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The Importance of Understanding Trauma-Informed Care and Self-Care for Victim Service Providers
July 30, 2014 Posted by

If you are reading this, the chances are great that you know from personal experience – as a survivor, as someone who works day in and day out with survivors, as someone who witnessed abuse -   that sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking are deeply traumatic crimes that can cause severe damage to survivors’ emotional, spiritual, and psychological well-being. You probably also know that far too many survivors are harmed or retraumatized by insensitive, uninformed, or inadequate community and criminal justice system responses. And, far too often, first responders, including rape crisis counselors, domestic violence advocates, and police officers, are unaware of the impact trauma can have on their own lives.

At OVW, we know the critical importance of service providers who are trained to recognize and understand the impact of trauma on survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking, what is referred to as trauma-informed care. Trauma-informed care emphasizes creating services and programs that are sensitive and directly responsive to the trauma that many survivors experience after a violent crime. Trauma-informed care programs identify and limit potential triggers to reduce their retraumatization and protect their mental and emotional health. OVW has a long history supporting a number of trauma-informed care programs that provide culturally and linguistically competent services and a space for healing based on empowerment and hope.

Understanding trauma can be complicated.  For victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking, trauma can stem from an isolated incident, from repeated incidents over a lifetime, or from a pattern of ongoing violence.  And, this violence and trauma can be compounded by multi-generational and/or historical trauma. Exposure to “cumulative emotional and psychological wounding over the lifespan and across generations, emanating from massive group trauma experiences” such as colonization, war, or genocide, can magnify an already devastating crime. It is important for services providers to remember that because of historical trauma, many survivors of violent crime, such as those from African American, immigrant and American Indian/Alaska Native communities, are forced to confront multiple layers of traumatic experiences as they recover and heal.

OVW grantees and technical assistance providers are increasing the availability of safe and destigmatizing community and law enforcement programs that are sensitive to trauma. One grantee, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), is using OVW funding to develop and promote a new and innovative course for service providers, “The Brain, Body, and Trauma.” This online course covers the psychological and neurobiological impacts of sexual violence related trauma and gives victim service providers the skills necessary to offer trauma-informed services. OVW also supports trainings and information on supporting survivors recovering from historical trauma. For example, in 2012 OVW’s Tribal Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalitions Grant Program funded 13 trainings for professionals to improve their ability to address historical trauma experienced by American Indian and Alaska Native survivors.

We have also learned that law enforcement is most effective in combating violence against women when officers and staff have been trained to recognize and address the truly devastating mental and emotional trauma that many survivors experience in the aftermath of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking. That’s why OVW is proud to support the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) to provide law enforcement agencies with on-site Trauma Informed Sexual Assault Investigation trainings. These trainings provide a comprehensive look at how law enforcement agencies can be sensitive to survivors’ needs and avoid retraumatization while employing the most effective methods to investigate crimes. Too often, a lack of understanding about how victims of violence react to trauma leads police officers to wrongly dismiss the accounts of survivors, which is why IACP’s trainings also include detailed lessons on how trauma can negatively impact survivors’ memory, reactions, and demeanor when recounting how they were abused or attacked.

Providing trauma-informed services for survivors highlights the closely related issue of vicarious trauma experienced by many service providers, law enforcement personnel, and others who work with victims and survivors of violence. Vicarious trauma, sometimes called ‘provider fatigue,’ ‘compassion fatigue,’ or ‘secondary trauma,’ has been described as the “experience of having exhausted hearts, minds, bodies, and souls from helping survivors through their painful experiences.” Over the course of months or years the effects of vicarious trauma can accumulate, and, if left unaddressed, can do serious damage to the mental and emotional wellbeing of providers and other who work to support survivors.

As we approach the middle of summer, it is important for all of us who work to support survivors to remember to take time to rest and care for ourselves. Simple and effective self-care strategies are available to address the negative effects of vicarious trauma. These strategies can include steps as simple as setting aside time to read, take a walk, or practice mindful meditation. It is important to remember that taking care of ourselves is not a selfish act; in fact, effectively managing stress can make each of us a more effective caregiver and service provider. If left unaddressed, vicarious trauma can cause severe stress, anxiety, anger, and insomnia, all of which can limit our effectiveness and ability to do our jobs well.   Many people who work on violence against women issues will eventually ‘burn out’ because of poorly managed stress and fatigue, often leaving this line of work, creating critical resource and knowledge gaps in our field. Managing stress and taking care of mental and emotional health is an important investment in our ability to continue to do this vital work over the long-term.

OVW recognizes the importance of self-care for all those who work with survivors, which is why OVW supported the development of information and trainings by technical assistance providers on how service providers can take care of themselves, along with the people they serve. These OVW funded trainings and publications center around simple and effective tools and best practices that both professionals and volunteers can use to manage stress and stay healthy. One OVW grantee, the National Center on Domestic Violence Trauma and Mental Health, will be offering a free webinar on “Caring for Others While Caring for Ourselveson July 30 from 2:00 – 3:30pm (CDT). This webinar will offer strategies for dealing with stress on the job, increasing awareness of the issue of vicarious trauma, and developing organizational support to help sustain and support service providers and caregivers. OVW also supported the development of an online guide on “Self-Care and Trauma Work” by NSVRC. This guide includes the common signs of vicarious trauma and information on how to build workplace cultures that can combat stress.

While we are continually increasing awareness of the traumatic effects of violence on survivors and service providers and the importance of trauma informed care, it is vital to recognize the effect that direct and vicarious trauma can have on all those affected by violent crime. All of us at OVW remain committed to ensuring that support is available for both the survivors of these crimes and the incredible service providers, law enforcement officials, judges, prosecutors, and other professionals and volunteers who work to help survivors heal.

Celebrating LGBT Pride Month
June 27, 2014 Posted by

This year has been a momentous year in the ongoing fight for LGBT rights. From the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act last June to this month’s decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruling that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, we are witnessing an historic shift in the nations capacity to understand and protect the civil rights of LGBT Americans. And the Office on Violence Against Women is committed to build on this progress. 

As we come together this June to celebrate LGBT Pride Month, I cannot think of a better time to highlight the important achievement of the countless LGBT advocates and allies who worked tirelessly to make sure the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013) retained a non-discrimination provision. The non-discrimination provision is one of the most significant changes in VAWA 2013 and it ensures that all LGBT victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking have access to the lifesaving services funded by VAWA. This is the first time that any federal legislation has barred discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, and it is a major step forward in protecting the civil rights of LGBT Americans. 

The unfortunate reality is that this provision is critically needed. For the first time, national representative data shows what we already knew – lesbians, bisexuals, and gay men report lifetime levels of intimate partner violence and sexual violence equal to or great than that of  heterosexuals. And the statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Victimization Survey (NISVS) on Victimization by Sexual Orientation are staggering: 

  • 44% of lesbian women, 61% of bisexual women, and 35% of heterosexual women experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime
  • 26% percent of gay men, 37% of bisexual men, and 29% of heterosexual men experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime
  • Approximately 1 in 5 bisexual women and nearly 1 in 10 heterosexual women have been raped by an intimate partner in their lifetime

 The VAWA 2013 non-discrimination provision reinforces that VAWA funded programs save lives and that all victims, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, deserve access to these lifesaving services. We know that many LGBT Americans continue to face discrimination, but that discrimination should never prevent someone from fleeing domestic violence or healing from sexual assault. And OVW is committed to working with our grantees, like the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), to develop organizational capacity and strengthen culturally-competent services for LGBT victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. We must ensure that providers are well trained and informed by the most current best practices. 

OVW has a long history of funding LGBT organizations and remains dedicated to making  universal access and non-discrimination a reality. By funding organizations like NCAVP and FORGE, VAWA funds are supporting vital training and technical assistance to OVW grantees on culturally-competent care for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence. You can explore upcoming and archived webinars on the Training and Events page of FORGE’s website. 

Another resource is the National Clearinghouse on Violence & Abuse in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer Communities, created by OVW Technical Assistance provider The Northwest Network. This comprehensive online resource provides current research and information on domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking affecting the LGBT community, and is an important space for community organizations and survivors to access useful advocacy tools like the LGBTQ Domestic Violence Legal Toolkit. This toolkit provides advocates with the necessary tools to help LGBT survivors navigate through the complex civil and criminal legal systems. I cannot overstate the importance of these and other resources, and I encourage anyone interested in learning more about any of these topics to visit the websites and reach out to these technical assistance A providers. 

The Office on Violence Against Women is committed to ensuring that all LGBT survivors and victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking can access the vital services supported by OVW without fear of discrimination. As we continue to work with the entire Department of Justice to ensure equality for all, OVW will continue to work to with our grantees and technical assistance providers to expand the availability of culturally-competent services for LGBT victims and survivors. 

Grantees are encouraged to review the Frequently Asked Questions released by the Office of Civil Rights, Office of Justice Programs to understand obligations under the expanded non-discrimination provision of VAWA 2013. The Office of Civil Rights, Office of Justice Programs is also available to answer questions and can be contacted via email at VAWAcivilrights@usdoj.gov.

Supporting and Honoring Older Victims of Abuse on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2014
June 13, 2014 Posted by

Every year on June 15, communities around the world come together on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) to promote understanding and increase awareness about the abuse and neglect experienced by millions of older adults each year. Commemorating WEAAD is an opportunity for those of us working with the hundreds of thousands of older Americans who experience physical, sexual, psychological, and financial exploitation to recommit ourselves – and our communities – to ending abuse of older Americans nationwide.

We know that elder abuse is a widespread problem and can occur in any community. A 2010 survey estimated that 11% of Americans experience elder abuse each year. Although anyone can be a victim – regardless of gender, race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, mental capacity, and physical ability – the vast majority of victims are women.  Sadly, older individuals are usually abused by their spouses, partners, family members, and caregivers. Victims may refrain from seeking help or calling the police due to shame or embarrassment because the abuse was committed by someone they are close to and trust.  Because of this and the many obstacles all victims of abuse face, cases of elder abuse are underreported.  For every one case of elder abuse that comes to the attention of a responsible entity, another twenty-three cases never come to light.

The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) remains committed to enhancing the criminal justice response to elder abuse and expanding available resources to support victims and survivors. Since 2010, 36 communities have received funding through OVW’s Enhanced Training and Services to End Abuse in Later Life Program. Our grantees represent the diversity of American communities; from large, urban communi­ties, like Los Angeles to small cities like Rochester, NY and tribal communities like Nez Perce, ID.  The Abuse in Later Life Program has made it possible for thousands of law enforcement officials, prosecutors, victim service providers, and other professionals who work with older victims to receive vital training on how to recognize and address elder abuse. Abuse in Later Life grantees have provided victim centered services to hundreds of older victims and they have collaborated with project partners to enhance their communities’ response to elder abuse by working together to enhance victim safety and offender accountability.  

As the percentage of Americans over the age of 50 continues to grow, elder abuse and abuse in later life may become more prevalent. We need to continue to work to raise awareness of elder abuse in our communities, acknowledge that abuse can happen to anyone – regardless of age – and resolve to come together to end elder abuse. 

Information and resources on elder abuse is available through the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL) and the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA). Additional  information on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day can be found on the Administration for Community Living website.

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, neglect, or exploitation visit NCEA’s State Resources webpage or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).

Making Campus Safe by Addressing Sexual Assault
May 27, 2014 Posted by

As part of the Office on Violence Against Women’s (OVW) year of programming to recognize the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, administration officials from the Departments of Justice and Education joined our nationwide university tour to raise awareness of campus sexual assault. Between April 23 and May 1, my colleagues and I visited 11 OVW Campus grantees across the country, including public and private universities, community colleges, historically black colleges, and faith-based and tribal-affiliated institutions. We took part in meetings and listening sessions with campus administrators, campus and local law enforcement, community partners, local service providers, and students. We participated in campus events, like the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event at California State Polytechnic University – Pomona, and toured campus facilities, like the SANE Center at SUNY Stony Brook.

The tour provided OVW, administration officials, and campuses an opportunity to share and learn from each other. We saw many examples of how different prevention and intervention strategies were being implemented to combat sexual assault. At St. John’s University, students involved in ROTC are learning specific strategies to intervene to prevent sexual violence.  Gallaudet University is revamping videos and other trainings to be more visual to meet the needs of students who are Deaf or hard of hearing. We also learned about Loyola University’s ongoing dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking training for Campus Police and Campus Disciplinary Boards.

These visits reinforced what OVW has known for years – to effectively address sexual assault on campus it must be informed by and meet the needs of each campus and the students it serves. Each of these campuses has demonstrated a clear commitment to addressing sexual assault on their campus and to developing a strong coordinated community response team. I want to applaud the efforts of North Carolina Central University, United Tribes Technical College, Loyola University, St. John’s University, Gallaudet University, University of Delaware, State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook, California State Polytechnic University – Pomona, University of California Santa Barbara, Bergen Community College, and William Paterson University. And I also want to extend my sincerest appreciation to all of OVW’s campus grantees who are committed to making their campus safe for every student.

It is important to highlight what is working, and to recognize all those who are working tirelessly to make our campuses safer. OVW will continue to support all of our campus grantees as they improve prevention and intervention efforts through a coordinated response to sexual assault.

Supreme Court Decision Limits Batterers’ Access to Guns
April 11, 2014 Posted by

The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) is pleased to share important news about a recent Supreme Court decision that will enhance the ability of federal prosecutors to keep guns out of the hands of batterers.  On March 26, the Court unanimously ruled in United States v. Castleman that federal law makes it a crime for people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses, however minor, to possess guns. 

In 1996, Congress enacted 18 U.S.C. §922(g)(9), sometimes called the Lautenberg Amendment, which bars any person convicted of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” from possessing a gun.  In passing this law, Congress closed a dangerous loophole in federal gun control laws:  those convicted of felonies faced gun ownership prohibitions, but this did not cover most domestic abusers because most domestic violence convictions were for misdemeanor assault and battery. However, federal authorities have faced challenges enforcing this law because federal circuit courts were split on how severe the force used in a domestic violence offense needed to be to qualify as a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” under the federal statute. 

In Castleman, the Supreme Court resolved this question by issuing a broad interpretation of the term “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence,” holding that convictions involving only “bodily injury” or “offensive touching” could qualify under the statute. Justice Sotomayor, writing for the majority, recognized that “‘[d]omestic violence’ is not merely a type of ‘violence’; it is a term of art encompassing acts that one might not characterize as ‘violent’ in a nondomestic context.” The Court further stated that, while a squeeze of the arm that causes a bruise may not be able to be described as “violence” in every context, “an act of this nature is easy to describe as ‘domestic violence,’ when the accumulation of such acts over time can subject one intimate partner to the other’s control.” With this decision, the Supreme Court confirms what we know all too well – that guns should not be in the hands of perpetrators of domestic violence. 

Abusers use guns to control their partners through intimidation, threats, coercion, and injury. But most startling are the statistics we know about domestic violence homicides. We know that women in abusive relationships are six times more likely to be killed when there is a gun in the house. We know that on average three women are killed every day in the United States by a current or former partner, and women killed by their intimate partners are more likely to be killed with a gun than by all other methods combined. We also know that limiting access to guns saves lives – in the states that require a background check with every handgun sale, there are 38% fewer women killed by guns than in states that do not. 

We appreciate that the Supreme Court recognized the power and control dynamics that put victims of domestic violence in danger, particularly when coupled with access to guns. It is heartening to read the decision and realize how far our society has moved in taking seriously the issue of domestic violence. For this, we owe our gratitude to those who have labored so hard and long to move public opinion, including those national and state organizations that, in a persuasive amicus brief, urged the Court to adopt a common-sense definition of domestic violence: the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project, Legal Momentum, and a host of state domestic violence coalitions. We look forward to continuing to work together to make our country a safer place for all victims and survivors. 

For more information about domestic violence and firearms, please contact:

National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit

Battered Women’s Justice Project

National District Attorneys Association

International Association of Chiefs of Police

National Counsel of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

VAWA 2013 Nondiscrimination Provision: Making Programs Accessible to all Victims of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, Dating Violence, and Stalking
April 9, 2014 Posted by

Last year, we worked together in passing the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013). New provisions in VAWA 2013 include measures that will strengthen our national response to sexual assault, focus attention on reducing domestic violence homicides, and recognize the needs of younger girls who are victimized.   And for the first time in a federal funding statute, VAWA 2013 explicitly bars discrimination based on actual or perceived gender identity or sexual orientation – as well as race, color, religion, national origin, sex or disability. 

This groundbreaking provision will ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking are not denied, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, access to the critical services that OVW supports. 

The provision took effect on October 1, 2013 and applies to all awards that OVW will make during this fiscal year and in the future. 

I am pleased to announce that the Department has released a set of “Frequently Asked Questions” – or “FAQs” – to help our grantees better understand what their obligations will be under the nondiscrimination provision. These FAQs include important guidance, including information about the scope of the new requirement, how it affects operations of a grantee that are not funded by OVW, when a grantee may provide sex-specific or sex-segregated services, and how to provide such services without discriminating against transgender victims. I hope that the FAQs will answer many of your questions and give you fresh insight into how to make your programs accessible to all victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. 

After you have reviewed these FAQs, you may have more questions or comments about the nondiscrimination grant condition and how it applies to your work. If you do, I urge you to reach out to the Office of Civil Rights in the Office of Justice Programs at VAWAcivilrights@usdoj.gov. We know that these FAQs do not address all questions that may arise about the new provision, and I expect that, over time, the Department will update and supplement the FAQs as appropriate. 

As OVW makes its FY 2014 awards, I look forward to working with our entire grantee community to ensure that our programming meets the unique needs of every victim and survivor.