The Trump Administration Has Narrowed Its Definition of Domestic Violence to Just Physical Violence

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The Department of Justice, which tried to ban victims of domestic violence from seeking asylum in the United States, has found another way to try and trap victims in violent situations. As of April, as Slate first reported earlier this week, the definition of domestic violence as it appears on the website of the Office of Violence Against Women no longer includes language about non physical abuse.

Here’s how the DOJ defined domestic violence during the Obama administration (emphasis mine), per an archived version of the website:

A pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.

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Here’s how the DOJ now defines domestic violence as of April 2018, under Trump:

The term “domestic violence” includes felony or misdemeanor crimes of violence committed by a current or former spouse or intimate partner of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabitating with or has cohabitated with the victim as a spouse or intimate partner, by a person similarly situated to a spouse of the victim under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction receiving grant monies, or by any other person against an adult or youth victim who is protected from that person’s acts under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction.

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The Trump administration has limited the definition of domestic violence to criminal physical assault, which ignores the severe emotional and psychological violence that makes abuse so hard for victims to identify and escape.

As to the National Domestic Violence Hotline explains, domestic violence is is a cycle of insidious “subtle, continual behaviors” reinforced by “more overt and forceful” acts of abuse that trap victims in a cycle establish power and control. By limiting the definition to physical assault, the DOJ is making it harder for victims to identify when they’re trapped in an abusive situation, and limits the number of victims who can qualify for aid as a victim of domestic violence.

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In response to Slate, the Department of Justice issued a statement saying that the agency is “strongly committed to enforcing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and combating domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, and sex trafficking, and to do so in a manner that is consistent with the law enacted by Congress.”

“Domestic violence is clearly defined in VAWA, and OVW has always used the statutory definition in carrying out its mission,” the statement read. “By following the statute, the Department ensures the funds made available by Congress are employed in the most effective manner possible to reduce violence and to assist crime victims.”

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The Violence Against Women Act expired in December.

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Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is a senior reporter at Jezebel.

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