October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), an opportunity to pause as a nation and collectively reflect on the dynamics and impact of interpersonal violence; to recognize the lived experiences of women and men who have been victimized at the hands of an intimate partner; and, to celebrate the strength and will of survivors.
DVAM, however, is more than a time to spread awareness.
Domestic violence affects millions of Americans, including 1 in 4 women in their lifetime. With a problem of this scale, the month of October is a reminder of the work that’s been done – and which still remains – to end the violence and to prevent future generations from experiencing its harmful effects. DVAM is a call to action. Indeed, in the 2015 National Domestic Violence Awareness Month Proclamation, President Obama affirms:
“Safeguarding and opening doors of opportunity for every American will remain a driving focus for our country – and we know that crimes like domestic violence inhibit our Nation from reaching its fullest potential. This month, let us once again pledge our unwavering support to those in need and recognize the advocates, victim service providers, and organizations who work tirelessly to extend hope and healing to survivors and victims every day.”
Over the last 20 years, the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) has supported the efforts of those on the front lines to answer the call. After the enactment of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) on September 13, 1994, OVW was created the following year and tasked with leading the Federal government in helping communities to implement this groundbreaking legislation. Specifically, OVW administers grant programs and provides training and technical assistance for criminal justice agencies, victim service organizations, and other state, local, and tribal entities to combat not only domestic violence, but also sexual assault, dating violence, sex trafficking, and stalking.
Highlights from this past year alone demonstrate the unique ways in which OVW’s financial and technical assistance offer opportunities for communities to develop, strengthen, and sustain their anti-violence efforts:
In honor of VAWA’s 20th anniversary, last October OVW embarked on a year-long national tour, meeting with advocates, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, healthcare professionals, and other leaders across the country to learn more about their initiatives to curb domestic and sexual violence. OVW gathered vital information about the impact of VAWA funding as well as both victories and challenges communities experience in addressing violence.
The tour inspired robust dialogue with stakeholders on a wide range of issues, including the importance of assessing and improving the coordinated community response – a cornerstone of effective violence prevention. In addition, persistent service needs were identified, such as: safe and affordable housing options for survivors, more victim-centered legal services, trauma-informed approaches within healthcare settings, and culturally-specific services with an understanding of the distinct ways in which domestic violence impacts vulnerable populations, such as women of color, those living in poverty, LGBT individuals, and women with disabilities.
Momentum around implementation of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA 2013) accelerated over the last year, prompting a need for additional OVW response.
In April, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposed a rule to implement the VAWA 2013 protections in nearly all HUD programs. The final rule will more adequately support victims desiring to leave their abusers by reducing fear of homelessness and housing discrimination. OVW has provided input on the proposed rule and will collaborate with grantees and other stakeholders to support effective implementation of the final rule.
In March, another VAWA 2013 provision took effect that increases protection for Native women by recognizing a “special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction” over persons who commit this crime in Indian country. Tribes now have the authority to charge and prosecute all offenders who commit acts of domestic violence on their lands. In DOJ’s upcoming Violence Against Women Tribal Consultation in November, this critical provision and related topics concerning violence against Native women will be discussed.
OVW funding supported the development of several comprehensive online resources for advocates, service providers, policymakers, and others this year.
This summer, OVW announced The Center for Changing Our Campus Culture [external link], a clearinghouse on domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking for institutions of higher education. The website provides the latest information, materials, and resources for administrators, faculty and staff, law enforcement, victim service providers, students, parents and others invested in improving campus safety and the wellbeing of college and university students.
Just last month, the Vera Institute of Justice unveiled the first website dedicated to ending abuse against people with disabilities [external link]. Through various tools and guidance, the site seeks to raise awareness of these often “invisible victims,” enhance services for survivors with disabilities, and connect those advocating for this population.
Finally, OVW grant support is playing a key role in realizing an improved criminal justice response to crimes like domestic violence and sexual assault. OVW released a $2.8 million funding opportunity for a Sexual Assault Justice Initiative to improve prosecutions and the justice system’s overall handling of sexual assault cases. Additionally, over $26 million in OVW grants were recently awarded to strengthen arrest policies, enforcement of protection orders, and partnerships between criminal justice agencies and community-based organizations striving to improve victim safety and offender accountability.
As the President reminds us, “Though we have made great progress in bringing awareness to and providing protections against domestic violence, much work remains to be done.” This October, OVW joins its Federal and community partners in looking back at our successes while also marching forward to continue the momentum. Month to month, step by step, we can change our culture and break the cycle of violence for good.