The dynamics of power and control

Of course they did.

Without fanfare or even notice, the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women made significant changes to its definition of domestic violence in April. The Obama-era definition was expansive, vetted by experts including the National Center for Victims of Crime and the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The Trump administration’s definition is substantially more limited and less informed, effectively denying the experiences of victims of abuse by attempting to cast domestic violence as an exclusively criminal concern.

The previous definition included critical components of the phenomenon that experts recognize as domestic abuse—a pattern of deliberate behavior, the dynamics of power and control, and behaviors that encompass physical or sexual violence as well as forms of emotional, economic, or psychological abuse. But in the Trump Justice Department, only harms that constitute a felony or misdemeanor crime may be called domestic violence. So, for example, a woman whose partner isolates her from her family and friends, monitors her every move, belittles and berates her, or denies her access to money to support herself and her children is not a victim of domestic violence in the eyes of Trump’s Department of Justice. This makes no sense for an office charged with funding and implementing solutions to the problem of domestic violence rather than merely prosecuting individual abusers.

But it makes a lot of sense for an administration that has contempt for women.

A domestic violence relationship rarely begins with physical violence, much less violence that rises to the level of a crime. If you were punched on a first date, odds are there wouldn’t be a second. Intimate partner abuse is insidious: Emotional and psychological abuse escalates to physical violence as an abuser’s need and/or ability to exert power and control increases. In the United States today, more than half of female homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner. If we do not acknowledge the “small” things—yelling or screaming, name-calling, and controlling or monitoring communication and social media—victims may not realize they are in danger until it is too late.

It is too early to assess the full impact of the Trump administration’s definitional change. The Office on Violence Against Women engages in a broad array of activities in its implementation of the Violence Against Women Act. Perhaps grants that support community efforts to combat domestic and sexual abuse will be restricted to agencies serving victims of crime, leaving survivors without critical resources. If OVW’s training, education, and technical assistance curriculum is revised to adhere to the new definition, those experiencing “mere” emotional, economic, or psychological harms may no longer be considered victims. (It is further noteworthy that OVW simultaneously altered the definition of sexual assault, with the new definition containing a similar criminal justice focus.) What is clear is that these seemingly semantic changes, even if not yet embodied in official law or policy, are part of a broader trend toward the devaluation of women by this administration and this president.

Only those crazy libbruls value women.

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