Written by Melissa A. Jonson-Reid, PhD, professor at the Brown School
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Most of you have probably been touched by the issue of domestic violence through someone close to you, in clinical practice, or through research. This problem goes by different names depending on which organization or professional affiliation you belong to: domestic violence, family violence, intimate partner violence, partner violence, dating violence… Regardless of what you call it, domestic violence is a significant public health and social concern.
Those reading the Institute for Public Health blog are engaged in work related to a variety of social and health concerns. In case you were thinking your work has nothing to do with domestic violence…consider the following:
- Estimates of medical and health care costs for women in the US alone are about 4.1 billion dollars per year.
- Domestic violence is more common than any other health issue during pregnancy and threatens the health of the mother and the child.
- It is estimated that 2/3 of residents of emergency shelters are children.
- About 63 percent of homeless women report histories of domestic violence.
- It is estimated that 2 in 5 gay men and 50% of the lesbian population has experienced partner violence in their lifetimes.
- We know that partner violence can persist into or begin in older adulthood, but we lag so far in our understanding of how to address the needs of this population that the US Preventive Services Task Force in 2013 said there was insufficient evidence to suggest value in screening for this issue in older women.
- Domestic violence is a global concern.
- And my work? My focus is on preventing child abuse and neglect and helping those who have experienced it. It turns out that the overlap between domestic violence and child abuse is very large.
Given the year-long initiative on gun violence here at Washington University, it seemed important to raise awareness of the connection been guns and domestic violence. For example, when we hear the term “mass shooting,” we tend to think about tragic high profile shootings like the recent incident in Roseburg, Oregon. But a gripping article in the Huffington Post reminds us that mass shootings are not limited to seemingly unpredictable public events. The author defined a mass shooting as one in which at least four people died and found that, across the past five years, 42% involved a current or former intimate partner. And the author makes an excellent point. Fatal incidents related to domestic violence often come with substantial warning signs that suggest more opportunity for prevention.
Further, it’s important to understand that the relationship between guns and domestic violence is not just about fatalities. Years ago I worked at an agency that provided a range of services for domestic violence and sexual assault. One of the stories that stuck with me over the years came from a woman who was an older adult. She recounted how her husband would place a bullet in the middle of the table as he left the house to remind her that he could and might take her life should she anger him. Guns can be used as a powerful tool of intimidation.
What can be done? Specific to guns there are many states that have expanded the provisions available in federal law to restrict gun ownership by known perpetrators. However, Missouri law does not:
- Prohibit individuals convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from purchasing or possessing firearms or ammunition, unlike federal law;
- Prohibit individuals subject to domestic violence protective orders from possessing firearms or ammunition, unlike federal law;
- Require courts to notify domestic abusers when they become prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition under federal law;
- Require the surrender of firearms or ammunition by domestic abusers who have become prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition under federal law; or
- Explicitly authorize or require the removal of firearms or ammunition at the scene of a domestic violence incident.
Beyond taking policy action related to guns there are lots of other actions, both small and large, that can make a difference.
- If you are in a profession that works with people, you should be aware of recommendations for how to ask about domestic violence and local resources for those that might disclose (e.g., Alternatives to Living in Violent Environments, RAVEN, Redevelopment Opportunities for Women, The Women’s Safe House…to name a few).
- As a community member you might check out the recently launched campaign against family violence that offers a range of suggestions for how you can help.
- If you’re a parent, remember to talk to your children about healthy relationships and nonviolent means to address anger and problem-solving. The CDC provides the Dating Maters resource for with help for talking about violence in teen relationships.
Learn more about Washington University’s Center for Violence & Injury Prevention, working to promote healthy young families and young adults by advancing evidence-based violence prevention.