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A national conversation to reduce domestic violence homicides

April 18, 2019

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By Kelsey Cohen, Spring 2019 Intern for Violence Against Women

Experts gather at the Biden Foundation headquarters on February 27, 2019, to discuss ideas and share information about reducing domestic violence homicides in the U.S.

Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019 (VAWA 2019). Since then-Senator Biden introduced VAWA in 1990, the legislation had continued to expand and improve to protect people from domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and to support survivors of violence.

The 2019 version is no exception, extending these protections to the LGBT community through gender-neutral language, campus communities through further funding, and youth through language directly combatting cyberstalking. The bill also adds restrictions on gun ownership for convicted domestic abusers and stalkers.

All of these protections are particularly critical for women at high risk of homicide.

On average, three women are killed every day by an intimate partner in the United States. In the past, experts have told women what to do when confronting abuse and how to escape terrible situations. Now, it has become overwhelmingly clear that a prescribed method for victims, while statistically significant in reducing violence and homicide rates, does not always save victims.

That’s why, earlier this year, the Biden Foundation convened national leaders to discuss strategies that work to prevent domestic violence homicides. Organized by Lynn Rosenthal, formerly the foundation’s Director for Violence Against Women Initiatives, the event brought 23 world-class leaders to discuss the most pressing questions in the field: How do we help abused individuals realize their risk of harm, make sure these people are heard, meet their resource needs, and empower them to live lives free from abuse?

Participants in the convening included Bea Hanson, former Principal Deputy Director, U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women; Karma Cottman, Executive Director, D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Ujima, Inc.; and more. In an open conversation between the nation’s foremost experts, three themes emerged:

  1. There is a dramatic need for a shift in public thinking about the role and importance of women
  2. Risk assessments must not only be intersectional, but cases must be considered on an individual basis
  3. The United States needs a strategic plan in place to prevent women, men, and non-binary people from being abused and murdered by current or former intimate partners

Conversations must continue to address each of these topics, develop strategies, and keep victims at the forefront of national efforts protecting citizens’ rights. For now, the national effort and public dialogue remain centered around the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act as it moves to the Senate. Especially in this time of extraordinarily public sexual assault and violence cases in the media, women, men, and non-binary individuals must know their communities and country value their lives.