By Qudsia Raja
Advocacy & Policy Manager of Health and Safety, YWCA USA
By now, you’ve likely seen the video of former NFL player Ray Rice brutally assaulting his then-fiancé Janay Rice and then dragging her unconscious out of an elevator. While everyone has been talking about this particular incident, domestic violence is a systemic problem.
This incident has inadvertently sparked much-needed conversation on the pervasive nature of violence against women. However, what many people don’t know is that if the news cycle were to accurately reflect the prevalence of domestic violence in the United States, you would hear about a new incident every 15 seconds. Ray Rice used his fist. But increasingly men are using guns. Every month, 46 women are victims of domestic violence related homicides in the U.S.
As one of the largest providers of domestic violence services in the U.S., with over 220 local YWCAs in 46 states and the District of Columbia, the YWCA is intimately aware of the grim and often lethal reality victims of domestic violence face every day. Domestic violence overwhelmingly impacts women across the board, irrespective of socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, religious affiliation and sex. One in four women will experience a form of domestic violence at some point in their lives. While this is often dismissed as a “private matter,” the repercussions of domestic violence are tantamount to a public health epidemic: 15.5 million children in the U.S. live in homes in which they have been exposed to or experienced violence, and studies indicate that women in abusive relationships have significantly higher rates of developing health issues, such as strokes and heart attacks.
We also know that, while domestic violence discriminates against no one, the lethality risk skyrockets when firearms are present. Perpetrators with access to firearms are five to eight times more likely to kill their partners than those without firearms. And the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide for women by five times. Intimate partner homicides account for nearly half of all women killed each year in the U.S., with three women murdered each day. Of these homicides, more than half are attributed to firearm use. In fact, if you’re a woman in the U.S., you’re more likely to die at the hands of a gun than in any other developed nation in the world.
For decades, YWCA’s all across the country have provided services and advocated for protection from intimate partner violence. Last year, as the YWCA celebrated the successful reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), we committed to working to end violence against women by repairing the glaring loopholes in federal law that keep many women from being safe.
First, we must recognize that relationship demographics have changed, and that expanding our definition of “intimate partner” to include current and former dating partners is necessary to appropriately prosecute perpetrators. Nearly 50 percent of all intimate partner homicides were committed by a current or former dating partner. Between 1976 and 2005, dating partners were responsible for 35 percent of intimate partner homicides, and the share of intimate partner homicides committed annually by current dating partners has been on the rise. In the case of Ray Rice, he was not prosecuted nor was he convicted of domestic violence misdemeanor. Instead, he was admitted into a pre-trial intervention program, which allows offenders to avoid incarceration and keep their records clean if they meet agreed-upon requirements.
Second, existing federal laws need to recognize stalking as a form of domestic violence and, in turn, prohibit convicted stalkers from purchasing and/or possessing guns. Eighty-one percent of women stalked by a current or former partner have been physically assaulted by that partner, and 31 percent report being sexually assaulted. Currently, federal firearms prohibitions, triggered by domestic violence, that would prevent individuals from purchasing firearms do not apply to individuals convicted of stalking crimes.
Lastly, and most importantly, we must ensure that states are adopting and enforcing current federal domestic violence gun prohibitions, particularly focusing on allowing state law enforcement agencies to use their discretion and temporarily seize all firearms when responding to domestic violence calls.
The YWCA believes that closing these key loopholes in existing federal laws will effectively reduce domestic violence homicides and in turn save the lives of millions of women across the country. Long after the 24-hour news cycle has ended, we need to continue to have important dialogue about domestic violence so we can once and for all eradicate violence against women in all forms.
This post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence™ 2014 Blog Carnival. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #workagainstviolence.