Tag Archives: domestic violence

Legal Assistance for Survivors Could Help Fight Domestic Violence

Survivors attempting to escape an abusive relationship are often faced with an overwhelming number of legal issues. Foremost, they may need to secure a protection order, a legal document that bars abusers from continuing physical violence and contacting a victim. Protection orders can also include economic provisions such as granting the victim possession of a home or vehicle or requiring the offender to pay for rent, utilities, medical expenses or damaged property. In addition, survivors may need to resolve legal issues including child custody, child support, spousal support, divorce, immigration and housing to keep themselves and their children safe from harm and economically secure. Unfortunately, many survivors find themselves without representation or the resources they need to navigate a complex legal system. A new report from the Center of Public Integrity explains how increasing the amount of free or subsidized legal services available to survivors would not only increase access to legal protections and help keep survivors safe from further abuse, but would also lower the overall rates of domestic violence and its substantial cost to society.

Many survivors have limited options when trying to secure legal protections from abusers. Since women in the lowest income households are seven times more likely to experience abuse than women in the highest income households, costly private attorneys are inaccessible for many survivors. They may choose to represent themselves in court as a pro se litigant, but the level of knowledge, financial resources and time needed for fees, court filings and hearings can seem insurmountable for an inexperienced litigant. Family court judges have reported that it is common for pro se litigants to fail to receive the justice they deserve due to confusion surrounding court processes and their mishandling of cases. This is particularly problematic in domestic violence cases, where judges may perceive a victim’s inability to remember details, delays in reporting and choices not to leave an abusive partner as a lack of credibility rather than a typical response to a traumatic situation. This lack of legal expertise can lead to a pronounced difference in the outcome of a case: one study found that litigants represented by an attorney received a protection order in 83% of cases, as opposed to 32% of unrepresented litigants.

Currently, there are some free and low-cost legal services available to survivors, but they do not come close to meeting the vast demand for services. Legal aid attorneys are federally funded to provide free services in civil cases for anyone making under 125% of the poverty line. However, they turn away over 1 million clients per year due to limited capacity, leaving eight out of ten eligible people without any form of legal representation. Domestic violence service providers attempt to meet some of the demand, but a recent census of providers found that only 11% were able to offer their clients legal representation.

The need for increased free or subsidized representation for domestic violence survivors is clear. As the report describes, the cost of providing legal assistance to survivors is outweighed by its benefits. Domestic violence accounts for more than $9 billion per year in health care expenses, lost productivity, lost lifetime earnings, criminal justice involvement and social service usage. Expanding legal assistance can significantly lower rates of domestic violence by creating pathways out of abusive relationships for more survivors, which results in lower economic costs. While there is still a need for further research around how to best expand and deliver these services, free or subsidized legal assistance is a promising approach to provide critical support for survivors during one of the most challenging periods of their life while benefiting society as a whole.

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New HUD Report Illuminates Options for Survivors of Domestic Violence

This week, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in partnership with Vanderbilt University, released the short-term findings of their Family Options Study, which followed more than 2,000 families experiencing homelessness over an 18 month period. Their research evaluated the effect of several types of interventions on housing stability and the well-being of homeless adults and children. The families in the sample were randomly assigned one of the interventions: housing choice vouchers, community-based rapid rehousing, project based transitional housing, and care as usual. The study found that housing choice vouchers, which grant families permanent subsidies to use in the private housing market, had the greatest effectiveness. While the vouchers were of similar cost or less expensive than the other interventions, they decreased rates of future homelessness, lowered psychological distress and improved mental health. They were also shown to decrease the prevalence of domestic violence. In the six months prior to the survey, families receiving housing choice vouchers had half the incidents of domestic violence as those families receiving care as usual. This result supports earlier HUD qualitative research in which housing subsidy recipients reported that their subsidies helped them escape abusive situations and establish new lives independently.

More effective services are essential to ensure that every domestic violence survivor has the opportunity to access safe housing. In the new HUD study, nearly half of their sample had experienced physical abuse or threats of physical abuse from an intimate partner. Other studies have found even higher rates of violence:  one study in Massachusetts found that 63% of homeless women were victims of intimate partner violence. Other studies have found that between 22 and 57% of women become homeless as a direct result of domestic violence or sexual assault.

Although domestic violence survivors make up a disproportionate share of homeless individuals, they do not always receive the services they need. In 2014, a 24 hour census of domestic violence service providers across the country found that although around 36,000 women were receiving residential services, another 6,126 women were turned away in a single day, largely due to lack of funding and limited resources. The ability for survivors of domestic violence to access housing assistance after leaving an abusive situation is critical. Abusers often isolate their victims from social support, so they may not have friends or family who could take them in. In addition, abusers will frequently control their victims’ finances, limit their access to cash and credit, and prevent them from working, so they may have little or no money available to pay for another place to stay. Without access to shelter, they may have few other options than to sleep on the streets or in their car or return to their abuser. Studies in two different cities found that 44% of homeless women have stayed in abusive relationships because they had nowhere else to go.

The need for improved services and better funding for homeless individuals fleeing domestic violence is clear. Domestic violence survivors need secure, stable housing options to keep them safe from harm and to help them begin to rebuild their lives. Research like HUD’s Family Options Study is an encouraging step in identifying innovative and cost-effective methods of enabling housing security and preventing future incidents of domestic violence. While the long-term results of the study will not be released until 2017, these early findings lay the groundwork for smarter housing policies and more informed services for families experiencing homelessness.

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Supreme Court Decision Protects Against Housing Discrimination

Last week, the Supreme Court handed down a number of critical decisions that impacted millions of Americans. While the nation is still buzzing about their decisions on same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act, another ruling that plays a major role in the fight against housing discrimination received less attention. In Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. the Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., the Supreme Court confirmed that housing policies that have a “disparate impact” based on race, gender, religion, national origin, disability or family status are prohibited under the Fair Housing Act. This applies to policies that may not explicitly intend to discriminate against certain groups but still create a pattern of discrimination. The disparate impact standard of the Fair Housing Act has been a critical tool in dismantling institutional racial discrimination in housing and lending, and although less well known, it has been a valuable asset for survivors of domestic violence.

The Fair Housing Act was first used to prevent domestic violence housing discrimination in the case of Alvera v. the CBM Group, Inc. After Tiffani Alvera was attacked by her husband and hospitalized, she gave a copy of her protection order to the landlord to have her husband evicted from their shared residence. The landlord responded by ordering both her and her husband to vacate the property within 24 hours. She was told that a member of her household “inflicted personal injury upon the landlord or other tenants,” which was grounds to terminate her lease. The fact that Alvera herself was the victim of this violence did not deter her landlord from ordering her out. When she filed a complaint under the Fair Housing Act, the court agreed that although the policy was not directly intended to discriminate against domestic violence victims, it still had a disparate impact and amounted to gender discrimination.

There are many ways landlords can discriminate against tenants currently experiencing or with a history of domestic violence. They may refuse to rent to applicants with a history of DV. For current tenants, they may fail to renew their lease, evict them or raise their rent as punishment for their abusers’ actions. Some localities also have nuisance ordinances which heavily fine or punish landlords who have the police called to their buildings too many times. This puts pressure on landlords to discourage tenants from seeking help or to evict them if they call the police multiple times. In one case, Lakisha Briggs was warned, after calling the police for violence committed by her ex-boyfriend, that she would be evicted from her apartment if she kept calling. She endured two more brutal attacks from her ex-boyfriend out of too much fear to report it, but was evicted anyway when other residents called the police. Although this case was settled in court and the ordinance repealed, these types of policies are still popular across the country. One study of Milwaukee found that in a single year, 157 nuisance citations were given to landlords for domestic violence incidents, disproportionately directed at women from low-income, mostly black neighborhoods. In the majority of these cases the landlord responded with immediate eviction.

Currently, thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have statutes protecting against some form of domestic violence housing discrimination. However, many of these statutes are narrow and do not cover the full range of possible discrimination, leaving many victims unprotected by state policies. Fortunately, the Supreme Court decision ensures the Fair Housing Act can continue to offer relief for anyone affected by discriminatory housing policies and prevent domestic violence victims from having to make the impossible choice between keeping their housing and protecting their safety.

Source: ICPH, Source: Legal Momentum, State Law Guide: Housing Protections for Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence, June 2013.

 

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Student Domestic Violence Leads to Future Economic Insecurity

Recently, the conversation around campus sexual assault has drawn national attention to issues of campus safety. However, as Katie Baker at Buzzfeed pointed out last week, domestic violence on campus is often overlooked despite being as pervasive as sexual assault. Domestic violence can include sexual assault, but can also include physical, emotional, psychological or financial abuse. Women ages 20-24 have the highest lifetime risk of domestic violence, followed by women ages 16-19. A 2014 survey of dating college women found that 43% reported experiencing some form of abusive dating behaviors, with 22% reporting physical abuse, threats of physical abuse or sexual violence. Younger students are also affected: a new CDC survey found that one in five teen girls has experienced dating violence, as well as one in ten teen boys.

Students may be less equipped to recognize and report dating violence due to lack of experience with healthy relationships: around 57% of college students reported finding it difficult to identify dating violence. However, reporting and intervention is critical, since domestic violence among teens may cause long-term harm to educational and career prospects. As students in this age group are in the process of gaining an education that is essential for their future careers and economic security, domestic violence can be a severe barrier to success. Abusers may destroy their partners’ books or school work, or cause injuries that keep them from going to class. They may be emotionally abusive and discourage or attempt to stop their partner from pursuing certain goals. Adolescent girls in abusive relationships are also three times more likely to become pregnant than girls not in violent relationships, which can drastically affect their education and financial stability. Only 38% of girls who have babies before age 18 finish high school by age 22, and they earn $84,000 less during the first 15 years of motherhood than those who give birth at age 20 or 21.

These factors all combine to seriously impact the future earnings potential of a survivor. One ten year longitudinal study found that teen survivors of physical and sexual violence had poorer academic performance and lower academic attainment, which was linked to lower labor force participation, occupational status and income in early adulthood. While this study did not identify whether or not violence was perpetrated by an intimate partner, another recent study of low-income single mothers found that survivors of domestic violence that occurred during adolescence obtained significantly less education than their peers. Each year of education lost was associated with a decrease of $895 in earnings per year.

Although domestic violence among teens and young adults can have negative effects on their future, there are resources to help. Title IX protections, widely publicized for their role in campus sexual assault cases, also apply to domestic violence. Students can contact their Title IX coordinators for accommodations to keep them safe, such as adjusting their class schedule or switching their dorm room. Students may also be able to contact the police, pursue a disciplinary hearing against their abuser, obtain a protection order or access off-campus domestic violence services. However, for any of these resources to work, there must be increased awareness about what domestic violence looks like for young adults and what options are available. Better education is essential for students, families, and school staff and faculty to help recognize domestic violence and provide early intervention so that survivors can succeed academically and prepare for a bright future. WOW’s brief on Adolescent Survivors & Economic Security offers more suggestions on how service providers, justice system professionals, policy makers and educational institutions can better address the needs of teen and young adult survivors.

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Service Organizations and African American Women

Since 1976, every US president has designated the month of February as Black History Month, or National African American History Month, to celebrate the achievements of African Americans and to recognize their central role in US history. Countless organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) have been involved in the fight against violence in these communities over the last 20 years, including the drafting of national legislation like the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). However, despite policy advancements at all levels of government, women of color in general and  African American women in particular still experience the highest reported rates of domestic violence and sexual assault in the country. As a result of these heightened rates of violence, it is imperative that women of color have access to and feel comfortable seeking out social services support and resources, especially resources that provide the financial help that is critical to a survivor’s wellbeing.

Purple R.E.I.G.N., a social services organization in New Jersey, was established in 2008 to provide “multi-disciplinary empowerment services and preventative strategies to victims of domestic violence.” The organization’s founder, Asia Smith, is an African American woman who, after overcoming a near-deadly relationship, started Purple R.E.I.G.N. to serve survivors and find solutions to the critical issues that they face. The organization offers support through legal services, relocation services, therapy, safety planning, career and education workshops, fitness and nutrition training, parenting classes, and financial empowerment classes.  Purple R.E.I.G.N. also employs a largely Black staff, which allows them to reach out to women who might feel uncomfortable or alienated in many other service facilities.

The Women of Color Network (WOCN) is also focused on helping survivors from underserved communities of color. Active within the violence against women movement since 1997, they educate women of color through leadership trainings, mentor programs and technical assistance, as well as provide statistics and research about sexual and domestic violence specific to these communities . They also work to create policy change in partnership with other gender- and violence-focused organizations, coalitions and government programs. Especially important is their work pertaining to economic justice, which has led to the release of five new reports from the field: Tribal Sexual Assault, T and U Visas, Policy Advocacy, Reentry, and Strengthening Services. These papers focus on the overarching economic barriers facing survivors of violence and how we can all respond through enhanced policies, programs, and advocacy to ensure survivor safety and economic access.

Even with the support provided by organizations such as these, there are still many African American women who do not feel comfortable leaving their abusive relationships because of negative social and economic issues. In an article published by The Grio, clinical psychologist Dr. Nathilee A. Caldeira states that there is a socioeconomic divide within the African American community and that divide correlates to exposure to community violence. She claims, “because of the need to cope with stressors that are related to basic survival, socio-economically disadvantaged African American women may give the risk of intimate partner violence less importance. That in turn places them at greater risk of severe violence and death.” Experts like Dr. Caldeira and activists like Smith focus on the factors that contribute to the perpetration of violence in order to prevent further violence and educate women out of these abusive situations. Economic resources must also be provided in conjunction with education in order to facilitate escape from abuse and long-term independence.

For more information on the economic and safety needs of African American survivors, resources these organizations provide and how you can get involved, visit Purple R.E.I.G.N. and the Women of Color Network’s websites as well as WOW’s Survivors of Color and Economic Security brief from the Population Policy Series.

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FY16 Budget Would Help Minimize Key Economic Barriers to Survivor Safety

Violence can impose significant costs on survivors, including physical and mental health care, lost wages, safety planning and relocation costs. Furthermore, economic abuse can result in life-long consequences due to job loss, debt or damaged credit. When combined with today’s high cost of living, shortage of good jobs and diminished safety net, these impacts severely limit survivors’ options to achieve safety and justice. WOW applauds the Obama Administration for increasing investments in programs that support the safety and economic security of intimate partner violence, sexual assault and stalking victims in their recent Fiscal Year 2016 budget.

The primary source of these programs is the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice, which was allotted nearly $474 million for a proposed increase of $44 million. This includes funding for shelter and housing services, which are critical in light of how often survivors cite housing, employment and other economic needs as barriers to recovering from violence. The additional $10 million for the Legal Assistance Program would also greatly help the safety and recovery of survivors by improving their ability to access remedies that only exist within the justice system, such as restitution and economic relief in protection orders. Although the general sexual assault services program was unfortunately budgeted at $3 million less than last year, we are pleased to see a $14 million increase to funding for campus violence. Addressing campus-based sexual assault is especially important considering the impact violence has on college completion and how critical education is for economic security and stability.

Beyond the Department of Justice, there are proposed investments to other federal agencies that directly or indirectly support survivors. Specifically, the budget provides $37 million to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for 5,000 new housing vouchers for survivors in need of emergency transfers from their existing assisted housing as well as vouchers for survivors through the Tenant Based Rental Assistance Program. The Department of Health and Human Services increased their budget to help survivors through shelters, support services and the national domestic violence hotline from $138.5 to $162 million. The shelter services are largely coming through Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) funds, which provide badly needed support to local programs. Lastly, survivors are better able to escape and recover from abuse if they have access to quality employment with an adequate wage and supportive leave policies. For these reasons, we commend the President for his recommendations to encourage state paid leave policies, raise the minimum wage, strengthen pay discrimination enforcement and expand job training programs.

We are encouraged to see some of the economic barriers that prevent survivors from seeking safety and justice being addressed in the Obama Administration’s budget. These investments are necessary to provide survivors of intimate partner and sexual violence and stalking the resources needed to move forward. We remain hopeful that Congress will take steps to make these proposals a reality.

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Domestic Violence in the NFL: What’s Being Done?

The NFL has been plagued with scandals of Domestic Violence for years, but in recent months many of these accounts have been brought to the media’s, and consequently the American people’s, attention. With the airing of a Domestic Violence PSA during the 49th Super Bowl, the National Football League is making an effort to change their reputation among many Americans. Many fans were surprised by the PSA, stating that they did not expect to see such a serious advertisement on a serious topic, especially when most Super Bowl ads tend to be comical. Domestic violence advocates, however, were pleased that the NFL is stepping up and using such a widely viewed platform to address this critical issue.

Since August 2014, the NFL has been making changes to their domestic violence policies. After outrage over Ray Rice’s two-game suspension, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made a statement saying, “I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.” Their six main points of revision center on increasing education programs and increasing suspensions from a two to six un-paid game minimum for a first offense, depending on the evidence, and a life ban from the NFL for a second offense.

Despite the NFL’s strides to improve their policies, domestic violence is still a huge problem in both the League and in US society. The New York Times published an article in November 2014 about two NFL wives, their struggle with domestic violence and the NFL’s response. In this article, both women cite fearing a change in their economic security and isolation from their social groups as some of the biggest reasons for staying in the abusive relationships. In both relationships, the husbands’ controlled the bank accounts and assets, forcing them to start with nothing when they chose to leave. In addition to fearing the loss of their financial security, the wives were afraid to disrupt their husband’s careers—in fact, both women were told by team correspondents to talk to the team before contacting the police, because negative media attention could have a negative impact on their husbands’ careers. 

The graph below shows the discrepancy between arrests of NFL players and arrests of 25 to 29 year old men—the key demographic of NFL players—throughout the United States, categorized by the type of crime. In almost every category we can see that a significantly smaller amount of arrests are made in the NFL than nationwide, possibly due in part to the affluence of NFL players. However, the rate of domestic violence arrests is by far the closest between NFL players and the national average: NFL arrests for domestic violence make up 55.4% of the national average. Is this due to the National Football League’s protection of players and their crimes, is it bias by law enforcement officers or is it because of the great loss of status and financial security that wives in the NFL fear?

The NFL’s changing policy implies that they are starting to acknowledge that domestic violence is carried out by their players, but more needs to be done on a team level. Interviews with NFL wives suggest that there must be a change in how team personnel handle reports of domestic violence. Rather than encouraging wives to come to the team first and the police only as a last resort, they should be working with law enforcement and advocates to stop these abusive situations. In addition to team support, the NFL has to make the players more aware of the repercussions of perpetrating domestic violence—something they are working on in their enhanced education on domestic violence and sexual assault through the Rookie Symposium and Rookie Success Program as well as new programs for veteran players and NFL personnel. While these programs may prevent violence through education, and suspensions may reduce violence through penalizations, the NFL also needs to help abused partners feel secure in their decision to leave the perpetrators. By taking a more pro-active role in preventing domestic violence and possibly even providing a team-funded security net for NFL significant others who are experiencing domestic abuse, the NFL community can help prevent these crimes as well as support victims.

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Responding to Skeptics of Violence Against Women

Recently, two popular columnists with the Washington Post started uproars when they wrote articles scrutinizing the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault in the United States.  The first, by conservative writer George F. Will, argues that the status of “survivor” (his quotes) was a coveted position to hold on college campuses, and that the appallingly high rates of sexual assault on college campuses were fudged. Shortly thereafter, marriage specialist Bradford Wilcox wrote a piece suggesting that women should marry the men they have children with in order to lower the incidence of domestic violence. Both articles have been met with hefty criticism from scholars, journalists, activists and students alike, most citing clear victim blaming and misinterpretation of the related data.

Will and Wilcox readily demonstrate an ignorance of the current climate of violence against women in the US. About 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime, and only 12% of those cases are ever reported. Around 20 to 25% of women and 6.1% of men experience sexual assault during their time in college. College campuses have been in the national spotlight for several months now, with the number of Title IX suits against colleges increasing and President Obama beginning a White House Task Force to address college sexual assault.

Despite the often overwhelming reality of coping with sexual assault, George Will refuses to empathize. Will contests that students who report sexual assault or dating violence are conferred “survivor privilege”, which he never actually defines. We might be able to gather, however, that he assumes that there are certain benefits afforded by universities to people who claim that they have experienced sexual assault, as though universities across the country are bending over backwards to cater to survivors. However, Will entirely overlooks the oppressive environment surrounding survivorship. Survivors are often blamed for their assaults by peers and by law enforcement if they choose to come forward. They are frequently afraid to report sexual assault: the perpetrator is likely to be a classmate, boyfriend, neighbor or other acquaintance rather than a stranger. According to RAINN, the national prosecution average is only 8%, and 97% of rapists never see jail time. Economically, this climate of ignorance and shaming often causes survivors to lose scholarships, part-time jobs, and even drop out, which can lead to greater economic insecurity in the long-term due to a lack of higher education.

Bradford Wilcox’s recommendations that women marry the men they have children with to avoid violence hits on the same victim blaming mentality present in Will’s article. Arguing that women in married relationships are safer than unmarried woman in a relationship or with children, Wilcox takes single-variable statistics put out by the Department of Justice in 2012 that focus only on family composition, ignoring the subtleties of domestic violence. In revisiting the original data, it is obvious that this analysis does not encompass the full picture. Wilcox omits many other factors that contribute to the occurrence of domestic violence, such as age, race, education level and income. For instance, married women tend to also be whiter, more educated and in a higher income bracket. However, domestic violence is also more common in situations when the victim has a higher education level than their abuser. By Wilcox’s “if…then” logic, we could draw the similarly shortsighted conclusion that women should stop attaining high levels of education in order to avoid domestic violence. Additionally, encouraging survivors to marry their abusers will not only fail to stop the abuse, but will make it easier for offenders to commit economic abuses and make it even harder financially for survivors to escape.

Articles like these ignore the gravity of the consequences of the violent crimes perpetrated against women every day. As a female student in university, it would be refreshing to see someone respect a survivor’s point of view, instead arguing for justice for survivors and the necessity of more accountable sexual assault prevention. It is ludicrous that survivors are being asked to switch schools, wait until a rapist graduates and rely on marriage to avoid violence instead of holding society and institutions accountable to acknowledge and support them.

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The Supreme Court, Guns and Defining Domestic Violence

On March 26th, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that “seemingly minor acts” of domestic violence can be classified as physical force under the federal law banning gun ownership for those charged with misdemeanor domestic violence. Currently, domestic violence is defined on the federal level as committing physical violence, while definitions on the state level can be broader and vary by place. In Tennessee, where the defendant pled guilty, the definition of domestic violence is knowingly or intentionally causing bodily injury, which includes pushing, shoving, slapping and hair grabbing. However, the defendant argued that his offense was not violent enough to fall under the federal law that denied him access to guns. The Supreme Court ruled against him, stating that domestic violence normally falls under a common-law battery conviction that often broadly includes “offensive touching” such as hitting, pushing and slapping. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, on behalf of the other justices, argued that while the term “violence” connotes a great degree of force, the term domestic violence refers to acts that would not be considered “violent” in a nondomestic circumstance.

This ruling is important for the safety and security of both victims and communities due to the deadly combination of intimate partner violence and gun ownership:

Therefore, a more inclusive definition of physical force bars a greater number of abusers from gun ownership, which greatly reduces the risk of homicide in a domestic violence situation, especially of being shot by a convicted abuser.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a concurring opinion disagreeing with Justice Sotomayor’s definition of domestic violence, stating that the consideration of any “offensive touching, no matter how slight,” as domestic violence is wrong. He argues, “when everything is domestic violence, nothing is.” Furthermore, he disputes Justice Sotomayor’s use of a definition from advocacy groups because these groups have a “vested interest” in an inclusive definition to “broaden the base of individuals eligible for support services.” Justice Sotomayor defends her argument by stating that the decision in this case is about defining “physical force” rather than creating a definition of “domestic violence.”

Nevertheless, Justice Scalia’s argument that such a definition of domestic violence is too broad carries implications that could be harmful to the safety and economic security of victims. Many domestic violence organizations and agencies, including OVW, define domestic violence as physical, emotional, psychological, sexual and economic abuse. Limiting the legal definition to physical violence does not take into account the many complexities of domestic violence or the many ways abusers control survivors. Failing to recognize the full scope of abuse will perpetuate the low reporting rate, which prevents survivors from accessing necessary protection and economic justice. Furthermore, Justice Scalia’s argument that the goal of domestic violence organizations is to expand the number of individuals who are eligible for support services is not based in fact. The goal of many of these organizations is to end domestic violence forever, thereby putting themselves out of business. Unfortunately, service providers are far from reaching this goal and even lack the capacity to meet existing need: on September 17, 2013, almost 10,000 requests from domestic violence survivors were turned down because the organizations lacked the resources or money to support them. Regardless of how domestic violence is defined in this context, this expanded definition will help more survivors be safe and free from harm.

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Government Shutdown Impacts Survivors

An average of three women are murdered by their intimate partners in the US everyday, which means since the start of the government shutdown approximately 45 women’s lives have been lost due to intimate partner violence. Survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence are being seriously affected by the government shutdown. Due to the congressional gridlock, domestic violence programs are struggling to remain open and college sexual assault investigations have been put on hold.

Many victims of domestic violence remain with or return to their abusers due to financial insecurity. One way to combat this is through the availability of domestic violence shelters. Studies confirm that access to domestic violence shelters leads to a 60-70% reduction in occurrence and severity of re-assault compared to survivors who did not utilize shelter services. Yet despite the clear need, shelters are struggling to stay open due to funding restrictions. Prior to the shutdown, sequestration caused a $20 million reduction in funding for domestic violence shelters, and even before sequestration, almost 80% of shelters reported receiving less funding from the government than they previously had. Now that the government shutdown is in place, domestic violence programs have been notified that they won’t be able to draw down the grant money they rely on, typically from the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW). The impact of the loss of these funds will differ depending on how much each program relies on federal money and how their budgets are structured; however, for organizations that are primarily funded through federal grants, even temporary disruption of cash flow will be damaging.

In addition to victims of domestic violence, victims of sexual assaults on college campuses are also facing unfavorable news due to the shutdown. With 1 in 5 women experiencing completed or attempted sexual assault while in college, it is outrageous to hear reports that universities are not properly handling reports of assault. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has been handling numerous formal complaints about universities violating Title IX and the Clery Act prior to the government shutdown. These are federal laws that require colleges to fight gender-based violence and accurately report the number of sexual assaults that occur on campus. However, due to the federal government shutdown, officials have been unable to work on college campus sexual assault investigations. The shutdown isn’t cancelling the investigations, but work on these investigations cannot continue until the government reopens.

The government shutdown is more than the monuments being closed and Congressional members being obstinate. For victims of sexual assault on college campuses it means a slower movement towards justice and less of a chance to recover and move forward with their valuable education. For low-income women who will have less access to shelters, it could mean more abuse, less physical safety and financial independence, and even more fatalities.

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