Thanks to writer/performer/activist Eve Ensler, Valentine’s Day has become a time to advocate for women. However, what has been starkly missing from the tsunami of media stories about and petitions protesting a vast array of Trump administration actions and projected actions has been anything about violence against women. Senator Jeff Sessions, soon to become Attorney General of the United States, voted against funding for the Violence Against Women Act, and President Donald Trump reportedly plans to ignore women, men, and children who are victims of violence by eliminating the funding of the Violence Against Women Act. And in light of the combination of the President’s history of treatment of women and his continual expressions of respect for Russia, the Russian parliament’s recent, overwhelming vote to decriminalize domestic violence eerily resonates with these portents.
Media coverage of frightening budget cuts Trump plans for other programs has been substantial, but media coverage of the plan to wipe out funding for services to victims of family violence has been sparse to nonexistent, reflecting the often hidden nature of the latter. It is ironic that such violence is comprised of one set of phenomena that could accurately be called a part of what Trump refers to as “American carnage.”
Chances are, domestic violence victims were disproportionately absent from the recent, remarkable Women’s Marches, because typical effects of violence on victims include impaired mobility in the world, reduced finances, and emotional paralysis due to fear of inciting the anger of the perpetrators. Few abusive men want their women victims to march for women’s rights.
Reports from reliable media reveal that President Trump has been working closely with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and is likely to follow its proposals for budget cuts that would include eliminating—not reducing—funding for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which then-Senator Joe Biden shepherded to passage in 1994. Already, what used to be the White House’s online fact sheet about the VAWA has vanished. That URL now yields only this message: “Thank you for your interest in this subject. STAY TUNED AS WE CONTINUE TO UPDATE WHITEHOUSE.GOV.”
Eliminating VAWA funding would disproportionately deprive poor women, immigrant women, women from racialized groups—and many women who are disabled due to abuse—of ways to escape from further violence. Tragically ironic, given President Trump’s apparent focus on reducing costs, is that the VAWA has saved both the nation as a whole and individual states enormous amounts of money. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, “In its first six years alone, VAWA saved taxpayers at least $12.6 billion in net averted social costs,” and in a recent study of a single state, Kentucky, “civil protection orders saved an average of $85 million a year.” As for savings in human costs, within the Department of Justice, actions funded by the VAWA addressed to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking have led to dramatic increases in reporting of violence by both women and men, and the numbers of deaths due to intimate partner violence has decreased since 1994 by 34% for women and 57% for men, while non-fatal domestic violence has decreased by 67%.
In spite of these gains, these kinds of violence continue at epidemic levels. In light of President Trump’s focus on saving money and saving jobs, it is important that the costs of intimate partner violence exceed $8.3 billion a year, that victims of intimate partner violence lose a total of 8 million days of paid work yearly, and between 21 and 60% of such victims lose their jobs for causes that stem from that abuse. And because, according to the World Health Organization, victims of abuse are more likely than other people to become addicted to alcohol, tobacco, or drugs, this increases the human and the financial costs of such violence.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime. In one year, more than 10 million women and men are physically abused by an intimate partner in the U.S., 1/3 of women and 1/4 of men have been victims of some physical violence by an intimate partner, and for severe physical violence, the figures are 1/5 of women and 1/7 of men. These kinds of violence increase rates of suicidal behavior. Domestic violence hotlines receive an average of more than 20,000 phone calls a day. One-fifth of women have been raped, and 1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence annually, with 90% of those children being eyewitnesses.
Because of the physical injuries and psychological suffering from which so many of these victims of violence suffer, as well as from their intimidation into silence by their abusers, it is up to the rest of us to speak up loudly and unceasingly to stop the infliction of violence-by-budget-cuts on those who have already been harmed and those who will be in the future. A small but important Valentine gift the Trump administration could give would be to get the facts about violence against women back up on the White House’s website. A greater gift would be for the President and Congress to show real heart and publicly and proudly commit to fully funding the VAWA.
Originally published February 8, 2017 on Huffington Post.