Trump changes definition of domestic violence


Without warning or thorough consideration, the Trump administration recently made significant changes to the definition of domestic violence. The previous definition, created in the Obama-era and assessed by the National Center for Victims of Crime and the National Domestic Violence Hotline, was expansive and included vital components as to what experts believe is domestic abuse.

The new definition narrows the definition to strictly criminal concerns. This means that in the Trump Justice Department, only instances that include a felony or misdemeanor may be considered to be domestic violence. This disregards victims of emotional, economic, and psychological abuse.

In this Trump era definition, a woman whose partner isolates her from her outside life, who is constantly degraded and neglected, who is cut off financially and unable to support her children, and is given no control of her life would no longer be considered an incident of domestic abuse. This new definition does not clarify nor benefit cases of domestic abuse.

In fact, it supports abusers by not condemning such actions of psychological abuse, something that affects over onethird of U.S. women according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Nov. 2018. The idea that domestic violence must involve a criminal justice response represents a skewed perception of what abuse is.

Many victims, most prominently those coming from marginalized and underrepresented backgrounds, are much less likely to report incidents of abuse to authorities. That doesn’t mean, however, that it isn’t abuse. Experts also recognize that victims of psychological and emotional abuse that restrict one’s freedom can cause greater damage than physical harm.

Additionally, non-physical violence is often the starting point for a domestic violence relationship. If we fail to recognize the “smaller” incidents of abuse, such as yelling or tormenting, how will victims recognize when they are in danger before it’s too late? This change may also reduce federal funding to programs across the nation who don’t follow this definition.

Unfortunately, this is already a reality in Russia. In January of last year, Russia’s domestic violence laws were also changed. In a story published by the BBC in Jan. 2018, if a man physically hits one of their family members but not severely enough to be hospitalized, and it’s their first offense, they no longer have to go to prison for two years and instead have to only pay a fine of anything between 5-30,000 rubles or up to 15 days in prison.

The Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women is committed to enforcing act victims of non-physical abuse. In a statement issued by the Department of Justice, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) will combat domestic violence by using a definition that is separate of the Trump Administration’s and by using funds made available by Congress in order to reduce violence and assist victims.

While we have resources working on our side, the future of domestic violence is unstable. The changing definition speaks on the larger issue of our presidential administration furthering devaluations of women.