- - Friday, November 7, 2014


When we began working together in the crime-victim assistance field more than 30 years ago, domestic violence was considered simply a “family matter.” A typical law enforcement response in the 1980s would be to walk the alleged perpetrator around the block to “cool off.” Victims of domestic violence were not even eligible for crime-victim compensation to help pay for the associated costs with these violent crimes because they were not considered “innocent victims.”

Thankfully, much has changed in the ways we view domestic violence, now termed “intimate-partner violence,” and in how we assist its victims and hold convicted offenders accountable. A few seminal documents from the U.S. Department of Justice to improve the treatment of crime victims were issued during the Reagan administration: the Final Reports from the 1982 President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime; the 1984 Attorney General’s Task Force on Family Violence; and the 1987 President’s Child Safety Partnership.

Today, we know that the dynamics of domestic violence involve power and control of one person over another. We know that battering is learned behavior that, with proper interventions, can be unlearned. We have also learned — as communities and as a nation — that domestic violence can only be prevented with appropriate responses to its survivors and perpetrators through public-private partnerships whose ultimate goals are less crime and fewer victims.

One example of such a public-private partnership is the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a data-driven approach to improve public safety, hold offenders accountable and reduce corrections spending. It reinvests savings into evidence-based strategies that can decrease crime and protect victims and survivors. These strategies include validated risk-assessment instruments that provide critical information to develop case plans that can reduce an offender’s risk to reoffend; treatment resources that address mental health issues and community supervision practices — such as specialized domestic-violence units and caseloads — that hold offenders accountable and help keep victims safe.

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative also proactively engages crime victims and those who serve them to identify gaps in victim services and fill them. For example, savings from the initiative doubled the Oregon Domestic and Sexual Violence Services Fund in the state’s 2013-15 budget, providing an additional $4 million for victim services and support. In several states, JRI savings help fund Statewide Automated Victim Information and Notification programs that inform survivors of the status of their case and of the alleged or convicted offender, and when a person who is alleged to have committed domestic violence is served with a protective order.

While these outcomes are very important, it is the partnerships resulting from the Justice Reinvestment Initiative that form the foundation of an ongoing collaborative response to crime and delinquency, prevention and victim assistance. Crime survivors and advocates speak out with enthusiasm about new levels of engagement and collaboration that didn’t exist prior to the initiative. They are key stakeholders in criminal and juvenile-justice practices and outcomes.

During Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we join all survivors and advocates across America to ensure that domestic violence victims’ rights and services are not just observed annually, but practiced daily.

Edwin Meese served as U.S. attorney general in the Reagan administration. Anne Seymour is a national crime-victim advocate. They have worked together to promote victims’ rights and services through the Victims’ Assistance Legal Organization.

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