Trump Administration Conveniently Redefines Domestic Violence

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Donald Trump does a lot of stupid, and sometimes straight up evil stuff like, you know, shutting the entire government down because he wants to build a giant fucking wall to keep brown people out of the country. So it can be hard to notice the smaller things, which is how it’s been like nine months since his administration changed the definition of domestic violence but no one noticed until just now.

And it’s completely true: the Department of Justice has a section of their website devoted to violence against women, where domestic violence used to be described as such:

“A pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.”

In April of last year, they updated that definition to remove pretty much all of that information, replacing it with a simple statement that domestic violence encompasses “felony or misdemeanor crimes of violence.” Nothing about intimidation, manipulation, or isolation. Nothing about the sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions. Nothing about threats. Only “crimes of (physical) violence.”

So if it happened nine months ago and no one noticed until now, it can’t be that big of a deal, right? I mean, it’s not a law, it’s not a Supreme Court decision — this clearly doesn’t make it legal for someone to psychologically torture their partner, right? Well, no, it doesn’t do any of that, but it is a big deal. Here’s why: half of all women who are murdered this year will be murdered by an intimate partner. And most of those murders will not happen on the first date.

Domestic violence is not simply a man deciding one day to beat his wife to death. It is, more commonly, a pattern of behavior that psychologists have identified that often culminate in physical violence. By the time it reaches that point, it’s often too late for the victim. Leaving a physically abusive relationship is the point at which a victim is most likely to be murdered.

Domestic violence is a collection of behaviors, and the earlier we can identify those behaviors, the better the outcome for the victim. If a partner is controlling, if they try to isolate you from friends or family, if they don’t give you access to finances, if they repeatedly tell you you’re ugly or stupid or undeserving of love, that is domestic abuse. You can be in an abusive relationship without ever being physically hurt. If you ever wonder how a woman gets to the point in her life that she “allows” her husband to punch her in the face, this is how — she first must be completely broken down, with no outside help, with no hope of escape, and with an attitude that she deserves it. Domestic abuse is so dangerous because it’s a series of small violations over the course of time, where each new violation can be dismissed for being so small at the same time that it makes it easier for the next violation to be slightly worse.

And guess what? That’s the situation we are all in with the Trump administration. Yes, he occasionally loses his temper and lashes out in a dramatic fashion, and it can be easy to condemn those meltdowns. But at the same time, he and the Republican party at large are pushing forward a thousand tiny violations, subtly chipping away at our collective psychology. By 2020, we may not have even remembered that our government once considered domestic violence to be a complicated problem that transcends physical abuse, and that will make it just a little easier for our government to care less, to stop funding the people who are trying to prevent it from happening, or to consider dropping things like the Violence Against Women Act.

When Trump is gone, these tiny violations will remain in our collective psyche. We cannot let them slide, because it’ll just allow the next Trump to push them even further, and to eventually destroy the progress women have made in the past 50 years of getting the government to take these issues seriously.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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