What we don't know about domestic violence can kill us

Domestic violence is engrained in American culture. Can anyone doubt this assertion in a country with a T-shirt called the "Wife-Beater"? While the T-shirt may be in jest, domestic violence is a fact of life for too many American women. Domestic violence homicides from guns alone claim 50 American women each month, 100 a month from all means. Putting the problem in perspective, domestic homicides claimed 10,600 lives from 2000-2006, while 3,200 American soldiers were killed in that period.

Historically, domestic violence has been viewed as a private matter between a husband and his wife. Rachel Louis Snyder, whose book, No Visible Bruises – What We Don't Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us, said most major religions "traditionally believed it was within a husband's purview to discipline his wife in more or less the same manner as he might discipline and control any other of his properties, including servants, slaves and animals." In fact, Snyder says, pets in the U.S. are treated more favorably than women in some ways. In the 1990s, pet shelters outnumbered domestic violence shelters by nearly three to one.

Rather than a private matter, domestic violence is a societal problem affecting every city in the country and every demographic group of women within those cities. It is the second leading cause of death for African American women in the U.S., the third leading cause for Native American women, and the seventh leading cause of death for Caucasian women. A grim U.S. News headline in November 2020, read, "Homicide a Top Cause of Maternal Death in Louisiana," where the accompanying article said women and girls who were pregnant faced double the risk of dying from homicide compared to those who were not. For those who think it doesn't happen in central Illinois, 2019 data from Sojourn Shelter and Service prove otherwise. Sojourn served over 7,000 domestic violence victims in 2019 and provided shelter service for almost 9,000 nights last year. Sojourn has a 24-hour crisis hotline that received over 2,500 calls in 2019, and the organization assisted with almost 2,300 orders of protection last year.

Domestic violence is the direct cause of homelessness for more than half of homeless women, and it is the third leading cause overall of homelessness in the nation. The health and medical costs of domestic violence are more than $8 billion annually, and 8 million work days are lost by domestic violence victims. Most mass shootings in the country involve domestic or family violence.

The women's movement brought the issue of battered women to the forefront in the 1970s, and the first U.S. law designed to help women and children abuse victims, the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act, passed Congress in 1984. This law funded shelters and other services for victims. Then-Senator Joe Biden cosponsored the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994, saying that domestic violence is a hate crime, and women have the right to be left alone. The act, which provided $1.6 billion toward investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, imposed automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted. The law also established the Office on Violence against Women in the Department of Justice. Funds provided under the statute allowed first responders to be trained, and created advocacy positions, shelters, transitional housing, batterer intervention classes, and legal training. VAWA funding meant sexual assault victims no longer had to pay for their own rape kits. Most of the domestic violence services available today are a direct result of VAWA. The statute is viewed as highly effective. Domestic violence was reduced 64% from 1993 to 2012.

The act requires reauthorization every five years. VAWA was reauthorized in Congress by bipartisan majorities in 2000 and again in 2005. After a long legislative battle, it was reauthorized in 2013. It expired in 2019, and the House voted to reauthorize it. Negotiations in the Senate ended later that year. We urge Congress to take up the matter again in 2021 and pass it. A nation free of domestic violence is necessary for gender equity, a goal of the AAUW Springfield Chapter for the last 100 years.

Amy Green and Rebecca Grummon are co-presidents, AAUW (American Association of University Women) Springfield Branch.

AAUW is a national nonpartisan organization that has advocated for women and girls since 1881. AAUW Springfield Branch co-presidents Amy Green and Becky Grummon are both longtime Springfield residents with deep roots in the community. Amy worked as an auditor at the Illinois Teachers' Retirement System for 25 years and retired 2017. Becky worked for nonprofit organizations in San Diego, California. She retired and returned to Springfield in 2004. The AAUW Springfield Branch can be contacted at AAUWSpringfieldIL@gmail.com.

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