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As time progresses and society continues to evolve, there is one major detriment that seems to continuously become more prevalent among relationships: domestic violence. Domestic violence is defined as “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” (U.S. Department of Justice). This can include instances of physical, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse. In today’s day and age, there has been a great deal of domestic violence being highlighted in the news, especially in women’s rights movements. Despite this, society seems to neglect that there have not been any significant changes in the system since 2005, when the most recent amendments were made to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Often, abusers can assault their victims, spend a night or two in jail, and be released with a slap on the wrist. Only when the violence escalates to a near-death beating, or even a fatal assault, does society seem to take stand for action. What they do not recognize is that this will not prevent or decrease the number of instances of domestic violence; it will only make it more appealing to those who abuse their significant others because they will not have to face intensely serious consequences. America should have stricter laws regarding the penalties for committing the act of domestic violence on one’s partner, and provide more support to victims of domestic violence, in order to attempt to control the spreading epidemic that is domestic violence.
Since VAWA was originally passed in 1994, domestic violence has been recognized as a national crime, carrying a maximum punishment of five years to life in jail depending on the severity of injuries inflicted on the victim. Despite the federal sentencing regulations, a Canadian study performed from 1997 until 2002 revealed that “a lower proportion of domestic violence received a sentence of incarceration than non-domestic violence offenders” (Bond 851). This means that although the set punishment for domestic violence is some time spent in jail, judicial officers chose to acquit the offenders, rather than incarcerate them. This lapse in judgement may often lead to another attack, whether or not it be on the same victim. The studies presented in CEW Bond’s “Similar Punishment?: Comparing Sentencing Outcomes in Domestic and Non-Domestic Violence Cases” also demonstrate that a judge often takes in to account the offenders relationship and history with the victim before determining course of action. Those who had no prior relationship to their victim were more often incarcerated than those who abused a family member, friend or significant other. These relationships are often used to assess “blameworthiness” of the crime, meaning that the relationship often entails a building conflict, which can be seen as provoking the assailant leading up to the attack, and insinuating that the victim is partially responsible. The criminal history of an offender, as well as how much of a threat they pose to society, is also often taken into account upon determining his or her punishment. Those with minor or no criminal history are often able to avoid having to serve any jail time for their crime.
One way to attempt to regulate domestic violence is to make the minimum punishment for the crime at least one year of jail time for even a first offense. This would prove that the court takes the safety of victims more seriously than often perceived. To work to prevent repeat offenses, the US Department of Justice should intensify the punishment for each offense, with a third offense carrying a life sentence. While it seems harsh, this would create a safer environment for victims and give them a piece of mind knowing that their abusers were locked away and had no means of coming in contact with them.
In Colorado, those convicted of domestic violence are “ordered to complete a treatment program and a treatment evaluation that conform with the standards adopted by the domestic violence offender management board” (WomensLaw.org) on top of the jail sentencing they receive upon arraignment. Many states have not been quick to mimic these regulations. However, this may be what society needs in order to try and combat domestic violence. This treatment program would provide the means for abusers to get the help they need in order to have a healthier way to relinquish built up anger that doesn’t involve inflicting bodily harm onto others. It could potentially save many lives by working with the abusers to show them the wrongs in their actions and rehabilitating their abusive mentality.
While stricter punishment for domestic violence could potentially reduce the frequency of the crime, a significant change will not be made until the people of society begin to educate themselves about domestic violence and stop assigning blame to the victim. Too often phrases such as “her skirt was too short” or “her top was too low cut” are mentioned when news stations are reporting about domestic violence cases, which can often be attributed to the lack of education regarding the significance of domestic violence. It needs to be brought to their attention that domestic violence is a growing epidemic and should not be joked about. An act of domestic violence occurs in the United States every 15 seconds, and the majority is not reported to the police out of fear of being victim-shamed. In today’s day and age, it is more common to find a reason for the victim being assaulted, rather than finding a reason to explain why the perpetrator committed the assault, causing victims to hide their assaults and to feel alone and abandoned.
Finally, increasing means of victim support will help victims cope with the tragedy they endured and help them overcome the many obstacles they may encounter following their attack. Regulations like the “The Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) provide the main federal funding to help victims of domestic violence and their dependents (such as children)” (Office on Women’s Health). Programs that operate under FVPSA often help victims after their abuse by providing shelter, counseling, and legal aid in attempt to take some of the overwhelming burden off of the victim. While it is a federal act, domestic violence shelters and programs often find themselves underfunded due to the plethora of domestic violence cases they encounter each day. If society were to be more informed about the importance of supporting these programs, and worked to contribute more to them, whether it be physical or monetary donations or volunteer work, the programs would be more equipped with the means to serve more victims at a more efficient rate. While this doesn’t directly work to reduce instances of domestic violence, it helps victims cope with their situation and show those hiding their abuse that there are people and organizations out there willing to listen to their story and help them move on.
If society was better educated on the effects of domestic abuse and provided a way to sublimate the aggression and anger that results in domestic abuse into a different outlet, there may not even be a need for harsher punishments; it may be able to be prevented entirely. Domestic assault is sometimes a form of displacement. The perpetrators are not able to apply the anger and aggression from a certain aspect of their lives directly onto the source so they find a different outlet: their significant other. If society was able to provide safe, acceptable alternative outlets for these people who need psychological assistance, it would be better for everyone all around. Possible perpetrators would release their anger without harming others. Victims would not experience the emotional distress that may occur from abuse. Teaching possible perpetrators that there are options that will satisfy their urges and will not lead to harm of others would prevent the problem before it happens. Because there may be accidents where urges overwhelm a perpetrator, they also need consequences harsh enough for them to realize it is better for everyone involved to just control their urges and not harm anyone. Although the metaphorical carrot of not harming anyone and living happily should be enough to entice someone to not commit an act of domestic violence, sometimes people need the rough slap of a stick of harsh punishments to drive the idea home.
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