monitors the offender’s compliance with conditions of mandated counseling, probation, and restraining orders.
  • It provides abused victims with supportive services and works to shield their children from DV by determining visitation settings.
  • This model also entices some men to change their behavior, while it identifies others who are defiant and pose threats toward women, as well as the community.

Pence also created the "Power and Control Wheel” with the Duluth program from narratives on women’s experiences with abuse.

This contribution explains the multifaceted collection of tactics that abusers will often use to instill fear and attain control over their partners (e.g., isolation, emotional abuse, stalking, using their children as a weapon, and victim-blaming).

The ”Power and Control Wheel” is now used worldwide in DV training by a plethora of helping professionals. Its narrative format allows clients to respond to vignettes, which help engage the men in a reflective process.

The Power and Control Wheel and the Duluth Model of DV have proven to be an effective tool for working with clients who are presenting DV issues.

Concurrently, Pence’s work was embedded in gender analysis and in coordinated community response to DV.

Ellen at the University of Toronto

Ellen at the University of Toronto

This is how Ellen Pence described the Blueprint for Safety, a set of coordinated protocols for city and county agencies responding to misdemeanor and felony assaults.

This is how Ellen Pence described the Blueprint for Safety, a set of coordinated protocols for city and county agencies responding to misdemeanor and felony assaults.

Activist Research

  • In 1996, Pence attained her Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Toronto.
  • She focused on legislation, legal reform, DV program development, and training programs for various justice department personnel and human service providers.
  • Pence preferred a systems theory approach when tackling DV issues.
  • She held that institutions either improved or reduced the victim’s level of safety by the interventions they implemented on a macro level. This perspective considers that if a victim’s safety is compromised, then the blame should probably lie with systemic glitches rather than individual workers.
  • Canadian sociologist Dorothy Smith heavily influenced Pence while she studied at the University of Toronto.
  • Built upon Smith’s analytic practices, Pence developed the Safety and Accountability Audit, which is used to chart the worker's response within any organization. This assessment tool can help evaluate theories on DV, rules, policies, and procedures that guide the response to instances of DV from a group or a program.
  • Pence later moved to St. Paul, MN, where she founded Praxis International in 1998. Praxis International, Inc. provides national training to help communities handle DV cases more effectively by using the components of the Safety and Accountability Audit.
  • In 2007, Pence illustrated her diplomatic character as she and her colleagues partnered with the City of St. Paul in order to start writing a comprehensive plan, which integrated thirty years of research, practice, and projects. They called this plan the Blueprint for Safety. Pence also referred to the plan as “The Duluth Model on steroids”.
Documents and resources developed for communities adapting, implementing, and sustaining The Blueprint for Safety.

Documents and resources developed for communities adapting, implementing, and sustaining The Blueprint for Safety.

Blueprint For Safety: Program

This Blueprint is founded upon six foundational principles, which are essential in any intervention that aims to maximize the safety of victims and hold the offenders accountable:

  1. Adherence to an interagency approach and collective intervention goals.
  2. Build attention to the context and lethality of the abuse in each intervention.
  3. Recognize that most DV is a patterned crime, which requires continuous engagement with victims and offenders.
  4. Establish assurance of prompt and definite consequences for continued abuse.
  5. Use of the power of the criminal justice system to send messages of help and accountability.
  6. Act to reduce unintended consequences and disparity of impact on victims and offenders.

These key principles focus on the risk of death that DV victims face when they attempt to leave their batterer.

Pence published other book chapters and papers on institutional responses to the issue of violence against women, as well as, several educational manuals and curricula for classes geared toward battered women, men who batter, and law enforcement officers.

She co-authored two fundamental books: Educational Groups for Men Who Batter: The Duluth Model and Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence: Lessons from the Duluth Model.

She also received numerous awards including the 2008 Society for the Study of Social Problems Dorothy E. Smith Scholar Activist Award, which honored Pence for her significant contributions in a career of activist research.

Ellen Pence's Recognitions

Awards and Recognition for Ellen



Society for the Study of Social Problems Dorothy E. Smith Scholar Activist Award

For significant contributions in a career of activist research


North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence

For over 30 years of working to end violence against women


National Family Justice Center

Lifetime Achievement Award


Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

For continued contributions to the discourse of domestic violence in Michigan and throughout the nation


National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

Recognition resolution of lifetime achievements


Manavi 25th Anniversary Gala Award

For her dedicated service and community commitment to ending violence against women


City of Duluth: Mayoral proclamation

For Ellen Pence Day


The Attorney General’s Award

For Meritorious Service

Ellen's Legacy

Ellen Pence inspired many people to innovate and move on from the antiquated ideology of DV. Pence was a beacon of hope for all people due to her exemplary advocacy on behalf of battered women. Her restless efforts certainly aided in the transformation of legal and social institutions.

On January 6th, 2012, Pence passed away from a long battle with breast cancer. Her partner, Amanda McCormick; her son, Liam; and her mother, two sisters, and a brother survive her.

Pence’s time on this earth was spent doing what she loved, she did more than simply succeed, she triumphed, which is to be commended. Pence’s life is an encouraging reminder that one person can affect ever-lasting change, an accomplishment all should strive for.

From left to right: Amanda, Liam, and Ellen

From left to right: Amanda, Liam, and Ellen

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.