The Trump Administration Has Narrowed Its Definition of Domestic Violence to Just Physical Violence

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The Department of Justice, which tried to ban victims of domestic violence from seeking asylum in the United States, has found another way to try and trap victims in violent situations. As of April, as Slate first reported earlier this week, the definition of domestic violence as it appears on the website of the Office of Violence Against Women no longer includes language about non physical abuse.


Here’s how the DOJ defined domestic violence during the Obama administration (emphasis mine), per an archived version of the website:

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.

Here’s how the DOJ now defines domestic violence as of April 2018, under Trump:

The term “domestic violence” includes felony or misdemeanor crimes of violence committed by a current or former spouse or intimate partner of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabitating with or has cohabitated with the victim as a spouse or intimate partner, by a person similarly situated to a spouse of the victim under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction receiving grant monies, or by any other person against an adult or youth victim who is protected from that person’s acts under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction.

The Trump administration has limited the definition of domestic violence to criminal physical assault, which ignores the severe emotional and psychological violence that makes abuse so hard for victims to identify and escape.

As to the National Domestic Violence Hotline explains, domestic violence is is a cycle of insidious “subtle, continual behaviors” reinforced by “more overt and forceful” acts of abuse that trap victims in a cycle establish power and control. By limiting the definition to physical assault, the DOJ is making it harder for victims to identify when they’re trapped in an abusive situation, and limits the number of victims who can qualify for aid as a victim of domestic violence.


In response to Slate, the Department of Justice issued a statement saying that the agency is “strongly committed to enforcing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and combating domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, and sex trafficking, and to do so in a manner that is consistent with the law enacted by Congress.”

“Domestic violence is clearly defined in VAWA, and OVW has always used the statutory definition in carrying out its mission,” the statement read. “By following the statute, the Department ensures the funds made available by Congress are employed in the most effective manner possible to reduce violence and to assist crime victims.”


The Violence Against Women Act expired in December.

Prachi Gupta is a senior reporter at Jezebel.



Reading about this ruling made me physically sick. In addition to the horrific physical abuse (regularly choking me to the point of unconsciousness, body slamming me to the ground, kicking me, beating my head into the floor, head-butting me, raping me, etc.), my abusive ex-husband also threatened and intimidated me in so many ways.

He mocked me when I cried after he hurt me, threatened to kill me in my sleep, threatened to kill me if I ever took his child away from him (“There’s nowhere you can hide where I wouldn’t be able to find you, Bananabunny.”), threatened me unless I dropped a legal case asking for child support (which I dropped out of fear, and then filed again a few years later, once I was strong enough to stand up to him)... He controlled me financially and physically, humiliated me and and systematically destroyed my feelings of self worth, and my ability to stand up to him about anything.

And ALL of the behaviors that have been removed from this legal DV definition are part of what domestic violence really is, in most cases.. Domestic violence isn’t always an isolated argument that “just got out of hand.” It’s not only the act of physical assault (which is bad enough)— it’s a means of manipulating and intimidating the other person to exert total control, and all these behaviors help paint a true picture of what is truly happening in the home, and should be considered when making a ruling in DV court cases.

In my case, all these issues were considered relevant, so the court at least “flagged” my file, so that I was always at least given a 15 minute head start and an escort to my car any time I needed to appear in court against my ex. I was able to receive free legal assistance and financial assistance to leave (deposit on an apartment and deposit for utilities) through a DV support organization as a result of reporting everything. And after I left, when he later began exhibiting some of these same controlling/intimidating/mocking behaviors toward our child, this “pattern of behavior” proved to be grounds for a restraining order. And because the “pattern of behavior” was considered, it wasn’t viewed as a dad just bulling his kid- it was clearly an indication of something much more frightening. And that’s the point.

I really worry that victims of DV won’t get the legal support they should receive, if this new “definition” is upheld. This is fucking unconscionable. Every single thing I deeply care about is being shit upon by this administration.