Domestic Violence: ‘Where’s the Public Outrage?’

A national awareness campaign similar to the anti-drinking and driving movement is the most promising way to address the nation’s domestic violence problem, according to speakers at John Jay College Wednesday. They called it a public health challenge.

Will ending the scourge of domestic violence require the kind of mass public campaign that helped reduce drinking and driving?

Community advocates and practitioners speaking at a conference at John Jay College Wednesday argued that, despite the pervasiveness of intimate partner violence (IPV) across all economic and ethnic groups, the media and public officials rarely identified it as a public health challenge.

“Where’s the public outrage?” asked Maureen Curtis, who heads criminal justice and court programs at Safe Horizon, a leading New York City provider of services to domestic violence survivors.

Maureen Curtis (L), Terri Roman. Photo by John Ramsey/TCR

She pointed out that it wasn’t until a coalition of community groups and policymakers began identifying the dangers of alcohol to drivers that it became embedded as part of America’s cultural awareness.

The same approach should be applied to IPV, she said.

“We need people to stand up and say this isn’t OK.”

Some speakers pointed out that recent headlines about politicians and policymakers forced to resign because of sexual harassment or abuse helped to raise consciousness about the issue.

But often it remained off of the radar screen for many Americans—either because they did not want to acknowledge it as a problem or it hit too close to home.

“A lot of the (domestic abuse cases we see) is a product of socialization,” said Teri Roman, project director of the Bronx (NY) Domestic Violence Complex, who recalled that her own mother victimized by violence. “Many men and women grow up to be abusers because of what they see as young people.”

John Leventhal

Associate Justice (NY) John Leventhal. Photo by John Ramsey/TCR

Judge John Leventhal,an Associate Justice in New York’s Appellate Division, said courts could ensure that victims were kept safe from spousal abusers, but longer-term health approaches were essential.

“It’s a learned behavior,” said Leventhal, who presided over the Brooklyn Felony Domestic Violence Court, which was the first such court in the US when it was established in 1996.

“Maybe, it can be unlearned.”

But the only way to break the cycle, speakers said, was to make it a wider public discussion.

“This is a public health epidemic,” said Kristin Smith-Shrimplin, president and CEO of Women Helping Women in Cincinnatti, Ohio.

Kristen Smith-Shrimplin

Kristen Smith-Shrimplin. Photo by John Ramsey/TCR

“It needs a public health solution.”

Karen Jackson, director of recovery at Project Hospitality, a New York faith-based nonprofit, said that domestic violence was linked to and impacted by “every social justice issue.”

For example, she said, the failure to pass the omnibus Farm Bill in Congress this month left in doubt the future of food assistance programs included in the bill—programs which many poor families are dependent upon. Without such assistance, an abused woman might decide she cannot afford to leave a partner who is otherwise the chief breadwinner of the family.

While the nation has made progress in reducing overall rates of intimate partner violence over the past decade, statistics suggest one in three women will experience some form of abuse by an intimate partner—and the majority of them will be under 25, according to speakers during the first day of the session Tuesday.

Stephen Handelman is editor of The Crime Report. He welcomes readers’ comments.


Suit: Officials Ignored Violence of Wife-Killer NJ Cop

New Jersey police Sgt. Philip Seidle shot and killed his wife in 2015, three weeks after their divorce became final. A lawsuit by the victim’s children says police officials ignored numerous signs of his potential for violence, including a long record of excessive force complaints and 12 different calls for help from the victim, Tamara Wilson-Seidle.

A lawsuit filed this week alleges that a former Neptune Township, N.J., police sergeant who gunned down his ex-wife as she sat helplessly in her car had an internal affairs file that is nearly 700 pages–and was asked to stay on the force even after he offered to retire prior to the 2015 slaying, reports Philip Seidle had already served two suspensions for domestic violence and briefly had his service weapon taken away, the same weapon he used to kill his ex-wife, Tamara Wilson-Siedle, on an Asbury Park street in June 2015, three weeks after their divorce was finalized. The new lawsuit, filed by the nine Seidle children, includes explosive new allegations that their 54-year-old police officer father had an internal affairs file that is 682 pages with excessive force complaints starting in 2004.

When coupled with Seidle’s long, documented past of physical and verbal abuse against Wilson-Seidle, 51, local and county authorities ignored warning signs that ultimately led to her death, the lawsuit contends. They also failed to take action after Wilson-Seidle visited Neptune police officials, including Chief James Hunt Jr., to “complain about the mistreatment, abuse, threats and behavior” of her estranged husband, the lawsuit states. Seidle pleaded guilty in  2016 to aggravated manslaughter and child endangerment and was sentenced to 30 years in state prison. The plaintiffs say there at least 12 calls for help to police from Wilson-Seidle from 2012 to the date of her murder. His police gun was taken away in 2012 and a police psychologist declared him unfit for duty. A year later, the gun was returned to him.


Federal Protection for Women Sliding Backwards, Experts Warn

Lynn Rosenthal and Bea Hanson, prominent players in the Obama White House, told a conference at John Jay College Tuesday they were worried that the upcoming reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act would not cover the programs needed to help women experiencing intimate partner violence.

Two of the country’s leading experts on women’s issues warn that federal efforts to prevent violence against women are in danger of sliding “backwards” under the Trump administration.

Current discussions in Washington over the anticipated reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) this year raise concerns about whether funding under the Act will cover the programs needed to help women experiencing intimate partner violence, a conference at John Jay College in New York was told Tuesday.

Bea Hanson

Bea Hanson. Photo by John Ramsey/TCR

Even the level of funds provided under the last reauthorization of the Act in 2013 is “at risk because (it) happened in the last administration,” said Bea Hanson, executive director of the NYC Domestic Violence Task Force. 

And those funds barely addressed all the needs of women under threat of sexual assault or abuse, added Hanson, who was previously Principal Deputy Director of the Office on Violence Against Women at the Department of Justice during the Obama Administration.

VAWA, passed in 1994, was the first piece of federal legislation designed to end violence against women. It was also a triumph for women’s groups that lobbied hard to persuade Congress to grant federal protection for women on the grounds that states were failing in their efforts to address this violence.

However, Lynn Rosenthal, who heads the Violence Against Women Initiative at the Biden Foundation, expressed concern that VAWA under the Trump administration would reduce protections for LGBTQ women and immigrant women.

“There’s a real fear that VAWA is moving backwards in 2018,” said Rosenthal, who served as the first-ever White House Advisor on Violence Against Women from 2009-2015.

The funds allocated under the 2013 reauthorization—$465 million—were barely enough to address the scope of the problem, she pointed out.

“We never funded the innovations we need,” she said, noting that the funds amounted to a “rounding error” compared to other expenditures in the federal budget—even as the threats faced by women continued to grow.

“While overall rates of domestic violence have dropped by 63 percent since VAWA was passed, still, one in three women will experience some form of abuse by an intimate partner in their life,” she said.

Notably, 70 percent of those women will be under the age of 25.

Lynn Rosenthal

Lynn Rosenthal. Photo by John Ramsey/TCR

“It’s a burden borne by young women,” said Rosenthal.

While the future of VAWA is unclear, the question of whether or not states could adequately protect women who are survivors of violence has emerged as another major concern. 

According to Hanson, the states shouldn’t be left with this responsibility.

The problem with the state’s response is that some communities would receive help, while others would not, she said.

“There would be a huge slot in the country where nothing is happening, and that is why we need the broad brush that the federal government can offer,” Hanson added.

Of the vulnerable population VAWA aims to protect, undocumented immigrant women living in the US should be at the forefront, argued experts at the conference.

“We forget about those who don’t speak English and had to leave their home because of the sexual violence they faced in their country,” said Rocío García, program coordinator at VIP Mujeres, a nonprofit New York-based advocacy group that works with immigrants.

Yet under the Trump administration, undocumented immigrants are at great risk of losing whatever protection they had previously under VAWA.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose duties include supervision of the nation’s immigration courts, is conducting a broad review to question whether domestic or sexual violence should ever be recognized as persecution that would justify protection in the United States.

With approximately 19 million immigrant women and girls in the US, VAWA offers three forms of protection to undocumented immigrant women: “U” visas for victims of crime; “T” visas for victims of severe forms of trafficking; and “self-petitioning” visas.

See also: How Safe Are ‘Sanctuary Cities’?

Rescinding provisions of VAWA that aid undocumented women would be a mistake, García argued. 

“We need immigration relief,” she said.

“America is supposed to be for all of us, but these undocumented immigrants who are victims of abuse are still afraid.”

The two-day conference for the media, scholars, practitioners, and advocates on “The Hidden Crime: Covering Domestic Violence,” was co sponsored by the New York City Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence and the John Jay Center on Media, Crime and Justice, publisher of The Crime Report.

The conference ends Wednesday.

Megan Hadley is a reporter for The Crime Report. She welcomes comments from readers. 


CT Set to End ‘Dual Arrests’ in Domestic Violence

Connecticut has a long record of arresting both domestic abusers and spouses or partners who fight back during an assault. A bill to curtail the practice cruised through the state legislature last week and is expected to be signed into law by the governor.

The Connecticut Legislature has sent a bill to the governor’s desk that seeks to end having victims of domestic violence arrested along with their abusers because they fight back during the course of an assault, reports ProPublica. For years, Connecticut’s domestic violence victims have been at risk of “dual arrests” — instances in which police arrest both the victim and the perpetrator of domestic violence. The state has a dual arrest rate of about 18 percent in “intimate partner” incidents, a 2017 ProPublica analysis found. The average for the rest of the country is about two percent.

The rates were much higher in certain communities: 35 percent in Windsor and 37 percent in Ansonia. The new law would require law enforcers to determine which party is the dominant aggressor — that is, who initiated the abuse. The bill passed both houses of the Connecticut Legislature last week. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is expected to sign it into law. Advocates and others, including some in law enforcement, had long sought to end the risk to victims of violence. Victims arrested along with their abusers often faced humiliation, the cost of hiring a lawyer, and even a lasting criminal record.


CT Case a Reminder of Domestic Violence Danger for Police

Nine officers in Connecticut were hurt last week when a barn exploded in the midst of a domestic violence situation–a reminder of the volatility of such incidents. “We don’t walk around covered head to toe in Kevlar,” said a New Haven officer. “So there is no preparation for these things.”

A deadly incident in Connecticut on May 2 that left nine officers injured was a reminder that domestic violence calls to police occur every day but are never routine, reports the New Haven Register. Police responding to such calls face a volatile situation for themselves and the victims, according to an analysis by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. The nine officers were treated last week following a domestic violence incident that culminated when the barn at the location exploded, setting the residence on fire. A body was found on the premises, but officials said Tuesday it had not been officially identified.

John DeCarlo, a criminal justice professor at the University of New Haven and former police chief, said emotions make domestic violence situations acutely volatile. He said, “The stakes are literally so high when you’re going to lose your family … you’re in a tense situation with your domestic partner, so (it) could become violent very quickly.” North Haven police spokesman Capt. Kevin Glenn said the department’s protocols for handling domestic violence follow the statewide model policy. But Officer David Hartman of New Haven said the explosion was an example of the unknowns that officers can face. “You can’t be more prepared for something like that than you would be for the two officers that were shot and killed eating dinner in a restaurant through a window,” he said, referring to a shooting last month in Florida. “We don’t walk around covered head to toe in Kevlar. So there is no preparation for these things.”


Domestic Violence Calls About Guns Up 75%

The surge of firearms-involved calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline involving firearms was attributed to increased publicity about mass shootings. Nearly 12,000 of the hotline’s calls in 2017 were related to guns, up from about 6,800 such contacts in 2016.

Calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline involving firearms were up more than 75 percent last year, reports USA Today. The surge, after a year that had a 50 percent increase in gun-related domestic violence reports, is attributed to increased publicity about mass shootings. Nearly 12,000 of the hotline’s calls in 2017 were related to guns, up from about 6,800 such contacts in 2016.

The report comes amid calls for more stringent restrictions on gun ownership for  domestic abusers. New York Gov. Mario Cuomo last week signed legislation barring anyone convicted of domestic abuse-related offenses, including misdemeanors, from possessing firearms.

“Many survivors feel like they are alone,” says Katie Ray-Jones, CEO of the domestic violence hoteline. “When they hear stories in the media, they see reflections of themselves and want to chat.”

Along with reporting threats to themselves and their children, women are “calling to say, ‘My husband may be capable of a mass shooting,’ ” she said.

More than half of U.S. mass shootings from January 2009 to December 2016 were related to domestic or family violence, asserts the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.

The hotline analysis showed an increase of more than 13 percent in calls from people with immigration and domestic violence problems. The calls picked up around the time President Trump began signing executive orders related to immigration early in his administration.

“It’s mostly women reaching out in fear because of what they’re seeing on TV,” Ray-Jones says, citing news reports of women being deported and separated from children. “Their abusers say, ‘That’s going to be you. I’m going to get you deported, and you’re never going to see (your children) again.’ They leverage that to keep her in the relationship.”


Domestic Abuse: Puerto Rico’s Women in Crisis

A dedicated network of psychologists, advocates and shelters has emerged to cope with the rise in domestic violence victims since last year’s Hurricane Maria. The challenge is complicated by the slow pace of reconstruction and the lack of government resources.  

Alba, 36, is a skinny woman who looks younger than she is.

Her body is covered with tattoos. In the middle of one breast, a drawing represents, “los golpes de la vida” (the hard knocks of life); another on her ankle ties her to her sister forever; on her arm, another recalls the cancer that killed her father.

On her back are a number of butterflies—symbols of the fragility that marks her life.

When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, it left Alba’s house, located in the countryside surrounding Cayey, a small community on the southeast of the island, severely damaged and without electricity.

But Alba (at her request her full name is withheld to protect her identity) suffered more than house damage as a result of the storm.

Puerto Rico

Alba (left), a victim of domestic violence and Luz, her legal intercessor, during an interview at the Hogar Nueva Mujer in Cayey. Photo by Mirko Cecchi

“In the midst of all our desperation,” she recalled. “My partner and I argued even more violently; he left, and I tried to take my life.

“I cut my veins and took some pills.”

She woke up in the hospital. After treatment for her injuries, Alba returned home with her two children, aged 18 and 7, from a previous relationship. There was no trace of her partner until Dec. 22, when six shots, fired in the dark, hit her car parked in the street, and pockmarked the outer wall of the room where the boys slept.

“I knew it was him because the day before, he must have seen my ex-husband come to bring a present to my children, and he must have done so out of jealousy,” she said.

Four days later, Aurora won a protection order from a judge and, on a friend’s suggestion, moved to Hogar Nueva Mujer (New Women’s Place), a women’s shelter in Cayey.

She joined hundreds of other women who have fled abusive spouses or partners since the hurricane, reflecting what women’s advocates on the island have called an “astronomical” increase in domestic violence.

According to John Jay College Prof. Jodie Roure, who works with human rights and women’s organizations in Puerto Rico, the number of 911 calls skyrocketed from 211 in the immediate aftermath of the storm to 889 the following month—with some 1,747 calls received through November, 2017.

In an earlier interview on Criminal Justice Matters, Roure said, “the lack of access to food and electricity has exacerbated stress” in many families hit hardest by the storm, and contributed as well to a number of “murder-suicides” related to domestic conflicts.

The problem has not abated.

Alba is one of 223 victims of domestic violence that Hogar Nueva Mujer assisted between September 2017 and February 2018—36 more than those recorded in the same period between 2016 and 2017. Like some of the other victims of violence, she didn’t use 911 to call for help—relying instead on a friend’s recommendation—which suggests that the number of women fleeing abusive relationships after the hurricane may be even larger.

Puerto Rico

Vilmarie Rivera, director of the center for women victims of domestic violence, Hogar Nueva Mujer. Photo by Mirko Cecchi.

Vilmarie Rivera, the director of Nueva Mujer, said the center has increased its security protection as it tries to cope with the rise in demand for its services.

“We had to ensure that no volunteer was actually an attacker, but it was also a good time to allow the victims to approach us, with any excuse,” said Rivera, who noted that some women come just to take advantage of the laundry, to pick up medicines, or obtain food for their families.  In that period the center had the only electricity generator in the area.

Nueva Mujer—which works primarily on the housing problem by supporting victims of violence in finding a home and starting new independent lives—is one of eight shelters for Puerto Rican women active before the hurricane, and one of five that did not have to suspend the activities because of the damages suffered.

It helped find Alba a new house, and put her in touch with entrepreneurship courses that will help her build a new life. One of her goals is to open a small cosmetic business.

“I knew they would help me,” she says. “But I did not imagine so much.”

Rivera, like all gender-related activists on the island, believes that violence against women after the hurricane has increased further, but the actual numbers are still hard to obtain.

Vilma González, director of Coordinadora Paz Para las Mujeres (Peace for Women Coordinating Center), says the most recent data on domestic violence provided by Puerto Rico’s Office of the Women’s Advocate comes from 2016.

“I sent a message requesting the cases divided per month in 2017 but they have not answered,” said Gonzalez.

Rivera says there are other challenges as well.

“There’s no protocol (by the government) to address the danger which women faced,” she said in an interview.

As a result, many women have stayed with abusive partners “because they have not seen an alternative.”

Like Jodie Roure, Rivera blames the increase in domestic violence on economic hardship caused by the storm.

“Women have lost their jobs and men counted on that salary, plus many men were also unemployed,” she said. “Despair brings nervousness, anger, frustration.”

*“The hurricane has demonstrated the total failure of the system and has brought out inequality: Poverty in Puerto Rico has a woman’s face, but there are no public policies for them.”

In Vega Alta, a small town on the northern coast of Puerto Rico, Hogar Ruth (Ruth’s Place) has been active since 1984. Despite the lack of funds and supplies, and the damage caused to the building by the hurricane, it has never stopped providing shelter to the victims and their children.

“Today we have 21 guests, divided into 8 rooms,” explained coordinator Damaris Feliciano in an interview last month.

“During the hurricane we were 42. The women who knocked on our doors were not only victims of violence but pregnant girls or women with newborn babies who did not want to stay in the insecure and unhealthy camps organized by the government in schools or in gyms.”

Hogar Ruth dealt with 182 cases of domestic violence between October and December 2017, almost three times the number of those helped in the same period in the previous year (63).

Katalina (a pseudonym), who arrived at the shelter on Oct. 11, 2017, was one of them.

She moved to the island seven years ago, following a Puerto Rican man she met in her native country, Ecuador, with a newborn in her arms.

“As long as he came to visit me, everything was fine but as soon as we got here, he changed,” Katalina recalled. “He treated me as if I were stupid, as if I was always wrong, and also spoke badly to the child.

“The house where we lived was not a decent place to raise our daughter but I was here alone; I did not know who to ask for help and he kept us like prisoners.”

The hurricane and its aftermath somehow gave Katalina the courage to escape her situation.

“After seven years, I could not stand it anymore, and when Maria came, it was really too much,” she recalled. “One day I accompanied him to his sister’s house, she saw me cry and although we did not get along very well she handed me the number of a judge.”

After hearing Katalina’s story, the judge issued an order of protection—one of the 442 issued throughout Puerto Rico between September 20 and mid-October 2017. She and her child were then escorted by police to her house, where she was then helped to pack up her belongings and move to Hogar Ruth.

Hogar Ruth, as a transitional emergency hotel, shelters women for a maximum of 90 days before moving to their new home. But Katalina’s partner violated the order by going to her daughter’s school, and the shelter considered it safer to postpone their transfer.

Meanwhile, other institutions are using federal grant money to pay for psychological counseling to victims of domestic violence.

puerto rico

Cynthia Garcia Coll of Albizu University, San Juan. Photo by Mirko Cecchi.

Cynthia Garcia Coll, a psychologist and professor of human development at Albizu University in San Juan, received $400,000 from the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) program to provide psychological and legal assistance to domestic violence victims at the university’s clinic.

The university, which describes itself as the “first professional school of psychology in North America and the Caribbean,” set up a clinic to house the program in January, 2018, staffed by 16 advanced psychology doctoral students, four supervisors, two lawyers, and two legal intercessors who prepare victims of domestic violence for court testimony.

“After the hurricane, our project has taken on an even more important meaning,” said Coll.

During its first three months of operation, the clinic has worked with 14 women affected by the hurricane.

“We call them victims of victimization facts,” said Coll. “Domestic violence is often just one of the problems to be treated, and just one of the factors that has led people to find themselves in their specific situation.

“If [these] factors are not addressed, the risk of recurrence is very high: women often go from one violent relationship to another, and the epilogue can be tragic.”

In the absence of good data, one woman has begun to chronicle those tragedies on her own.

Carmen Castello

Carmen Castellò operates her Facebook site on murdered or disappeared Puerto Rican women out of her apartment.

Carmen Castelló Ortiz, a former social worker, devotes a good part of her day to registering cases of missing women or victims of femicide.

Puerto Rico

A gallery of the women who have disappeared in Puerto Rico since the hurricane, prepared by Carmen Castellò, administrator of the facebook page, Seguimiento De Casos. Photo by Mirko Cecchi

The computer in her small apartment in one of the island’s towns holds dozens of folders where she archives cases she finds in newspapers. The information includes photos of the victims, data reported by the police, and a brief summary of events which she then publishes on her Facebook page “Seguimiento De Casos (Tracing of Cases).”

In the aftermath of the hurricane, Ortiz has recorded a number of heart-rending stories, such as a 78-year-old woman who was murdered.

“For me, they are like family,” Ortiz said, as she scrolled through the faces of the women whose tracks have been lost. “I do not know if I could survive if one of my loved ones disappeared.”

But information and details are still hard to get. The island’s Public Security Department released in mid-October a list with 33 other missing women.

Gonzalez of Coordinadora de Paz Para Mujer fears that behind these numbers there may be human trafficking.  But  Puerto Rico’s overworked police force—which experienced a walkout earlier this year over complaints of missing overtime pay—has not been able to investigate further.

That has left Carmen as the missing women’s sole voice.

Claudia Bellante

Claudia Bellante

“I want to keep the attention, encourage the police to work more and better, so these women are not forgotten,” she says.

But the work of Puerto Rico’s advocates for women may only have just begun. The next hurricane season in the Caribbean begins in less than two months.

Claudia Bellante is an Italian freelance journalist who writes on Latin America. She has published articles in Internazionale, El País, The Caravan, and Rhythms Monthly. Photos by Mirko Cecchi at  Readers’ comments are welcome.


Keeping Victims Safe: Police Accountability and Domestic Violence

Since Colorado domestic violence victim Jessica Lenahan won her human rights case in 2011, police in many states still have a long way to go in enforcing federal laws requiring them to respond proactively to victims’ needs, speakers at a screening of the 2017 documentary Home Truth about the Lenahan case said Tuesday.

When restraining orders are filed against perpetrators of domestic abuse, are police doing everything in their power to prevent victims from further harm?

While the federal government legislation now holds law enforcement accountable for recognizing such restraining orders, “the challenge is in the states,” said Karol Mason, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Karol Mason

Karol Mason

The Department of Justice (DOJ) continues to fight for uniform recognition of the validity of restraining orders, Mason, former head of the Office of Justice Programs at the Department of Justice (DOJ), and Assistant Attorney General under the Obama Administration, said Tuesday night at a screening of the film Home Truth at John Jay College in honor of Women’s History Month.

“However, it’s hard because all 50 states have different laws.”

The 2017 film, directed and produced by April Hayes and Katia Maguire, highlighted the case of Jessica Lenahan (formerly Gonzales), who sued the police department of Castle Rock, Co., for failing to enforce a restraining order against her husband, which resulted in the murder of her three children in 1999.

On the night of the murder, Lenahan’s husband Simon Gonzales kidnapped their three little girls, shot them in the head, and proceeded to drive his car into the Castle Rock police headquarters, prompting a shootout between the officers and himself, in which he was killed.

That same night, Lenahan made several calls to local officers, urging them to look for her daughters, who had been kidnapped by their estranged father.

The police did not follow up on her request.

In a landmark 2011 decision, the Inter-American Commission found the United States responsible for human rights violations against Jessica and her three deceased children. Her case, Jessica Lenahan (Gonzales) v. the United States, was first case brought by a domestic violence survivor against the US before an international body.

Mason acknowledged that since the Castle Rock case, national strides have been made to reduce fatality among domestic abuse victims and their families.

In 2013, provisions were added to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to hold law enforcement accountable for acting against perpetrators responsible for these crimes.

“What they got passed is a miracle,” said Mason, who praised the long-overdue national effort to reduce domestic abuse.

Some of the provisions to the Violence Against Women Act include:

  • Keeping victims safe by requiring that a victim’s protection order will be recognized and enforced in all state, tribal, and territorial jurisdictions within the United States;
  • Increasing rates of prosecution, conviction and sentencing of offenders by helping communities develop dedicated law enforcement and prosecution units and domestic violence dockets;
  • Ensuring that police respond to crisis calls, and that judges understand the realities of domestic and sexual violence by training law enforcement officers, prosecutors, victim advocates and judges.

VAWA provides funding for the training of over 500,000 law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, and other personnel every year, and also disburses annual grants of up to half a million dollars for developing domestic violence intervention strategies among law enforcement agencies.

The federal government often uses money as a way to incentivize changes in behavior, Mason said.

“Yet some people who get the money don’t use it properly, and that’s where the advocacy comes in,” she said. “You’ve got to hold people accountable because they are getting substantial resources.”

While strides are being taken by local and federal law agencies to reduce domestic violence crimes, gaps in the system still remain.

For instance, such gaps allowed Stephen Paddock, formerly accused of domestic abuse, to purchase a semi-automatic weapon and fire into a crowd at a country concert in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and injuring 851 more.

“Our systems need to be better at communicating and trafficking information on abusers,” said Mason.

The systems are “only as good as the information people enter,” and “as good as the people who look at it before they go and sell the weapon.”

Bea Hanson, a national expert on addressing domestic abuse and sexual violence and current executive director of the New York City Domestic Violence Task force, agreed.

“Enforcement of gun laws is a huge problem,” she said.

While crime rates are dropping, domestic violence homicide-suicides are on the rise, she continued.

Hanson noted that police officers often grow frustrated when a woman who has been a victim of domestic abuse doesn’t leave her husband after multiple interventions.

Also, in some cases, officers are more concerned about liability and keeping their job positions, John Jay’s Karol Mason pointed out.

They become defensive, she said.

What they need to be asking is, “what do we learn from these things?” she said.

Megan Bradley is a reporter for The Crime Report. She welcomes readers’ comments.


Gun Politics ‘Distort’ Efforts to Protect Domestic Violence Victims: Study

Gun-control advocates who push for “one-size-fits-all” enforcement of laws that make it illegal for anyone convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses to possess firearms “ignore the reality of intimate-partner abuse,” argues a paper published this month in the Ohio State Law Journal.

“Punitive” approaches to gun control can be counterproductive when they are applied to protecting women from domestic violence, according to a forthcoming research paper.

Gun control advocates who push for “one-size-fits-all” enforcement of laws that make it illegal for anyone convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses to possess firearms “ignore the reality of intimate-partner abuse,” argued the paper in the Ohio State Law Journal, posted online this month.

Such laws fail to address equally valid concerns of potential victims, such as whether an arrest that takes the family breadwinner out of the home would create economic hardship, the paper said.

 “A real danger exists… that the politics of gun control will overwhelm and distort the search for a sound approach to intimate-partner violence,” wrote the paper’s author, Carolyn B. Ramsey of the University of Colorado Law School.

“Stripping all domestic violence offenders of their guns for conduct that includes merely reckless infliction of injury might have a variety of negative outcomes,” Ramsey continued.

“It might chill the reporting of abuse; exacerbate recidivism; lead to unemployment, a known contributor to intimate femicide for abusers whose jobs require them to carry a gun; and leave victims without weapons for self-defense.”

The paper, entitled, “Firearms in the Family,” argued that blanket gun bans for anyone convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense fail to take into account the wide variety of concerns and needs of individual spouses who may be victims, including individuals in minority communities.

But at the same time, Ramsey also took gun-rights advocates to task for depicting greater access to guns as a way of empowering women against threats inside and outside the home.

“Female self-defense concerns play a supporting role in gun-rights advocacy,” she wrote. “Gun-carrying women soften the public face of America’s masculine firearms culture. Second Amendment activists frequently deploy images of women wielding firearms to protect themselves from armed robbers at home, mass shooters in our nation’s schools, and rapists lurking in shadowy parking lots.

“(But) singing the praises of concealed-carry does little to protect women from violent attacks by their intimates at home.”

Gun-control and pro-gun advocates, she wrote, are equally at fault for manipulating stereotypes that serve ideological or political goals, and do not address the concerns of women exposed to the threat of domestic violence.

While Ramsey acknowledged that statistics show that about two-thirds of intimate-partner homicide victims are killed with a gun—usually a handgun—and that more than two-thirds of men and women murdered by spouses or ex-spouses between 1980 and 2008 were killed with guns, she cited surveys suggesting that women are skeptical of laws that prohibit all offenders convicted of misdemeanor abuse offenses from possessing firearms.

Ramsey argued instead for a “narrowly tailored” approach to gun prohibition that targets the most dangerous offenders, responds to the individual victim’s concerns, and allows for a way to “differentiate recidivists from offenders who learn to avoid using violence against intimates and family members.”

Noting that enforcement of existing domestic violence gun laws at state and federal levels is often erratic and undependable, she warned that taking a uniformly punitive approach could result in dis-incentivizing the reporting of abuse and increasing the likelihood of further or worse victimization by abusers angered by the removal of their guns.

“Gun-control in the context of domestic abuse ought to respond to a variety of concerns, not solely the aim of reducing homicide rates,” Ramsey wrote.

The research paper can be downloaded here.

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern John Ramsey (no relation). Readers’ comments are welcome.


Five Myths About Domestic Abuse

A Maryland criminologist lists and explains some popular misconceptions about intimate partner violence, including that it’s always committed by men.

It is a myth that domestic violence is only physical, says Maryland criminologist Susan Paisner in a Washington Post article on five myths about the phenomenon. Besides physical abuse, there can be verbal and sexual abuse, isolation, coercion, stalking, economic control, abuse of trust, threats, intimidation, “emotional withholding,” property destruction, and harm to pets. It’s incorrect to think that all abusers are men. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 1 in 7 men in the U.S. have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner.

Many people believe that domestic violence is a crime of the poor and uneducated, but Paisner says it is “what might be called an ecumenical crime, with no regard for age, ethnicity, financial status or educational background.” Paisner calls it a “destructive myth” that if the victim does not leave, then the abuse must be tolerable.  In fact, victims stay in relationships for many reasons, including fear of the abuser (who may threaten harm if they leave), lack of money, worry about children, lack of transportation, and the threat of deportation. A final myth cited by Paisner is that abusers “just snapped.” Actually, domestic violence is not about anger management or an inability to handle stress, she says. Abuse almost always recurs in a cycle that is based largely on demonstrating control. Another expert tells Paisner that for abusers, violence “is not a random act — it is a way of controlling a situation.”