Back in April, when the rest of the world was otherwise engaged, it seems that the Department of Justice, then under former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, rolled back Obama era expansions of the domestic abuse definition. The change now restricts punishable abuse to the physical realm.
The previous definition included critical components of the phenomenon that experts recognize as domestic abuse—a pattern of deliberate behavior, the dynamics of power and control, and behaviors that encompass physical or sexual violence as well as forms of emotional, economic, or psychological abuse. But in the Trump Justice Department, only harms that constitute a felony or misdemeanor crime may be called domestic violence. So, for example, a woman whose partner isolates her from her family and friends, monitors her every move, belittles and berates her, or denies her access to money to support herself and her children is not a victim of domestic violence in the eyes of Trump’s Department of Justice.
Mental and emotional abuse, while a real problem among those who are abused in the home, and a frequent cause for marriages and relationships to fall apart, is not violent, and really should not be part of a violence law regardless of the reprehensible behavior that leads to it. That is the point that the mainstream media is missing in the reporting of this issue, and the campaign to redefine “violence” to include such abuse.
Restoring nonphysical violence to the definition of domestic violence is critical. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, over one-third of U.S. women (43.5 million) have experienced “psychological aggression” at the hands of an intimate partner. Experts have long recognized that the manipulative behaviors identified in the Obama-era definition as restricting a victim’s liberty or freedom can cause greater and more lasting damage than physical harm.
As sad – and realistic – as this situation is, violence is not mental. It is physical. If mental abuse is to be a criminal matter, the legislatures need to take up the cause and write new laws.