Trump Administration Changes Definition of Domestic Violence


Faith Patton

Without drum roll or any other type of warning sign, the Trump Administration managed to quietly make significant changes to the definition of domestic violence. The Obama era definition was expansive and detailed, reviewed by National Centers for Victims of Crime and the National Domestic Violence Hotlines. The change the Trump Administration made reduced the once expansive and inclusive definition to a limp, less informed one.

The previous definition included components that experts count as domestic abuse — such as patterns of deliberate behavior, power and control dynamics, and behaviors that include physical, sexual, economic, emotional, and psychological abuse. But the Trump Justice Department took away 5/6 of the definition.

Only harms that constitute a felony or misdemeanor crime may be called domestic abuse. So basically someone who’s partner is isolating them from their friends or family, manipulating them, belittles and berates them, denies access to money so he or she is unable to support themselves is not a victim of domestic abuse.

The definition change is denying millions of people– especially women– that their experiences with domestic abuse are invalid. Instead, it places the label that domestic abuse is an exclusively criminal concern.

Restoring the non-physical violence part that was stripped from the definition is critical. According to the Center for Disease Control and prevention, 1/3 of all women  (about 43.5 million) in the United States have experienced some sort of psychological aggression at the hands of an intimate partner. It’s been long recognized that the psychological harm that comes out of these types of relationships can have longer lasting damage than physical harm.

The Office on Violence against Women (OVW), which is a part of the Department of Justice, has amended its definition of sexual assault to also focus on criminal justice aspects.

Holly Taylor- Dunn, a lecturer at University of Worcester who has worked in the field of domestic and sexual violence for 17 years, was appalled by such a move. She argued that “the definition changes set back women’s rights by 50 years”.

“Narrowing the definition will stop victims from being able to access the services they need,” she said in an interview with the Independent. “Prosecutions for domestic and sexual violence will fall because they are limiting it to the most severe forms of abuse so fewer victims are likely to come forward and seek help.”

Victims are also less likely to come forward about their experiences because of race, gender, class, sexual orientation and immigration status. Or a call to the police may make the victim feel less safe, afraid of what their abuser might do if they find out.

She also argues that the survivors of domestic violence are treated so poorly by the criminal justice system due to sexist stereotypes against women and the Trump Administrations’ move will only worsen those stereotypes.

Women’s Aid, one of a group of charities in England whose aim is to end domestic violence, calls it a “gendered crime”. This basically means that women are more likely to experience repeated forms of abuse, including sexual abuse.

It’s clear that the changes to the definitions of domestic and sexual violence (especially against women) is a catalyst for the further degradation of women by our President and his Administration.