This Slate article (“The Trump Administration Quietly Changed the Definition of Domestic Violence…”) infuriates me. It’s terrifying. And it really struck a nerve with me.
The article brings attention to change made in April 2018 to a government webpage that included a comprehensive description of domestic violence. That description of domestic violence was changed to reflect the statutory definition of domestic violence included in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The statutory definition is a legal one – where the comprehensive description is recognized in the field of work to end domestic violence.
As many of you know, domestic violence prevention is a cause near to my heart. I’m privileged to chair the board of one of the most incredible organizations I’ve ever encountered, REACH Beyond Domestic Violence (Refuge, Education, Advocacy, CHange). The REACH team amazes and inspires me every day. They work tirelessly to make the world a safer, more secure place for survivors. REACH saves lives.
Why is this so important, you ask?
Let me tell you why.
It all started one snowy night in high school when my mother and I came home from a basketball game (we edged past Gorham, which was a rarity in those days) and my stepfather was drunk. More verbally and emotionally abusive than usual, he stopped in his tracks when Mum snapped with a deliberate determination I’d never heard before, “Stephen. Get. Back. In. The. Car. We’re. Leaving.”
We drove around Windham in her maroon Chevette for what seemed like hours. Shaking. Silent. Holding hands. I don’t think I’d ever felt as tight a grip as hers.
My mother and I were fortunate. She possessed incredible strength and determination that enabled her to survive years and years of an emotionally abusive relationship. While I’m not aware he ever physically assaulted her, the emotional abuse was deep and profound; her healing gradual and slow.
Mum was an intensely private and proud woman who rarely shared her feelings and never, ever wanted to burden anyone. She was the helper, supporter and cheerleader, never seemingly in need for herself.
While we didn’t have the benefit of a REACH in the late ‘70s, my mother and I were blessed to find refuge with dear friends – friends closer than family – who took us in and helped us until she could divorce him and move on. Those friends may have saved our lives.
So, I work with REACH because it’s my way to honor my mother and to help others who need help.
Sadly, domestic violence invades the lives of more families than anyone could imagine — you often don’t know what goes on behind that front door faced with a perfect Christmas wreath. Domestic violence is a pernicious issue that does not discriminate by any demographic – race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, affluence, geography, etc.
DV organizations and their supporters have made so many positive strides in the space through tireless work, yet changes like this threaten to slow that progress without reason. This change feels like yet another example of Trump’s influence in disrespecting basic human dignity, which ultimately undermines the important progress and work of those who support survivors and their families.
REACH works with survivors of domestic violence to foster safety and support while engaging communities to promote healthy relationships. At REACH, we believe that domestic and sexual violence are sustained by social norms and behaviors. And we believe that social norms and behaviors can be changed – through education and practice at individual and community levels. Norms are shaped through education (media, schools, faith, consumerism, etc.) and practice (what we do every day). So REACH is committed to prevention, engagement and mobilization – as well as the lifesaving work of shelter and advocacy.
Please consider helping REACH advocate for survivors’ rights and make our communities safer by making a gift to REACH here.
Thank you for your consideration.