While 2016 saw some victories in countering violence against women and domestic abuse, including the International Criminal Court's first conviction for sexual violence, the statistics remain grim. In the US alone, three women are killed due to domestic violence every day.
Therefore, on Nov. 25, International International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women Day, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on governments around the world to increase spending in areas that will empower women, help domestic violence victims, and prevent future abuse.
“Violence against women and girls imposes large-scale costs on families, communities, and economies,” the secretary-general said in a statement. The net result “is enormous suffering as well as the exclusion of women from playing their full and rightful roles in society. The world cannot afford to pay this price. Women and girls cannot afford it – and should not have to, yet such violence persists every day, around the world.”
Many have suggested legal changes that could improve the situation of victims and prevent abusers from repeating their behavior, including an expanded definition of violence against women and harsher consequences for non-physical violence such as stalking, harassment, emotional abuse, and verbal abuse.
“We need to do what the UK did and make psychological abuse a crime,” Jennifer Tetefsky, a domestic violence survivor, told the Huffington Post. “Just because one was never hit, doesn’t mean you’re not a victim too.”
She was referring to a law passed last year in the United Kingdom subjecting those who psychologically and emotionally abuse their partners or family members to up to five years in jail and or a large fine. In addition to passing the law, the nation trained law enforcement officers to recognize coercive behavior, including patterns of isolating a person from family and friends, controlling their daily life, subjecting them to humiliating and degrading behavior, and abusing them financially.
Experts say that consistent and harsh sentencing against abusers would help set a precedent and deter other abusers.
"Swift and serious sentencing is important to decrease the incidents of domestic abuse," says Lisa Smith, a former prosecutor who is now an assistant professor of clinical law at Brooklyn Law School, reported the New Republic.
After Ray Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was seen abusing his wife on camera, Professor Smith said, "Severe punishment by the NFL in this case, with the attendant publicity, will definitely send a message to abusers.” Mr. Rice was suspended indefinitely from the NFL for assaulting his wife, a decision he successfully appealed.
One of the many complex reasons women may choose not to leave abusive partners is a lack of financial independence.
“So many women stay in destructive relationships because they will be homeless, with their children, if they leave – or can’t support themselves and their children,” Joan Meier, a George Washington University law professor and founder of the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project, told New Republic. “Divorce financial distributions need to be much fairer, taking into account the ways women give up economic capacity to raise kids.”
According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness among families, due to a lack of affordable housing. Abuse victims also often to do not have the funds to pursue legal services.
Even for women with have stable jobs, seeking safety at a domestic violence shelter or pursuing legal action against an abuser often involves missing work and the possibility of losing a job.
“More companies should offer paid domestic violence days if a victim has to attend court or is out because of an attack, this was a big one for me,” Lovern Gordon, a domestic violence survivor, told the Huffington Post.
US shelters receive approximately $130 million from the Family Violence Prevention and Support Act, which advocates say is not nearly enough to house the families who need them or to fund the other services, such as abuse counseling programs and educational outreach.
Medicaid, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and state governments all contribute to subsidizing shelters and services.
We need “more money for domestic violence shelters,” said Kim Gandy, chief executive officer of the National Network To End Domestic Violence, reported the Huffington Post.
“Each year, the National Network to End Domestic Violence does a one-day survey of domestic violence programs nationwide to calculate how many people are accessing help. On a single day in 2015, 71,828 victims were served across the country," she said, but "12,197 requests for help went unmet because of lack of funding."