Preventing Domestic Violence: Policy Recommendations for the Next US Administration
This excerpt is from a policy memo by the Family Violence Prevention Fund, which works to end violence against women and children around the world, 383 Rhode Island St. #304,_San Francisco, CA 94103; 415/252-8900; www.endabuse.org.
The physical and sexual abuse of women and children remains a public health problem of epidemic proportions in the United States and around the world. More than one in three women will be abused at some point in their lives, and more than 15 million children in the US witness this abuse every year.
In the US, about 1200 women are murdered each year by current or former partners, and almost 500 women and girls are raped or sexually assaulted each day.
We also know that violence against women and girls occurs with horrifying frequency across the globe. This violence is a human rights violation, a public health epidemic, and a barrier to solving global challenges including extreme poverty, HIV/AIDS, and war. Violence is both a cause and consequence of women's unequal status.
It is because we value the rights and dignity of women and children, because we recognize the health and social costs of violence, and because we recognize that healthy communities begin with and depend on healthy families, that we respectfully offer the following recommendations to a new Administration.
Focus on Primary Prevention that Engages Men and Boys
Violence against women will never end unless we change the social norms that make violence acceptable and encourage boys to see physical aggression and exploitive sexuality as integral parts of manhood. Action steps include:
Use Father's Day as a National Day of Reflection on fatherhood and raising boys into men.
Fully fund the Engaging Men and Boys program within the Violence Against Women Act. This new program has yet to be fully funded and no funds have actually gone out to the field.
Ensure that any federally funded marriage and fatherhood programs include domestic violence protections. Redirect marriage promotion funding to support broader family strengthening programs, including collaborations between domestic violence and fatherhood programs that improve safety and well-being for women, men, and children.
Increase Early Interventions for Children Exposed to Violence
While we would never argue that a child exposed to violence will go on to perpetrate or experience violence, children who witness and experience physical and sexual violence are at much greater risk for future victimization and perpetration. It is critical that we teach those who interact with children and youth to understand how family violence affects children's lives, and also that we make services available both to children and to their parents or caregivers. Action steps include:
Fully fund the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act and support the addition of strong language on the need for child protection systems to safely address domestic violence.
Support passage of and fund the Education Begins At Home Act, to expand home visitation programs focusing on young and at-risk families.
Fully fund the youth and prevention programs within the Violence Against Women Act to support direct services for children exposed to violence.
Fund and implement the domestic violence and child welfare collaborations created in the 2005 Violence Against Women Act.
Target Resources to Youth and Teens
As young people begin dating, their risk for violence increases, as does their receptivity to messages about relationships. We must target this age group with messages that violence and abuse are unacceptable, and give them the information and skills to build healthy relationships. Focusing on this age group allows us to identify those young people who are already experiencing - or have already experienced - physical and sexual abuse. We can break the cycle that often begins when victimized children enter abusive adolescent relationships and have their own children young, with little support. Action steps include:
Fund the Violence Against Women Act teen dating violence and prevention programs.
Shift funding from abstinence-only sex education programs to healthy teen relationship education programs that include both honest, evidence-based information to help prevent teen pregnancy, as well as information and skills-building on how to value and develop healthy relationships and prevent dating violence.
Ensure that youth in group homes and those aging out of foster care receive services and information to address past violence and abuse and prevent early parenthood and family violence.
Fully Fund Services for Victims of Violence
Even as we recommend that more resources be dedicated to prevention and early intervention, we must ensure that services for victims remain strong. The economic downturn is also straining the budgets of states and community-based services at precisely the time the need for these services is increasing. Action steps include:
Fully fund the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act, the only dedicated federal funding stream to support services for victims of domestic violence.
Fully fund the Sexual Assault Services Program, the only specific funding stream to support services for rape victims.
Increase the cap on the Victims of Crime Act fund to allow disbursement of existing funds to victims of crime and victim-serving organizations. These funds are fines paid by those convicted of federal crimes or settlements and are not tax dollars.
Address Violence in Military Families
... [C]oping with the trauma of war is leading to increased rates of suicide, family violence, and homicide among military families. It is critical that the military follow through on recommendations included in recent reports on domestic violence and sexual assault in the military and the recent RAND report on PTSD and suicide. Action steps include:
Dramatically increase and specifically target funding for Family Advocacy Programs to better address the needs of families experiencing domestic violence and child abuse and help families prevent physical and sexual abuse.
Expand the research base on successful interventions to address physical and sexual abuse perpetrated and experienced by active duty personnel and returning veterans.
Dramatically improve access to and availability of mental health services for all active-duty family members. Include marriage and couples counseling only if both parties seek it and if it includes awareness of domestic violence issues.
Create within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) standards for programs that provide family and couples counseling for veterans receiving VA mental health treatment that are domestic violence-informed and make services available to partners regardless of marital status.
Ensure that partners of active-duty personnel and veterans have access to domestic violence and sexual assault services within the civilian community, and share information about civilian resources on military bases and through military information networks.
Address the Challenges Faced by Immigrants and Refugees
While immigrant and refugee women don't necessarily experience greater levels of intimate partner violence than the general population, they do face unique and culturally-specific barriers to accessing help and ending the abuse. Language barriers, unfamiliarity with systems and legal rights, social and economic isolation, lack of cultural competence by service providers, and anti-immigrant bigotry all contribute to a situation where many immigrant victims and their children are forced to stay in abusive relationships and perpetrators are not held accountable for their behavior. The Violence Against Women Act includes many vital protections for immigrant victims of violence and trafficking, however services remain inadequate to address the complex needs of these victims. Action steps include:
Domestic violence programs funded through the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act should receive targeted funding for serving cultural and linguistic minorities, and culturally-specific, community-based organizations should be able to receive funding.
The Public Education campaign(s) focusing on culturally-specific communities authorized in the Violence Against Women Act should be funded.
Ending Violence Against Women and Girls: A Foreign Policy Priority
The World Health Organization, the World Bank, and the United Nations have all identified [focusing on gender equity] as the most effective means of improving the effectiveness of foreign aid, reducing poverty, and solving our greatest public health challenges.
In 2007, Joe Biden, along with his Senate colleague Richard Lugar, introduced the bipartisan International Violence Against Women Act. This legislation, which was introduced in the House of Representatives by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman, includes the critical elements necessary to reduce violence against women and help meet the Millennium Development Goals. Action steps include::
Create an Office of Global Women's Initiatives within the Office of the Secretary of State to coordinate all efforts to combat violence against women.
Create a new and restructured Women in Development Office at USAID that has the power and resources to integrate violence prevention and gender-responsive programming across US foreign assistance.
With the leaders of these two new offices, create a national strategy to reduce violence against women and girls in 10-20 countries with high rates of violence against women, and provide funding and coordination for programming that supports local women's non-governmental organizations in those countries. This strategy must include rigorous evaluation so that promising practices may be used in other countries and regions, and transparency and reporting that identifies who receives the funding and how the money is used.
[Editors' note: Funding is also needed to address elder abuse (www.ncea.aoa.gov), and violence among same-sex couples. Existing efforts must change heterosexist assumptions and develop programs explicitly to reach the LGBT community. Beth Leventhal, director of The Network/La Red, a Massachusetts program working to end abuse in lesbian, bisexual women's, and transgender communities, told Peacwork that funding for anti-violence projects in the community is woeful. There are only five beds throughout the state, and only a part-time hotline. Most states offer no programs at all. See www.thenetworklared.org.]