Domestic violence refers to any harmful or insulting behavior which is being repeatedly employed by an individual on his or her intimate partner in order to be in control. Such behavior could be physical (slapping, punching, hair-pulling), psychological (threat of physical harm), or emotional (name calling or nonstop criticism).
In some situations, domestic violence even takes the form of a sexual abuse (marital rape or demeaning a partner sexually) or an action which harms the other partner economically like exercising complete control over the source of income, thereby preventing the victim from having any access to money. Domestic violence victimizes men, women, gays and lesbians regardless of age, skin color, or religious affiliation who are either living together or merely dating, including their relatives and friends (U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women). According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, around 700,000 instances of domestic violence are being reported every year. Meanwhile, data available at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) show that a total of 57,000 deaths have already occurred during the last 25 years because of domestic violence (Ashcroft, John).
Claims as to the origin of the organized attempt to denounce violence against women vary. Referred to as “Take Back the Night” rally, some quarters believe that it was started by a group of women in London sometime in 1877 when they decided to gather together one night and speak against the violence that they had been experiencing in the streets of London at night. There are others, however, who believe that it first took place in 1976 when women delegates to the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women, bearing lit candles, held an evening march in the streets of Belgium and denounced the spread of violence against the women sector. Regardless of whether that rally in Belgium should be considered the root of the Take Back the Night rally, the fact is that it sparked the worldwide tradition when it was directly followed by thousands of rallies and marches held elsewhere around the world adopting the name Take Back the Night (takebackthenight.org).
The tradition finally reached American soil by 1978. A rally which was held one evening in San Francisco right after a conference against pornography used the slogan “Take Back the Night.” Those who witnessed that rally were treated to the sad experiences of the very individuals whose lives were negatively affected by the evils of pornography. That San Francisco rally started the practice of letting victims of violence against women speak during every Take Back the Night rally to share their sad experiences with other women. It is believed that talking about their experience in front of people represents a public affirmation of their desire to evolve from being victims of pornography and violence to gallant survivors.
Nowadays, every Take Back the Night rally features “survivor speakouts” in addition to its regular elements like “candlelight vigils [and] empowerment marches” (takebackthenight.org).
With its emergence in the United States, Take Back the Night has evolved into an international women’s movement whose primary purpose is to embolden women to “walk without fear through the night and reclaim the streets, which for many years have been sources of fear and violence” and empower whole communities to get back their lives, homes, their streets and their campuses from the evil consequence of violence being perpetrated against women as well as children. As a movement, Take Back the Night, therefore, aims to work for a society that does not tolerate violence against women (TAKE BACK THE NIGHT).
The different colleges and universities in the country have their own women’s programs which hold Take Back the Night rallies every year. For 2005, for instance, the specific purposes of Take Back the Night rally which was spearheaded by the women’s program of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte were to:
A “Clothesline Project” has also been recently included in the activities being held during Take Back the Night rallies. This project makes available shirts and the materials needed to depict any act of violence against women.
These shirts are then displayed publicly so that the people may be educated and in the process, the awareness of the community is raised.
The Clothesline Project has been conceived as a way of airing the so-called “dirty laundry” of society (TAKE BACK THE NIGHT).
Recognizing the seriousness of the problem, the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA 1994) was passed by the United States Congress. VAWA 1994 was a part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. VAWA was primarily meant to improve the way the U.S. criminal justice system responds to cases of domestic violence including stalking and sexual assault. To achieve its objective, the law requires that the issue of domestic violence should be dealt with through a coordinated community response (CCR).
In other words, all jurisdictions should be able to involve people from all walks of life, share relevant information, and utilize their positions towards improving community responses to cases of violence against women. Considered to be useful players who could be tapped to participate in such a concerted effort are criminal justice personnel like judges, prosecutors, police officers, prison officials, and victim advocates. Also included in the useful list of players are victims and survivors of domestic violence themselves, healthcare professionals who have had the occasion of treating domestic violence victims, and religious leaders (U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women).
To implement VAWA, the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) was created under the Department of Justice in 1995. Pursuant to its mandate, the OVW
administers financial and technical assistance to communities across the country that are developing programs, policies, and practices aimed at ending domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
In addition to overseeing 12 federal grant programs, OVW often undertakes a number of special initiatives in response to areas of special need, dedicating resources to develop enhancements in areas requiring particular attention or in communities facing particularly acute challenges (U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women).
The programs being implemented by VAWA were reauthorized twice – first in 2000 by the Violence Against Women Act of 2000 (VAWA 2000 and then again in 2005 by the Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005 (VAWA 2005).
Specifically, VAWA 2000 sought to strengthen VAWA 1994 by “improving protections for battered immigrants, sexual assault survivors, and victims of dating violence.” It also allowed victims who escape across state borders to acquire custody orders even if they do not go back to their state where their lives could be in danger. VAWA 2005, on the other hand, created new programs like “Court Training and Improvements, Child Witness, and Culturally Specific programs.”
It also continued to seek improvements on the laws concerning domestic violence by ensuring that the services provided for by VAWA are easily accessible to the underserved sectors of the American society.
The OVW was made a permanent unit of the Department of Justice in 2002 with a Director who was appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Since 1994, it has released over $3 billion to fund the programs and projects of state and local governments, tribal governments, colleges and universities, and even non-profit organizations that provide services to victims of domestic violence (U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women).
Ashcroft, John. “Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft.” 29 October, 2002. 22 September, 2008. http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/nac/agremarks.htm.
TAKE BACK THE NIGHT. October, 2005. 22 September 2008. http://www.dso.uncc.edu/women/TBN_Web/index.html.
Takebackthenight.org. “A History of Take Back The Night.” 22 September 2008. http://www.takebackthenight.org.
U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women. “About Domestic Violence.” 22 September 2008. http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/domviolence.htm.