Definitions and Solutions:
What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence is the use of physical, sexual, and psychological coercion or force to establish and maintain control over a partner. It is a pattern of abusive behavior used over time. These behaviors are targeted and repeated, the violence increases in frequency and severity. It will not “just go away” and death, either of the victim, the perpetrator, children, friends, or relatives is always a potential outcome.
Domestic violence is NOT caused by alcohol or drug use, anger, stress, unemployment, or mental illness.
It is not genetic; it is not caused by the behavior of the victim, relationship problems, or out of control behavior. Perpetrators are very much in control, and use that control to oppress their victim(s).
Who is involved in domestic violence?
Domestic violence affects people in all walks of life. It does not distinguish between race, religion, social circle, ethnicity, sexual orientation, geographic location, education level, or income level. It is nationally estimated that one in three people will experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetime.
Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, regardless of gender. Statistics do show that approximately 95% of victims are women, but men can be victims as well. Batterers create victims, not the other way around. Victims are not weak or ignorant; they do not stay in abusive relationships because they like it. Batterers often experience or witness abuse when growing up or have abused previous partners. A batterer has generally never experienced a non-violent, respectful relationship.
What can be done about domestic violence?
There are three main components to addressing domestic violence. All three must work together in order to eradicate this epidemic in society.
Victim Safety: it is imperative that all responses to domestic violence keep the safety of the victim as the top priority.
It is never appropriate to blame a victim for the abuse, or the make judgments about what they “should” do. A victim will know what survival skills work best in their situation, what is safe for themselves and their children and what is not. There are many reasons why victims do not leave abusive relationships. The main reason is safety—the most lethal time for a victims is while in the process of leaving an abuser.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that in the year 2000, murders of domestic violence victims by their partner accounted for 37.2% of all murders in the United States (BJS Crime Data Brief, February 2003, NCJ 197838).
Victims need resources for safety and the ability to make choices for themselves and their family. Assisting victims with safety planning, safe housing, criminal and civil legal assistance, and any other community resource they need that will help them regain personal power, overcome and heal from the abuse, and move forward to self-sufficiency.
Perpetrator Accountability: this occurs on many levels and is crucial to breaking the cycle of violence. No matter how many victims get out of abusive relationships, if the perpetrators do not change their behaviors they will continue to abuse their current victim or will move on to a new one.
Perpetrators must be held accountable on a societal level. This happens when friends, family, co-workers and neighbors stop looking the other way and speak up when they see signs of abuse happening.
Accountability also occurs formally through arrest and prosecution, mandatory treatment, ongoing monitoring, and consistent follow through when violations of protection orders or additional incidents of abuse occur.
Early intervention is important in helping perpetrators change their behaviors. Domestic violence is a learned behavior; it is therefore possible to ‘unlearn’ and replace with healthy behaviors.
Coordinated Community Response: it takes the whole community to end domestic violence. Each and every person can make a difference. Learning about this issue and being willing to discuss it with family, friends, co-workers and other community members is an important step. There are many systems within a community where domestic violence can be addressed.
Social Service Systems—design and deliver services which are responsive to the needs of victims and their children; require staff to receive training on the dynamics of domestic violence; shift the focus from ‘keeping the family together at all costs’ to safety and support for creating healthy families; utilize best practices models to help identify and appropriately address domestic violence.
Health Care Systems—develop and utilize safe and effective methods for identification of domestic violence; provide referrals, education, and support services to victims; utilize accountable documentation and reporting protocols; devote a percentage of training dollars to domestic violence issues, including accurate statistic tracking.
Justice System—regularly disclose relevant statistics on domestic violence case disposition; utilize methods of intervention which do not rely on victim involvement; devote training time and dollars to domestic violence issues; vigorously enforce batterer compliance and protect safety with appropriate custody, visitation, and injunctive orders; provide easy access to protection orders and no contact orders; provide access to legal and community advocates.
Education Systems—support and educate teachers, counselors, and school staff to recognize and respond to behavior related to dating and domestic violence; teach violence prevention and non-violent communication/conflict resolution skills; avoid gender-biased teaching materials and develop alternate curricula; require education about healthy vs. unhealthy relationships at all age levels.
Government—enact laws which define abuse as criminal behavior and provide courts with progressive consequences in sentencing and accountability; adequate funding for domestic violence programs; enact laws regarding access to family assets that will support victims, even after they leave.
Employers—encourage non-violence in the workplace through policy, procedure and training; intervene against stalkers in the workplace; safeguard victim employee’s jobs and careers by providing flexible schedules, leave of absence, and establish personnel policies that safeguard the confidentiality of victims; provide resource to victims and perpetrators to assist them in appropriate and confidential ways.
Faith Communities—Speak out against domestic violence in congregations; routinely assess for domestic violence in premarital counseling and pastoral counseling; seek out and maintain a learning and referral relationship with the domestic violence providers in the community; oppose the use of theology for justification of abuse ; openly discuss the issue in study groups and social meetings.