On March 17, the House of Representatives discussed – for hours – and passed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This federal legislation that originally passed in 1994 was the first attempt at the federal level to recognize and address the epidemic social tragedy of gender based violence. The latest version – the law is revised every five years – is looking to add additional safety measures to address violence against immigrants, LGBTQ, and Native people harmed by non-natives on sovereign nation lands. VAWA has shined a light on an issue that previously was considered a private family issue that left so many women, men, Transgender and children completely unprotected in their own homes.
However, what has been a response to attempt to reduce gender based violence in the United States has become a very controversial array of programs that has focused on professionals that work in the justice system rather than a means to support victims of gender based crimes and hold accountable those that are causing harm by committing domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. Indeed, the largest contracts coming out of this Act go to law enforcement, prosecutors, and technical assistance providers and not to the programs working directly with victims.
One significant consequence of VAWA has been the increased number of victims who have been arrested and incarcerated because law enforcement and prosecutors have not had opportunities to be fully trained on primary aggressor tactics and do not fully comprehend the behaviors they are observing when interacting with victims and abusers.
Most importantly VAWA has adversely affected Black, Indigenous and People of Color. Using arrest as a deterrent to future incidents of domestic violence for example has simply increase the number of black and brown men and women in county jails and state prisons but hasn’t reduced the incidents of these crimes. This is coupled with no increase in supportive services to either the victims or those causing harm to actually interrupt the violence.
The current version of Violence Against Women Act is certain to pass even if it takes some time in the Senate. Over the next five years advocates working to end gender based violence should take a deep dive into the programs and efforts being conducted via this Act and really have serious conversations about changing the way we provide services to those harmed and those committing harm. It is time to pull away from the justice system as the means to reduce gender based violence and move toward working with those that have experienced this violence. They are the guides to what would work better to make a real difference in ending this epidemic that continues to plague every aspect of our social structures.
Those of us that work in the gender based anti-violence movement have always said we listen to those who seek assistance from us. The vast majority of them have said they do not want their significant other to get in trouble, they just want the violence to stop. It is high time we really listen and support that request. We must develop more community based, collaborative responses to truly reduce domestic violence and sexual assault.
The membership of ICADV has embarked on this deep dive in a number of ways. We are having conversations during our quarterly meetings about what collaborations are being created to create a more seamless services response to the families coming to them for assistance. Our trainings are focused on improving skills and knowledge of workers by utilizing evidence based, trauma informed responses to survivors and their dependents. Our Board is actively seeking more knowledge about the issue of domestic violence and what supports our member agencies need in order to be fully accessible. The staff of ICADV is engaged with many efforts to follow trends and to gain knowledge of resources to support our member programs.
I invite you to join us in our expanding efforts to end domestic violence. Peruse our website to read about some of the advocacy opportunities we are engaged in. Take a look at our services map to see if there is a domestic violence agency in your part of the state that you could connect with to learn more about what is happening. Think about becoming a supporting Friend to ICADV or donate to our Economic Assistance to Victims Fund. There are many ways that you can join our growing movement to end domestic violence. We need you.