Courtesy of Assistant Attorney General Karol V. Mason
When President Obama proclaimed October Domestic Violence Awareness month on September 30, he noted the progress made since the passage of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). He singled out the fact that domestic violence is no longer hidden behind the closed doors of the home, but has been brought into the national arena as a matter of grave social concern. “We have changed our laws, transformed our culture, and improved support services for survivors,” he said, yet we must “resolve to carry on until domestic violence is no more.”
With this year’s passage of the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA 2013), Attorney General Eric Holder stated: “This reauthorization includes crucial new provisions to improve our ability to bring hope and healing to the victims of these crimes, expand access to justice, and strengthen the prosecutorial and enforcement tools available to hold perpetrators accountable.”
The VAWA reauthorization gives better resources to law enforcement to investigate rapes, incentives to colleges to educate students about dating violence, and authority to tribal courts to prosecute anyone – tribal member or not – who commits domestic violence on tribal lands. VAWA 2013 also adds provisions to aid immigrant and LGBT victims of domestic violence. More relief for victims comes in the Affordable Care Act, which requires new health plans to cover domestic violence screening and counseling with no copayments or cost sharing.
But despite this progress, one in four women and one in seven men in the United States still suffer serious physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner at least once during their lifetimes. Every day, three women lose their lives in this country as a result of domestic violence. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological. It includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone. Domestic violence can happen to anyone regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender and affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels. Throughout this month and the year ahead we are reminded that each of us has a role to play in recognizing and responding to these crimes.
I am proud to say that the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) has long provided services and research to assist practitioners, law enforcement and victims.
For example, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1998 to cosponsor the groundbreaking National Violence Against Women Survey , which revealed that violence is more widespread and detrimental to women’s and men’s health than had been previously thought. NIJ also released a summary of domestic violence research for law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges on the crime’s perpetrators and victims, as well as the implications of that research for practitioners and policymakers. As part of Attorney General Holder’s Defending Childhood initiative, in 2010 OJP began to award grants to help communities develop comprehensive, multidisciplinary plans to improve their prevention, intervention and response systems for children exposed to violence in the home and in their communities.
Our Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) gives priority to domestic violence in its administration of the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), requiring states and territories to allocate a minimum of 10 percent of their VOCA assistance funds to serve victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. This makes VOCA funds a primary source of federal support for the thousands of domestic violence programs and shelters in the country. OVC also provides discretionary funds to reach special populations of underserved victims of domestic violence, such as victims living abroad and victims with disabilities.
Some of the most effective work being done in OJP on ending the scourge of domestic violence is in testing theories and practices to find out what really works. OJP’s “crime solutions.gov” website, administered by NIJ, presents research on the effectiveness of programs and practices and assigns them easily understandable ratings – Effective, Promising or No Effects – so practitioners can study them and determine whether a program that works in one setting can be replicated in another. CrimeSolutions.gov currently shows ratings for 28 programs aimed at stemming domestic violence. Of these, eight receive the highest rating, “effective,” while 17 are viewed as “promising.”
OJP encourages everyone to use and share our resources, available throughout the year at www.ojp.gov. Learn even more by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE, or by visiting www.TheHotline.org. OJP works closely with the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women, which provides additional resources to address domestic violence: www.ovw.usdoj.gov. The more we know about this once-taboo subject, the more power we will have to end it. As President Obama said, “let us honor National Domestic Violence Awareness Month by promoting peace in our own families, homes, and communities. Let us renew our commitment to end domestic violence – in every city, every town, and every corner of America.”
The author is the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs of the Department of Justice