Women and Child Safety (Issues, Root Causes, Solutions
Identify, protect, support, and empower victims.
Hold batterers accountable.
Change public attitudes toward all forms of violence, including domestic violence.
Ensure equal status for women at home, in the workplace, in politics, and at all levels of society.
"We need to craft public policy carefully."
"We need to think this through. No thirty-second, off the top of the head answers will do.... And the last thing we need are more working groups that get together just to talk to each other."
What can be done now? Here are some thoughts from experts and policy makers familiar with the issues:
As police, prosecutors, and the criminal courts expand their activities in response to new laws, including the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, there will be a growing need for adequately funded, community-based advocacy and support services for victim s.
At the same time that batterers are being held accountable, a strong set of public policies should protect the victims of domestic violence, both women and children. Child welfare agencies and domestic violence advocates need to cooperate in setting such policies.
Keeping in mind that battered women leaving violent partners need an opportunity to start a new life, legislators can review existing state laws to ensure that victims have access to essential resources. These include civil and criminal justice court r emedies, support, alimony, equitable distribution of property, housing, employment, consumer credit, and insurance.
As welfare reforms reduce benefits for women and children who are escaping from abusive relationships, the need for subsidized shelter, food, clothing, health care, transportation, job training, and child care will increase.
Agencies in neighboring states can share information and cooperatively enforce court protection orders as victims move across state borders.
Those are general ideas. What specific steps can be taken? That question brought a long list of suggestions from experts in health care, criminal and civil justice, community services, the workplace, and public awareness. Following are some of their ideas.
Health Care and Public Health
A responsive health care system would recognize and act promptly and appropriately to evidence of domestic violence and/or child abuse. Such a system could include these elements:
Protocols requiring intake workers to routinely screen for domestic violence and child abuse in all health care settings, both public and private
Standardized domestic violence education and training for all health care practitioners in both professional education and practice
Statewide, uniform data collection systems that protect victims' identities while tracking incidents, responses, referrals, outcomes, and all other needed information
Hospital-based advocacy services for battered women and abused children that are funded through employer-based health benefits and Medicaid
State regulations requiring health care facilities to meet the domestic violence accreditation standards of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO)
A review of mandatory reporting requirements for doctors and other health care workers who detect domestic violence against women to ensure that such laws do not jeopardize the victim or deter her from seeking health care
Criminal and Civil Justice
The Model Code developed by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges is a starting point for a thoughtful review of current state laws. The writing of amendments or additions to existing state laws should be broadly based collaborative efforts that could achieve the following:
Limit mandatory arrest authority to the "primary aggressor" and preclude the arrest of a victim who acts in self-defense or in defense of her children.
Expand court restraining-order authority to include the protection not only of a wife or lover but of anyone in danger, including the same-sex partner of an abuser.
Grant police the authority to issue temporary restraining orders on the spot if a victim has been threatened or appears to be in danger.
Prohibit batterers under court-ordered restraint from purchasing or carrying firearms.
Create a centralized registry of restraining orders that is easily accessible to all courts and police agencies. Authorize states to recognize and enforce orders issued by neighboring jurisdictions.
Amend custody and visitation codes to give the battered parent sole custody of the children. A convicted batterer is to be presumed dangerous. Unsupervised visitation by the perpetrator should be denied when there is any indication of risk to children.
Exempt victims of domestic violence from required mediation in divorce and custody cases. Other means of resolving disputes must be developed if battered women are to be protected. The courts should screen divorce and custody cases for any sign of domes tic violence.
Evaluate the adequacy of domestic violence training mandates for police, probation and parole workers, correction officers, and the courts. Establish and enforce professional training standards and protocols, statewide.
Encourage police departments and prosecutors' offices to hire trained specialists to handle domestic violence cases. Community-Based Services and Advocacy
Community-Based Services and Advocacy
Emphasize early intervention and prevention at the community level. These efforts might well be collaborative, involving a wide range of services:
Comprehensive transitional living programs for victims and their children that provide a safe social environment
Legal advocacy, support groups, child care, job training, and placement
Mandatory, certified intervention and treatment programs for batterers that hold perpetrators accountable
Mandated domestic violence and child abuse education and response training for all supervisors, investigators, and line workers in child welfare agencies
School Awareness and Prevention
As family structures break down and children become more isolated, the roles of public schools are changing. School administrators and policy makers might consider these steps:
Creating specialized domestic violence awareness and response training for school teachers. This training could be done by domestic violence coalitions or resource centers.
Establishing school-based primary prevention programs that provide children with basic training in the essential emotional skills and social competencies.
Coordinating these school-based programs with community-based domestic violence programs to develop well-designed, multiagency intervention policies and actions.
There is a need for workplace domestic violence safety standards and policies, just as there are protective standards for other worker health and safety issues. These policies might, for example:
Include appropriate response and worker safety plans if such violence is detected and employee benefit packages that are sensitive to domestic violence issues.
Require domestic violence and child abuse awareness education and response training for all supervisors.
Require that employees be apprised of corporate domestic violence prevention policies.
Encourage employers to grant transfers or leaves of absence if a victim is being harassed or endangered at work.
Prevention depends on the increasing awareness of the problem and a social consensus that moves toward zero tolerance. Legislators can take these steps:
Adopt an unambiguous policy statement regarding equal protection and treatment of women and children.
Subsidize media campaigns against domestic violence, much like those created to combat smoking and drunk driving. Such campaigns can show the close connection between child abuse and the battering of women.
Require domestic violence awareness training in the workplace for all government supervisors and line workers, and mandate it for private contractors working on public projects.
A century after children's advocates began their efforts to combat child abuse, a quarter of a century after the battered women's movement began the struggle to end domestic violence, there is a possibility that these goals can be reached. But it wil l take work. The first task is to provide protection and support for the victims; the harder task is to prevent violence. Violence has disastrous results.
Violence against women and children begets violence. The good news is that family violence can be interrupted, and that early intervention can prevent it. more