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Supreme Court Decision Limits Batterers’ Access to Guns
April 11th, 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 9th, 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.

White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault Invites Participation in Public Listening Sessions
February 6th, 2014 Posted by

Dear Students, Advocates, University Leaders, Law Enforcement Professionals, VAWA Grantees and Colleagues: 

The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault is pleased to announce that we will be holding a series of virtual, public listening sessions in February.  The Department of Justice, Office of Violence Against Women, in partnership with the Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, and the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, will be hosting these sessions, and our colleagues from the White House, the Office of the Vice President, and the Agencies serving on the Task Force will also be participating.  We want you to join us! 

Register for a listening session here: http://ta2ta.org/events/webinars/white-house-listening-sessions.html

Many people have contacted us about how to provide input into the Task Force, and we are eager to hear from you.  Your expertise, research and experiences are invaluable to this process.  The Task Force is looking for concrete and creative ideas about how schools can prevent sexual assault, and how they can better respond when it happens – both in terms of supporting survivors and holding offenders accountable. 

 In particular, we would like your opinions on: 

  • Institutional policies and protocols to address sexual assault
  • Responding to diverse, underserved or historically marginalized victims
  • Prevention programs
  • Crisis intervention and advocacy services
  • Complaint and grievance procedures
  • Investigation protocols
  • Adjudicatory procedures
  • Disciplinary sanctions
  • Training and orientation modules for students, staff, and faculty
  • Evaluating and measuring the success of prevention and response efforts
  • Sharing information with the public
  • Making enforcement activities transparent and accessible
  • Promoting greater coordination and consistency among federal agencies
  • Maximizing the Federal Government’s effectiveness in combatting campus rape and sexual assault 

To facilitate conversation, the listening sessions are organized by group. 

The listening sessions are designed to allow as many people as possible to provide input.  We won’t be answering questions, but instead will be listening to you.  If you have questions, we will gather them for a future response. 

We have three different Students and Survivors listening sessions, spread over three weeks, to accommodate the demand within our webinar capacity.  If you’re not a student or survivor, please don’t join this session – you might unintentionally block a student or survivor from participating.  If you are a student or survivor, we would appreciate you joining one of these three sessions. 

Listening sessions will use the Adobe Connect webinar service, which allows participants to queue up to make verbal comments.  Participants can also type comments in a chat box.  We expect a large number of participants, so please plan to keep your remarks brief – about 3 minutes – so more people can have a turn to speak. 

Streaming ASL interpretation is available upon request.  When you register for your choice of listening session, just select the ASL box. 

If you don’t get the chance to speak or still have more to say, don’t worry – you can submit written comments.  Comments can be submitted any time from now until February 28, 2014.  If you would like to submit comments, email them to OVW.SATaskForce@usdoj.gov

Kindly note, these calls will be off-the-record, and not intended for press purposes. 

Please keep an eye on OVW’s website, www.ovw.usdoj.gov, in the coming weeks for any updates.  Don’t forget to register for the listening sessions at http://ta2ta.org/events/webinars/white-house-listening-sessions.html

We are excited to hear from you in the coming weeks. 

Sincerely,

Bea Hanson
Principal Deputy Director
Office on Violence Against Women

POSTED IN: Sexual Assault  |  PERMALINK
Commemorating a Decade of Progress: The Tenth Anniversary of National Stalking Awareness Month
January 31st, 2014 Posted by

The Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) is proud to stand with the Obama Administration in renewing our commitment to increase support services for victims of stalking and to strengthen accountability measures for stalkers.  Over the past ten years we have seen a paradigm shift in the way the criminal justice system, and our Nation, understands and responds to stalking.

When the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was signed into law nearly 20 years ago it established a coordinated community response to the crimes of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, encouraging jurisdictions to bring together multiple stakeholders to share experience and information and to use their distinct roles to improve community‐defined responses to these crimes.  VAWA also created full faith and credit provisions – a crucial and life-saving provision for stalking victims – that require states and territories to enforce protection orders issued by other states, tribes and territories.

Since 1994, we have made tremendous strides in enhancing the criminal justice system’s response to stalking. Yet more is left to be done.  Results of the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that, conservatively, 6.6 million people were stalked in a 12-month period and that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men were stalked at some point in their lifetime.  These numbers are staggering and indicate that stalking remains a serious issue for every community across the United States.

The CDC’s NISVS report also confirmed what law enforcement, prosecutors, victim service providers, and other professionals have been hearing from victims for years – that most stalking cases involve some form of technology.  More than  three-quarters of victims reported having received unwanted phone calls, voice and text messages; and roughly one-third of victims were watched, followed, or tracked with a listening or other device.  These findings underscore how critical it is that professionals who respond to and work with stalking victims understand the dynamics of stalking and particularly how stalkers use technology. 

As the Department of Justice continues to improve the criminal justice response to stalking through the implementation of VAWA, it is imperative that we honor the many accomplishments achieved in the last decade.

  • Stalking is a crime under Federal law and under the laws of all 50 States, the U.S. Territories, the District of Columbia, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
  • In January 2004, the first time National Stalking Awareness Month was observed, the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) released a Problem-Oriented Guide for Police on Stalking.  This guide, still used today and developed in partnership with the National Center for Victims of Crime, provides law enforcement officials with necessary information about stalking to better assess the problem of stalking in their community and to develop strategies for addressing the problem. 
  • The first National Tribal Summit on Stalking was convened in Salt Lake City in September 2005 to explore the issues of stalking for Native American women and how to address stalking in Indian Country.
  • To commemorate the fifth anniversary of National Stalking Awareness Month, the Stalking Resource Center launched StalkingAwarenessMonth.org and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in partnership with OVW, released Stalking Victimization in the United States, a Supplemental Victimization Survey to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS).  This 2009 survey is one of a few national studies that has measured the extent and nature of stalking in the United States and represents the largest comprehensive study of stalking conducted to date.
  • Launched in January 2012 The Use of Technology to Stalk Online Course was produced by the Stalking Resource Center to assist criminal justice and victim service professionals on the use of technology in stalking.
  • The National Network to End Domestic Violence’s SafetyNet project educates and trains law enforcement, social services, and victim advocates how to hold perpetrators accountable for misusing technology.

Although we have made substantial progress in recognizing and treating stalking as a serious crime, much work remains.  Stalking can be challenging to recognize, so we must do more to train law enforcement, prosecutors, parole and probation officers, and victim service providers to recognize stalking, to aggressively investigate and prosecute cases, to work to ensure victims safety, and to give victims the help they need.

As we look toward the future, it’s important to remember that the progress we have made has not been inevitable.  It is the result of the work of committed advocates, policymakers, law enforcement officers, and brave survivors who tirelessly fight to combat stalking in our communities.  OVW remains committed to working together to bring an end to stalking.

FY 14 Grant Solicitation Announcement: A Message to Our Stakeholders
December 11th, 2013 Posted by

OVW’s top priority is to save lives by ensuring that victims receive the services and protection they need. OVW’s small, dedicated team cares profoundly about these issues and about seeing the dollars spent well. We see how VAWA funds save lives around the country, so we know how precious they are.   

Congress and OVW’s stakeholders – from law enforcement to victim service providers to state governments – have asked OVW to get grants out earlier, launch the new VAWA programs, keep stable funding for the field, improve customer service, and provide the in-depth grant management that helps grantees succeed. In addition, Congress has asked OVW to focus on good governance, enhanced monitoring, and increased accountability. 

To accomplish all this in today’s difficult fiscal climate, OVW had to get creative and make trade-offs for FY 14 that increase efficiency without compromising victim services. We worked long and hard to find the best approach for the field – from shelters to law enforcement offices – that would most support victims. OVW’s solution is to streamline the grant competition process, and will change the pool of eligible applicants for many FY 14 grants. 

In FY 14, OVW is implementing many new VAWA changes:   

  • Instituting new statutory requirements across many programs, including STOP Violence Against Women Program and Sexual Assault Services Program formula grants to states and territories
  • Implementing new 25% sexual assault requirement in Grants to Encourage Arrest Program, and legal services purpose area in Rural Grant Program
  • Launching initial phases of the new VAWA Justice for Families Program and the Outreach and Services to Underserved Populations Program
  • Establishing Tribal Coalitions Grants as a formula program
  • Providing guidance on new civil rights provisions
  • Conducting conferrals and listening sessions
  • Adopting strengthened accountability provisions 

Every VAWA grant program is different, but many OVW solicitations will focus on continuation applicants. In some programs, there will be a targeted competition, or eligibility will be limited for a portion of the funds. A chart of grant program eligibility is available online at http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/open-solicitations.htm#proposed

We know these changes will cause some confusion, and we want to work to minimize them. Some of you have been asking OVW to do more continuation awards, while others were looking forward to the opportunity to compete for a particular grant. OVW has only partially limited eligibility for FY 14 grant programs, and we believe full competition is important. OVW plans to resume competitions for all VAWA programs when prudent management will allow. 

Issuing solicitations with these changes in eligibility provides continued funding to serve victims and prevent violence, responds to requests from the field to keep funding stable and improve customer service, and frees up enough OVW staff time to conduct proper management and monitoring.  For the good of victims, DOJ stakeholders, and taxpayers, OVW had to make these tough choices. 

We want to emphasize that all grantees that will receive an invitation to apply for those programs that are being administered on a “continuation only” basis have previously competed successfully for funding in that program. All applicants will be subject to a programmatic review to ensure that their project meets the statutory scope of the program; assess their past performance, including compliance with audit findings; and ensure that proposed activities do not compromise victim safety. In addition, because of uncertain funding levels in FY 14, many – and possibly all – grants that are “continuation only” will still be competitive. 

We want to answer your questions and give you the information you need to plan for FY 14.  OVW will host a Q&A session via webinar on Thursday, December 19, at 4pm eastern.  Go to http://ta2ta.org/events/webinars/fy14-grant-solicitation.html to register for the webinar. 

Thank you for the hard work you are doing every day in this challenging economic climate.

Supporting Workplaces in Providing an Effective Response to Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking
November 20th, 2013 Posted by

It is with great pride that I share the announcement of the new DOJ policy on addressing domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking in the workplace.  Given the seriousness of these crimes and their impact on employees, we believe this is an important step toward creating a workplace that is safe for all staff.  Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced the release of the policy at OVW’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month event earlier today.  DOJ is the first major federal agency to submit a final workplace policy in response to the Presidential memorandum. 

It is our sincere hope that this new policy will be used by other federal agencies, as well as private sector workplaces, as a model for developing a comprehensive workplace response that values the safety needs of survivors. 

One-third of women killed in U.S. workplaces were killed by a current or former intimate partner according to one multi-year study.  Another study found that nearly one in four large private industry establishments reported at least one incidence of domestic violence, including threats and assaults. 

Domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking does not stop when a survivor arrives at work.  The violence is devastating for victims and takes a toll on the entire workplace as victims are often traumatized, harassed and terrified by abusers while at work.  In fact, domestic violence victims lose a total of nearly 8 million days of paid work each year—the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs as a result of the violence they experience.  Victims are often forced to take time off work to go to court to obtain a restraining order or to seek medical and mental health care.  Many are forced to leave their jobs altogether.  Perpetrators also lose productivity by stalking, calling, and badgering victims – often on company time and using company resources like phones, the internet, and company cars.  The CDC estimates that intimate partner violence, which includes rape, physical assault, and stalking, costs $1.8 billion in lost workplace productivity each year. 

The Obama Administration is committed to addressing the issue of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking in the workplace.  In April of 2012, President Obama issued a memorandum requiring each federal agency to develop and implement a policy to prevent domestic violence and address the effects of domestic violence on its workforce.  The federal government is the country’s largest employer, and with President Obama’s leadership, will serve as a model for creating workplaces that reduce the harmful impact of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. 

The new DOJ policy and its provisions are grounded in victim safety and perpetrator accountability, and seek to further a healthy, productive workplace.  For example, the policy helps victims keep their jobs through clearly described flexible leave options, enabling them to attend a protection order hearing or visit a mental health professional.  The policy also includes provisions that hold offenders accountable with disciplinary actions and security procedures, and addresses complex situations, such as a perpetrator and victim who work in the same building – or even the same office.  Importantly, the policy calls for training and education so all employees can play a part in promoting workplace safety. 

To help employers implement similar policies, OVW has funded the Workplaces Respond to Domestic and Sexual Violence: A National Resource Center (Resource Center) and Futures without Violence in their efforts to educate, train, and support organizations and business looking for strategies to address domestic violence in the workplace. 

Today, I am also pleased to announce the release of a new and valuable toolkit that will support workplaces in providing an effective response to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.  The Resource Center’s toolkit provides useful information for co-workers, employees, and supervisors.  For example, the toolkit includes a “Safety Card for Employees,” a protection order guide for employees, a training video for supervisors, and a quiz to help start a conversation about the impact of violence on the workplace.  The toolkit even has a poster that employers can put up to inform their workplace about domestic and sexual violence and stalking, and how every employee can address it. 

We encourage employers and employees alike to utilize the toolkit – found at www.workplacesrespond.org – and take the next step in addressing domestic violence and promoting safety in the workplace. 

OVW is launching other resources to help survivors find the economic support and security they need.  Economic insecurity, often a result of abuse, undermines survivors’ ability to seek safety and justice leaving them vulnerable to future violence. The criminal and civil justice systems have many ways to help survivors, but prosecutors and attorneys don’t always know how to best utilize those opportunities. 

We are excited to share with the OVW community Wider Opportunities for Women’s Prosecutor’s Guide to Safety and Economic Security for Victims of Violence Against Women (Prosecutor’s Guide), which outlines how prosecutors can protect and support survivors’ economic security.  The Prosecutor’s Guide contains practical tools like checklists for each stage of the case and a Pocket Guide

For example, prosecutors can:

  • Address economic needs in safety planning so that survivors are better protected and insulated from witness intimidation.
  • Charge offenders for the economic crimes they commit, in addition to physical abuse, in order to achieve to broader economic justice for survivors and address the full extent of their victimization.
  • Request all available restitution and economic relief in protection orders to hold offenders fully accountable and restore survivors financially. 

Adopting these practices and strategies will help prosecutors hold offenders fully accountable and better support survivors’ safety and economic security.  

Another example of excellent work in this area is the Center for Survivor Agency and Justice (CSAJ).  The CSAJ launched the Consumer Rights for Domestic Violence Survivors Initiative (CRDVSI).  The initiative, funded by OVW, enhances economic justice for survivors by building the capacity of and developing collaborative partnerships between domestic violence and consumer law attorneys and advocates.  After conducting an Economic Justice Needs Assessment, CSAJ is collaborating with organizations across the country to devise and implement Building Partnerships for Economic Justice Pilot Projects.  These pilot sites, focused upon collaborative approaches to enhance economic advocacy for survivors, are receiving specialized web-based trainings, intensive individualized technical assistance, and on-site training.  This spring, CSAJ will publish a Building Partnerships Manual, which will offer best practices to communities that are interested in engaging in collaborative economic justice work. 

To access CSAJ’s wealth of resources, including conference training materials, webinar materials and recordings, best practices, and economic advocacy tools, visit CSAJ’s resource library at: www.csaj.org  

Domestic violence touches all of our lives, whether through a friend, loved one, co-worker, or through personal experience.  With the new DOJ workplace policy and the resources provided through Workplaces Respond, Wider Opportunities for Women, and CSAJ, we are promoting a dignified response to survivors, guidance for employers, and strategies to keep victims out of poverty.  It is truly an honor to work for an agency that recognizes the importance of economic security for victims and has taken a leadership role in ensuring that our workplace is safe and free from the devastating impact of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.