Making a difference in women's lives

A professor in social work at the University of Northern Iowa promised the women in his research projects, who were battered and battling with substance abuse, that their stories would make a difference. William Downs has been a lifelong advocate for victims of domestic violence and substance abuse. His passion for his research and collaborative partnerships have allowed him continued funding from state and national grantees for his work.

Downs created the Integrated Services Project (ISP) in 1997 to look at the relationship between domestic violence and substance abuse among women in central and eastern Iowa.

"The Integrated Services Project is an example of how UNI reaches out to the community, forming partnerships with nonprofit agencies to improve services for the people of Iowa."

"Approximately 65 percent of women in victim service programs have substance abuse problems, while 90 percent of women in substance abuse treatment have experienced domestic violence." Furthermore, "Abusive partners try to undermine women's sobriety, for example, by stalking and threatening women while they are in residential or outpatient treatment. Women's lack of sobriety can undermine their safety," said Downs.

The mission of ISP is to eliminate any discrimination in services to these women and to enhance their safety and sobriety.  ISP's goal is to reach state agencies across Iowa to improve services. The long-term goal of ISP is to start a national institute to assist other states in developing and implementing similar processes for these services.

Currently, ISP has worked with 17 sites in 51 of Iowa's counties.

ISP works closely with the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) on educational programming for staff at the agencies working with these women.  ISP also conducts Safety and Sobriety Audits of clients at the agencies. The agencies associated with ISP have developed several new services for victims, including dealing with dating violence, sexual assault, and developing healthy relationships.

Downs was unaware of the astounding success rate ISP would have in Iowa. "We did not anticipate the overwhelming positive response to ISP by both victim service and substance abuse treatment programs around the state."

But one thing is for sure, he will continue to improve services and tell these women's stories.

For more information regarding ISP, visit