Today’s post, the second of a four-part series, focuses on legislative issues as they relate to domestic violence. In the final two posts, I will share some personal experiences, some of which are featured in The Best Girl.
Overview of Legislation as it relates to Violence Against Women
Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s when our family was in the midst of our turmoil, police were trained to avoid arrest at all costs – this was a marital problem, an issue better left to be handled in the privacy of one’s home. The abuse was tossed off as due to the man being drunk or that the woman provoked it. Even in cases of repeat assault, the officers would simply tell the man to go cool off.
In the late 1970’s, at the grassroots level, women started taking action. The states of Arizona, California and Minnesota opened the first domestic violence shelters. The National Organization for Women initiated The Battered Women and Household Violence Task Force and started the first nationwide discussion of the need for legal remedies and criminal justice intervention.
Despite these efforts, the police community continued to decline arrest in the case of abuse, continuing their long-entrenched view that battering of women was a private matter.
Then, in 1982, a group of officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota asked themselves a question: Would arresting the abuser deter future violence? To find the answer, they initiated the Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment. In the study, the abuser was either arrested, told to leave the home for a day, or given advice. Though the study was limited to a six-month follow-up period, it showed that the abusers who were arrested were less likely to reoffend. This pivotal study gained national attention and was replicated in five other states. As a result, by 1990, mandatory arrest laws were adopted in 23 states.
The study, along with organizations such as NOW, also garnered the attention of then Senator Joe Biden who made a decision to address violence against women at the federal level. Senator Biden worked with representatives from the National Association of Women Judges, and NOW to pass the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) which President Bill Clinton signed into law on Sept 13, 1994. The VAWA was the first legislation of any kind that formally criminalized domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. In addition to the criminal components, VAWA provides funding for education and training of domestic violence advocates, health professionals, law enforcement, prosecutors and judges.
When Senator Biden became Vice President, he established the White House Council on Women and Girls. Valerie Jarrett, the director of the office, and Vice President Biden continued researching violence against women. Consequently, when President Obama reauthorized the act in 2013, protections and considerations were extended to include sexual assault, dating violence, Native American Women, immigrants and LGBT victims. Unfortunately, Valerie Jarrett was relieved of her duties on inauguration day 2017, and the new administration has not yet assigned a new director. And, though VAWA has been reauthorized by every administration since 1994, it’s unclear whether President Trump will do so.
Joe Biden's It's On Us Campaign
Vice President Biden, as well as President Obama, spoke at the Summit of the United State of Women, held on 6/14/16. In Joe Biden's moving address (see link below), he spoke of his belief that every woman has a fundamental right to live her life free of violence, and that it is never okay for a man to abuse a woman – sexually or violently. When asked how he will know his work is done, he said two things:
1) When not a single woman who has been violated asks the question: What did I do?
2) When not one man who raises a hand, or takes a violent action against a woman says: She deserved it.
Since leaving office, Joe Biden has continued his fight against domestic violence and rape. One of his most recent initiatives is a college campus program called It’s On Us. Action items for the campaign include:
- We must get men involved. If you are a man, and you stand idly by while another man is violating a woman, you must speak up or you are an accomplice.
- We must provide a forum for survivors to be heard – if you know someone who is being abused, listen to her and validate her story.
o We must give the woman justice.
o We must let her know it was not her fault – even if she was drunk etc.
o We must offer an immediate connection to resources.
- As a society, we must decide that violence against women is always wrong – and we must call it out – no matter the risk to someone’s reputation, or the reputation of an institution.
- As the United States of America, we must realize that we are the country that all others watch. If we validate violence against women, we send that message out to other countries that still have not put legislation into place for protection.
But - What can WE do?
Violence against women is one of the issues that affect the fabric of our society and requires action from all of us, not just advocates, lobbyists and legislators. Joe Biden and his staff have great ideas for our nation, we also need action items for regular people - people like you and me. So, what can we do?
- Volunteer at a local Domestic Violence shelter. These facilities are in constant need of clerical support, childcare providers as well as monetary and other donations. Check the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence website (link below) which lists shelters across the United States that need volunteers and donations. Personally, I volunteer at Cornerstone in Bloomington, Minnesota.
- Tell our girls that if anyone ever hits them, it is never their fault, and it is always wrong.
- Raise our boys to understand that violence is not the way to solve problems. Families and schools must continually discuss options other than violence to solve problems.
- Bullying should not be tolerated in our homes, schools, churches or in the larger political environment. Processes must be put into place so that children learn from a young age how to resolve conflict without using their fists.
- Be a good listener.
- Empower our girls, no matter what their age, to value themselves, to know their worth, to recognize their potential.
- Show up in children's and young adult's lives. Show them how to resolve conflict, how to make difficult decisions.
- Show up in other women's lives. Each of us needs someone to share the joys of life with, and someone to lean on when times are tough.
Joe Biden's 2016 speech from The United State of Women: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MyXFYINQsA
Renzetti, Claire M. et l, Sourcebook on Violence against Women, Third Edition. Copyright 2016; SAGE Publications, Inc., Thousand Oaks California.