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|National Agenda on Sexual and Domestic Violence Issued
"The public safety and public health costs of violence against women are high and the impact on society too great for the nation not to act," concludes Ending Violence Against Women - An Agenda for the Nation, a new report by the National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women. The report, released Wednesday morning in Washington, D.C., is an "urgent call to action to end violence against women."
Advisory Council members Vickii Coffey of Vickii Coffey and Associates; Judge Vincent Poppiti of the Delaware Family Court; and Diane Stuart of the Utah Domestic Violence Advisory Council presented the report to Attorney General Janet Reno and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala at the event.
The Agenda provides a framework for ending violence against women that calls for the coordinated efforts of victims of violence, their advocates, community leaders, the justice systems, the health care system, the welfare system, organized sports, the media, faith communities, colleges and universities, businesses, the military and children's advocates. The report, along with its accompanying Toolkit to End Violence Against Women, is designed to provide concrete guidance to advocates, communities and policy leaders on actions they can take to help end violence against women.
Reno and Shalala chair the National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women, which brings together experts in domestic violence and sexual assault. The Council was established in 1995, and is made up of nationwide leaders in public education, victims' rights, social services, the business community, higher education, and other fields.
Solutions to Violence Against Women
"We can and must end violence against women," concludes the Agenda, and all sectors of society must work together to achieve that goal. Eliminating violence against women demands a comprehensive and coordinated effort between elected and appointed officials, government and non-government organizations and agencies, community leaders, businesses, public organizations, and private citizens.
The Agenda highlights six key areas in which "concerted, comprehensive, and coordinated action" can help end violence against women. They are:
* Eliminating social norms that condone violence against women. Societal tolerance and indifference towards violence against women allows it to continue, and commonly accepted attitudes and beliefs "give rise to men's abusive behavior towards women," finds the Agenda. Social change efforts must be both community-based and national in their scope, and must reflect diversity within communities. The report calls on the nation to adopt cultural values that support equality in relationships, respectful conflict resolution, healthy sexuality, and increase the safety and well-being for women and girls.
* Ensuring that all victims of violence have places to turn. Many victims of violence "feel isolated and alone," and the Agenda finds that "there are too many communities in this nation where crisis services are not available for victims, or where those that do exist are taxed beyond capacity." To successfully end violence against women, communities' responses to violence must be improved: "Community-based support systems must be available to all women and girls across their lifespan." Existing support systems for victims must be enhanced and sanctions for perpetrators must be strengthened, and every community member must do her or his part to help end violence, concludes the report.
* Enhancing the health and mental health care systems' response to violence against women. "The health care system is a critical point for primary care and secondary prevention of violence against women" but many primary care providers and emergency departments "do not routinely identify patients with histories of sexual abuse or domestic violence," states the Agenda. Health care systems must adopt comprehensive policies and protocols to address detecting and preventing violence against women.
* Providing equal and safe access to the justice system. "All violent crimes against women?must be taken seriously and responded to as threats to the safety of the entire community," states the Agenda, which calls on the legal system to provide equal protections to all victims of violence. Ending violence against women requires "the continued leadership of the criminal justice system," with federal, statewide and community-wide policies and laws addressing violence, and improvements to the justice system's response to violence against women.
* Increasing women's access to economic opportunities. Without the means for economic independence, women can remain dependent on their abuser, finds the Agenda. Increasing women's economic options is "both an intervention and prevention strategy" in ending violence against women, and creating "a strong and effective safety net" for women experiencing violence is the first step toward this goal, concludes the report.
* Investing in prevention and early intervention with children. More funding, research and energy must be directed toward developing violence prevention methods, particularly prevention strategies geared towards young people, finds the Agenda. And communities must take a leading role in teaching children and youth about effective, non-violent conflict resolution and challenging existing gender roles that place women and girls at risk: "The safety and well-being of every child, and the safety and well-being of his or her parents, must become priority community concerns," concludes the report.
Responses to Violence Against Women
The Agenda and the Toolkit focus on appropriate and necessary responses to violence against women in 15 areas: Victim Services; the Health Care System; the Justice System; Economic Security; Colleges and Universities; the Workplace; Children; Community Education; the Media; Communities of Faith; Sports; Challenge to Policymakers; Native Women; Military; and International Justice.
This section focuses on services and advocacy for victims of violence. According to the report, there are more than 1,300 sexual assault programs and more than 1,900 domestic violence programs in communities across America, as well as national organizations and state coalitions that address violence against women. But although funding for these programs has expanded, "the availability of services has lagged far behind the pressing needs that women and children face."
Victims' services must be increased, expanded and improved, the Agenda says, and for programs for victims to be successful they must meet the needs of all victims. This requires collaboration and information sharing between sexual assault and domestic violence service providers, advocates and experts, as well as support from local, state and national governments. The Agenda calls on communities to "expand and stabilize existing services, develop culturally and linguistically appropriate services, establish community partnerships, and strengthen informal networks women turn to for support."
This section is designed to provide health care systems with the tools they need to identify and prevent violence against women. Domestic violence and sexual assault are serious public health threats, and violence against women causes physical, as well as emotional and mental damage. Health care providers may be the first and only professionals to see victims of violence and, therefore, the health care system is a "crucial point of early intervention and prevention," finds the report.
Unfortunately, the Agenda continues, many health care providers do not view domestic violence and sexual assault as public health issues, and they "lack the knowledge, skill and incentives to intervene appropriately." The Agenda calls on health care systems to develop and apply policies that address all forms violence against women, focusing both on the detection and the prevention of violence.
This section addresses the role of the justice system in providing safeguards for victims of violence against women and legal penalties for perpetrators. The justice system "has a central role to play in building a national consensus that violence against women will not be tolerated" and, to date, the "amount and quality of reform in the legal system to address violence?has been profound," finds the report.
Early intervention in criminal cases of violence against women, including penalties for perpetrators, can save lives and prevent further violence. In civil cases, access to civil legal remedies, including civil orders of protection, also can save lives and promote victim recovery. In all cases, the paramount goal of justice system intervention must be "fair fact-finding and decision making, taking into account victim safety and the need to hold offenders accountable for their crimes," concludes the Agenda.
Here, the Agenda addresses promoting women's economic security so that they may escape violence. In order for more women to be free from the constraints of violence, all women must have access to real economic options, including "employment that provides a living wage, comprehensive benefits, affordable and safe housing, child care, financial assistance when necessary, child support, health care and insurance," finds the report.
Ensuring women's economic security requires coordinated attention to a wide range of policy and practice issues. Communities and state and federal governments must work together to provide women with an economic "safety net." But, the report notes, recent changes to welfare and child support laws at the federal and state levels and "the erosion of funding for many housing programs threatens to seriously weaken this safety net." Government programs must consider the safety needs of survivors of violence to avoid "endangering lives or limiting the ability of survivors to escape abusive partners, family members, or unsafe neighborhoods," the Agenda concludes.
Colleges and Universities
This section of the Agenda addresses the safety of women on campuses, as well as campus responses to violence against women. Sexual assault, dating and domestic violence, and stalking are serious problems on college and university campuses. While "an increasing number" of residential and community colleges have implemented campus-wide responses to violence, violence on colleges and universities is "seriously under-reported," the report finds.
The Agenda calls on all colleges and universities to design and implement comprehensive campus-wide responses to violence against women. Successful responses to the problem of violence against women on campus must involve all members of the campus community - students and faculty - and should coordinate victim services, campus law enforcement, health and mental health services, campus housing, student organizations and disciplinary boards.
This section of the Agenda addresses the role of businesses and unions in ending violence against women. The report calls on employers to provide enhanced security for its female employees, as many victims of violence are working women. This reality makes the workplace a "central point" for intervention and prevention, but while there is a "growing movement" by employers and unions to address domestic violence as a workplace issue, there has been less attention paid to sexual assault and stalking, the report notes.
The Agenda calls on businesses and unions to take action to prevent and respond to all forms of violence against women by developing written policies against violence, implementing security measures, and providing trainings for all employees. The report also urges companies to form collaborative partnerships with community-based sexual assault and domestic violence programs to develop workplace, anti-violence protocols.
Note: portions of this section of the Agenda were not available when Speaking Up was published.
This section of the Agenda focuses on early intervention and prevention efforts geared towards children and youth. Violence against women impacts "millions of children each year," the report says, calling for stronger crisis intervention programs for children exposed to violence, either as witnesses to violence or as victims. The Agenda calls on communities to develop a "broad array" of primary prevention and early intervention programs that target boys, girls and young families.
Here, the Agenda outlines ways to build community awareness of violence against women. Ending violence against women requires a "multi-faceted approach designed to inform and effect change," and community education programs can be powerful tools in building awareness and changing public attitudes, finds the report. Community education campaigns can increase public understanding on violence against women, mobilize community action to promote change, and build a stronger network of community support for victims.
Victims of violence also benefit from public education campaigns. In addition to promoting social change, campaigns inform victims about the services available to them, and communicate that violence against women is wrong and that victims are not to blame for the abuse. The Agenda calls on all members of the community - the media, corporations, organizations, and community groups - to take part in public education campaigns.
This section of the Agenda urges the media to portray more responsible messages about violence against women. The media plays a powerful role in society - influencing public opinion, how consumers view themselves, their neighbors and their communities, according to the report. And the "responsible voice of the mass media is critical to communicating that violent behavior is unacceptable."
The Agenda calls on the media to use its influence to help end violence against women: "the challenge for the media, as well as for advertising and entertainment agencies, is to utilize their influence to send messages that promote positive attitudes regarding the status and value of women and girls, gender roles, and nonviolence." The media has a responsibility to portray violence against women in an accurate manner that is sensitive to the needs of victims, rather than glorifying or condoning violence. The report urges the media to form partnerships with advocacy groups and community organizations to promote and distribute new and more effective violence prevention messages.
This section of the Agenda provides members of the religious community and religious organizations with guidance on how to address and respond to violence against women. Religious and faith-based organizations are "uniquely positioned to champion efforts to end violence against women," finds the report. These organizations can reach large numbers of people with messages of safety and support for victims, and are "especially important to communities that have been traditionally underserved by other prevention and intervention efforts."
While "philosophical differences have created tension" between some religious organizations and victims' advocates, many have formed partnerships to address violence against women, and the Agenda urges others to do the same. Working with advocates, religious organizations can help their members who are victims of violence, and express to all their members that violence is unacceptable and that there is "no foundation in religious doctrine for violence against women," states the report.
This section of the Agenda focuses on the role athletes can play as positive role models for respectful and non-violent behavior. The report calls on high profile athletes to "recognize their potential to influence youth with their behavior." It also finds, however, that violence against women by male athletes "is often too tolerated at the expense of their victims." Regardless of their societal status, athletes must be held "responsible for all acts of violence or abuse," the report says. In addition, athletes are in a unique position to communicate positive anti-violence messages to the public. The Agenda calls on athletes and the sports industry to use the visibility of both male and female athletes to reinforce "messages consistent with our nation's commitment to end violence against women."
Organized sports can play another important role in helping to eliminate violence against women, as participation in athletics "serves as a key formative experience for young people." Sports can have a strong impact on young people's development of values and, through sports, boys and girls are taught "respect for oneself and others." Therefore, youth athletics are an "ideal venue for promoting healthy relationships and underscoring the importance of ending violence against women and girls," concludes the report.
Promoting the Safety of Native Women
Here, the Agenda focuses on a coordinated tribal and federal response to ending violence against native women. Violence against native women "must be viewed in the context of the history of assimilation policies and practices implemented by the United States." The federal government and the tribal governments have "concurrent jurisdiction" over certain crimes, and some federal policies regarding violence against women "have undermined traditional tribal leadership, law enforcement response and the economic stability of many tribes," finds the report.
The Agenda calls on the federal government to support tribal nations in their efforts to address violence against women. The safety of native women in Indian country "depends on an effective tribal justice system that is working in partnership with Federal law enforcement." Tribal and federal partnerships can be enhanced by "disregarding the race of perpetrators" of violence against native women, and by "affirming tribal court authority" to ensure the safety and well being of native women in Indian country.
Role of the Military
This section of the Agenda examines the military's role in helping to assure the safety of women. The Defense Department has a "unique" role to play in preserving national security, and preventing violence against women is part of securing the national defense," finds the report. Violence against women committed by military personnel against civilians or women in the military is "detrimental to unit morale, cohesion and military readiness."
The military "can take pride in the significant initiatives" it has already undertaken to end violence against women, but there is more to be done, according to the Agenda. The military needs to strengthen the "training and management" of its personnel on issues of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. The military also must continue to form collaborative partnerships with civilian organizations to address violence against women. Working together, the military and civilian communities "can significantly improve intervention and prevention efforts," concludes the report.
Promoting International Justice
This section of the Agenda outlines what the United States can do to protect and uphold the human rights of women around the world. Internationally, violence against women takes many forms, and there are "many avenues for U.S. leadership on international efforts to prevent violence against women," finds the report.
One of the most prevalent forms of international violence against women is the trafficking of women, and the Agenda calls on the U.S. to take an active role in working to combat the problem. This requires coordination between government and non-government agencies in this country, as well as collaboration with foreign governments to develop laws and policies regarding the trafficking of women. The U.S. also should provide humanitarian assistance that is "directed towards promoting women's fundamental social and economic quality abroad," concludes the report.
Challenge to Congress and the Executive Branch
This section of the Agenda provides federal policy makers with recommendations on ways to use federal legislation to help eliminate violence against women. Public officials have played a "powerful role" in the country's efforts to end violence, and must continue to do so, finds the report. Congress must adopt laws that "advance the safety and well-being" of women and girls, and the Executive Branch of government must support such legislation, as well as ensure that its grant making, policy directives and programs are "consistent" with national efforts to end violence against women.
In the 1990s, federal initiatives addressing violence against women "significantly expanded," and the highlight was passage of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. The Agenda calls on Congress to continue its legislative commitment to ending violence, and allocate more money to efforts to stop violence, increasing appropriations for "intervention and prevention programs, research, training and technical assistance."
Ending Violence Against Women - An Agenda for the Nation is available online at http://www.usdoj.gov/ovw/
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