In April, the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women made important changes to its definition of domestic violence.
During Obama’s administration, the definition of domestic violence was expansive, informed by the National Center for Victims of Crime and the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
The new definition under the Trump administration is less informed and significantly more limited, according to Slate. Now, domestic violence is an exclusively criminal concern.
The old definition included included different aspects of domestic abuse, including "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."
Now, only crimes that constitute a felony or misdemeanor fall under the definition of domestic violence. For instance, a man who isolates his wife from her family and friends, psychologically abuses her, and denies her access to enough money to support herself is not inflicting domestic abuse on his partner.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over a third of U.S. women have experienced “psychological aggression” from their partner. Sometimes, this psychological aggression can cause greater and more lasting harm than physical aggression. Therefore it is vital that non physical violence be restored to the definition of domestic violence.
Many survivors are not able to make their domestic abuse a criminal case. In many scenarios people are reluctant to report abuse for a variety of reasons, including their own safety. A call to the police might only inflame the anger of the abuser and backfire on the victim. Trump’s assumption that domestic violence must involve a criminal justice response is therefore shortsighted.
It is rare for relationship of domestic violence to begin with physical violence that merits a criminal case. A woman who is hit by a man on their first date would not be likely to initiate a second date. Generally, it is a slower escalation of emotional and psychological abuse that rises parallel to the abuser’s need for power and control.
Today, over half of female homicide victims in the U.S. are killed by an intimate partner. They need to understand how domestic violence can escalate from name-calling and yelling to life-ending violence so every woman can have the best chance at survival.