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While domestic violence is not a new issue, the view on it has changed tremendously over the past few decades. Society has begun to realize this is a social issue rather than a personal one. Domestic violence, sometimes referred to as “intimate partner violence” is defined as physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or stalking by a current or former partner (Domestic Violence, 2018). It can also be committed by a person the victim shares a child with, or by one who is presently cohabitating with or has cohabitated with the victim as a partner in the past, according to the Office on Violence Against Women (“Domestic Violence,” 2018). This issue is important because its occurrence disregards race, religion, social class, and culture. Domestic violence disproportionately affects women. While men are also at risk to becoming victims to this violence, 1 in 4 women will experience it in their lives compared to 1 in 7 men (“Domestic Violence – Safe Horizon,” 2018). Domestic violence reigns as the number one cause of injury to women, being greater than car accident, mugging, and rape injuries combined. (“Domestic Violence Statistics,” 2018).
It is important to note some of the causes and consequences of domestic violence. Oftentimes, there are no warning signs. This leaves a woman particularly vulnerable and at risk for a life-threatening injury. Alcohol abuse, particularly the batterer’s, does not necessarily cause domestic violence, but greatly increases the risk of it. Less than a fourth of victims are under the influence of alcohol, while over two-thirds of abusers were under the influence when violently assaulting an intimate partner (Causes and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence, 2018) .
Domestic violence does not just affect individuals, but entire communities as well. While victims lose a combined total of about 8 million days of paid work per year, loss of productivity in the United States is close to $1.8 billion (“Domestic Violence Statistics,” 2018). The medical cost of domestic violence must also be considered when discussing its effect on society as a whole, specifically in the United States. Direct medical care and services for those involved in domestic violence costs $4.1 billion per year (Domestic Violence Statistics, 2018).
Up until the end of the 1970s, society did not view domestic violence as a major societal problem, but rather a personal one. The vast majority of society viewed a woman leaving her abusive husband as a reasonable solution and that ending the relationship is what the victim wanted. Society also believed if a child is involved, then it is in the child’s best interest to end and leave an abusive relationship (Navigating the Family Violence Prevention and Services Program, 2012). As the 1980s and 1990s approached, society began to view this violence as a social issue. This shift in perspective did not happen overnight. It did eventually lead to federal funding in order to provide services to victims (Navigating the Family Violence Prevention and Services Program, 2012).
The Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) and Violence Against Women Act are two federal responses to this societal issue. The Family Prevention and Services Act is federally-funded. Through a formula-based program, 70% of these funds go directly to states and territories (“Family Violence Prevention and Services Formula Grants to States and Territories”, 2018). The FVPSA ensures that crisis services are readily available to victims of domestic or dating violence and their dependents. Since the FVSPA’s passage, Congress has made it clear that federal funds are to be used to raise awareness of domestic violence, prevent its occurrence, provide services to victims and their children, and support domestic violence providers through training and technical assistance (“Family Violence Prevention and Services Formula Grants to States and Territories”, 2018). Services provided under the FVPSA should be tailored to respond to all circumstances and to value the desires of the victim in deciding how best to protect the individual and her children. The service provider should respect the victim and their confidentiality and collaboratively create a list of viable options in an attempt to protect the victim and their dependents. Services provided to victims and their children include: emergency shelter, safety planning, crisis counseling, information and referrals, and legal advocacy (Navigating the Family Violence Prevention and Services Program, 2012).
While the FVSPA was the first act to tackle the issue of domestic violence, its policies were not immediately followed by law enforcement, who are mandated under FVSPA to assist victims of domestic violence if they request help. Thurman v. City of Torrington (1984) is a prime example of this. Torrington Police failed to properly respond to Tracey Thurman’s request for help during a domestic dispute with her husband, leading to permanent injuries, including paralysis (“Thurman v. City of Torrington Case Brief”, 1997). Torrington Police was found liable for not responding to her multiple requests for assistance and Thurman was awarded $2.3 million from the city of Torrington, Conneticut (“Thurman v. City of Torrington Case Brief”, 1997). This landmark case determined that police departments and its officers could be held liable if they do not properly respond to cases of domestic violence (“Thurman v. City of Torrington Case Brief”, 1997).
The Family Violence and Prevention Services Act has played an important role in the attempt to reduce domestic violence, however, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is the most current piece of legislation regarding domestic violence. VAWA’s main goal besides combating domestic violence is to improve the criminal justice system and proceedings against the perpatrator and provide social services to victims (“The Violence Against Women Act: Overview, Legislation, and Federal Funding”, 2015). This act, created in 1995, is managed by the Office on Violence Against Women. They distribute financial and technical assistance to communities throughout the country. These developing programs, policies, and practices attempt to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. According to the Office on Violence Against Women, they are responsible for administering three formula-based grant programs – STOP (Services, Training, Officers, Prosecutors), SASP (Sexual Assault Services Program), and State Coalitions (“The Violence Against Women Act: Overview, Legislation, and Federal Funding”, 2015). There are also eighteen discretionary grant programs established under VAWA and following legislation that works to support victims and hold the batterer responsible by promoting a uniform community response. Federal funding is dispersed to local, state, and tribal governments, courts, nonprofit organizations, community-based organizations, secondary schools, universities, and state and tribal coalitions (Navigating the Family Violence Prevention and Services Program, 2012). These organizations and institutions that receive funding offer direct services, crisis intervention, transitional housing, legal assistance to victims, court improvement, and training for law enforcement and courts to women who are victims of violence (Navigating the Family Violence Prevention and Services Program, 2012).
The Violence Against Women Act possesses its fair-share of strengths and weaknesses. Between 1994 when VAWA was passed and 2010, intimate partner violence had decreased by 64% according to the Department of Justice (Pickert, 2013). While this is a dramatic decrease, it is important to note during that period that violent crime as a whole fell dramatically. It remains unclear whether VAWA policies attributed to the decrease in violence or not (Pickert, 2013) Researchers and advocates have questioned whether using law enforcement to resolve the issue of domestic violence was the right approach. Domestic violence is an underreported problem and policies included in the Violence Against Women Act further decreases reporting (Pickert, 2013). It is mandatory under VAWA to arrest alleged abusers with probable cause. Women may not report domestic violence out of fear of her abuser. In addition to fearing her abuser, a woman may fear financial insecurity if her abuser is bringing in the only source of income (Pickert, 2013). One great strength of VAWA, however, is that it saves the United States a great deal of money. VAWA cost about $1.6 billion to implement but has saved over $14.8 billion in costs associated with domestic violence (Clarke, Biddle, ; Martin, 2002). VAWA has also helped communities. Under this act, medical professionals, law enforcement, and criminal justice advocates have come together to provide holistic services to victims. Communities are safer after the passage of VAWA because there are more services available due to federal funding. In a review of prevention strategies, CDC researchers found that funding from the 1994 U.S. Violence Against Women Act was one of only three strategies to show major effects on preventing sexually violent behavior (DeGue, Valle, Holt, Massetti, Matjasko, ; Tharp, 2014). A study from 2010 showed a decrease of intimate partner homicide when there are legal services readily available which is possible through the funding associated with the Violence Against Women Act (NAESV, n.d.b.). While VAWA is effective in some areas, it still needs improvement.
The future of the Violence Against Women Act is currently being decided. It was included in the defense and health spending bill in September 2018 and granted temporary reauthorization under it until a decision is reached on December 7, 2018 (Washburn, 2018). Advocacy groups like the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence are typically active near the deadline to reauthorize, however, there have not been little to no lobbying for reauthorization since 2013 (Washburn, 2018). When these groups do lobby, they work together and discuss what needs improvement and what should remain the same. Interest group participation is important, particularly for an issue of this nature because federal government has the largest influence on what policies or issues are viewed as important enough to be implemented. It is likely that this act will be reauthorized because when VAWA was originally passes it received bipartisan support (Bottner, 2018). Both sides are in agreeance that society needs to respond to the violence women experience. VAWA needs updated as both sides have acknowledged, so now it is a matter of what to include and how. Feminist researchers view mandatory arrest laws under VAWA as a weakness (Pickert, 2013). Instead of focusing so much on arresting these individuals, researchers think laws need to be adjusted to better address the economic distress many these women experience (Pickert, 2013). Shifting the focus to victims of domestic violence instead of their abuser would be the most beneficial. A former women’s shelter worker and current law professor, Donna Coker, believes more money should be invested in job training, prevention, and services that would allow for a woman to leave her abusive partner as safely as possible (Pickert, 2013). Currently, under VAWA only about one-fifth of federal funding goes toward transitional housing, which is vital to a woman leaving an abusive partner (Pickert, 2013). Law enforcement receives the largest amount of money under the Violence Against Women Act. While law enforcement should be equipped with funding and knowledge specific to domestic violence, it could be better spent on offering at least temporary stability to these victims through therapy services, housing, jobs, and child care if needed. Dilemmas like this one is why VAWA has yet to be reauthorized, as many factors like budget must be carefully considered.
Domestic violence is an important issue to social workers because of the large number of people, particularly women, that experience it. Social workers are vital to women who are experiencing domestic violence and are often a “lifeline” for them. Social workers who focus on helping victims of intimate partner violence play many roles. Oftentimes, they work closely with victims to formulate a plan to get her out of her abusive environment. Social workers are advocates for victims of domestic violence and are active in pushing for a better reauthorization of VAWA in order to better serve their clients. If funding to VAWA is cut or worse – not reauthorized, that would be a major disadvantage to social workers and their clients. Funding is crucial in order to properly serve clients and their unique needs in a case of domestic violence especially.
Addressing the needs of those who are victims of domestic violence has become vital over the past few decades. The federal government established the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act and the Violence Against Women Act in hopes of reducing this societal issue. While FVPSA was the first federal response to address this issue, VAWA is the most current piece of legislation to address the issue of domestic violence. Federal funding of VAWA has helped develop programs, policies, and practices attempt to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Under VAWA it is mandatory to arrest an alleged abuser if there is probable cause. Policies like this are widely debated due their possible ineffectiveness. Researchers have claimed that lack of funding to specific areas under VAWA, such as housing is what has contributed to its ineffectiveness. Currently, VAWA has until December 7, 2018 to be reauthorized, so the future of it has yet to be determined. If VAWA is not reauthorized, social workers will not be able to assist and address the needs of victims properly. Without funding, the likelihood of a reduction in domestic violence is slim.

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