What does the future hold in store for domestic violence? October, the National Domestic Violence Awareness Month reminds us to reflect on the changes that have been made and keep striving towards our goals. People want to see an end to the use of violence as a means to control women and children, as a public health epidemic, and as a violation of human rights. Yet, domestic violence continues to plague households and communities across the country.
One in four women experiences intimate partner violence in her lifetime, reports the National Center for Victims of Crime. Women ages 20 to 24 have the highest level of physical violence from an intimate partner. And, it turns out, it starts even younger. About 10% of students nationwide report being physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the past 12 months, found the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fortunately, experts have taken notice, and are taking steps towards controlling domestic violence. For one, we are paying more attention to teen dating violence. A 24-hour National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline was launched in 2007, with the help of sponsor Liz Claiborne, Inc. Research is underway to further our understanding of this field and prevention programs are starting to be implemented in schools.
Second, several areas are being investigated in domestic violence, but two issues stand out. One is coercive control. Coercive control is more than just physical violence, often counted by the number of assaults; it involves ongoing coercion, intimidation, isolation, and control. The emphasis is on violations against the person's freedoms – what they can and can't do. Another issue involves strangulation. According to the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, “Strangulation has only recently been identified as one of the most lethal forms of domestic violence.” Strangulation can serve as a potent threat to a victim and is considered a precursor to homicide. Nonetheless, only about 26 states make strangulation a felony; others consider it a misdemeanor.
Lastly, other issues have gained national attention recently, such as domestic violence being used as a “pre-existing condition” in health insurance, the link between domestic violence and pet abuse and domestic violence victims losing their jobs or becoming homeless.
But there is a bright spot on the horizon: On October 1st of this year, President Obama nominated Susan B. Carbon as the Director of the Office of Violence Against Women. Carbon brings a wealth of experience from working in family court, on commissions, and as head of a council. With her knowledge of how battered women fare in family court, it is hoped changes occur that help victims retain custody of their children. Her appointment confirms the Administration's effort towards helping survivors retain their jobs, health insurance, homes, pets and children. But most important, it provides the hope that the Federal Government will commit the funding and resources necessary to accomplish this huge, but vital, agenda.
Joan Dawson serves as a Secretary and Board Member of Guatemala Human Rights Commission and a Board Member of a domestic violence campaign. She’s also active in the Battered Mothers Custody movement.