Domestic Violence
Domestic violence against women is an area of serious concern in the U.S. According to a study conducted in 2000, one in four women in the U.S. has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime. Women account for an overwhelming majority (85%) of domestic violence victims in the U.S. In recognition of the prevalence and severity of domestic violence, the federal government enacted comprehensive legislation in an attempt to combat the problem, most notably the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA).
 
VAWA gave the federal government the ability to investigate and prosecute certain acts of domestic violence. However, as discussed in the Introduction to the Federal System, the reach of federal legislation with respect to domestic violence is limited to those instances in which the law is within the scope of federal authority. Thus, many laws are limited to activities that cross state lines.
 
Despite this, VAWA’s impact has been expansive, partly because its reach is not limited to the criminal law arena. In addition, VAWA established federal grant programs and initiatives that encourage state and local governments to take measures to combat domestic violence. (See National Plan of Action, below.) Today, the capacity of VAWA may be credited for improving services for victims of domestic violence, as well as education and training about violence against women for victim advocates, health professionals, law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges.
 
·VAWA made it a federal crime to commit certain acts of domestic violence. Investigations of violations of VAWA are primarily conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI): 
 
o  Interstate Travel to Commit Domestic Violence, 18 U.S.C. § 2261:  This law makes it a federal crime to travel across state lines with the intent to injure, harass, or intimidate one’s intimate partner when a violent crime causing bodily injury occurs as a result of or during the course of the travel. This law also makes it a federal crime to use force, coercion, duress, or fraud to compel an intimate partner to cross state lines when bodily harm occurs during the course of this travel. To institute a criminal proceeding under this law, it must be shown that the perpetrator acted intentionally when committing acts violating this law. Penalties under this law vary depending on whether a victim was injured, as well as the degree of injury.
 
o   Interstate Stalking, 18 U.S.C. § 2261A:  This law makes it a federal crime to travel across state lines with the intent to injure or harass another person (not necessarily an intimate partner), if in the course of or as a result of such travel, the perpetrator places such person in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury to herself or to a member of her immediate family. This law extends to areas under the special or maritime jurisdiction of the U.S., as well as Indian reservations and military bases. Penalties under this law vary depending on whether a victim was injured, as well as the degree of injury.
 
o  Full Faith and Credit to Orders of Protection, 18 U.S.C. § 2265:  This law requires all jurisdictions (states and Indian territories) to give effect to and enforce valid protection orders issued from other jurisdictions. A protection order is a judicial means to protect victims of domestic violence. A protection order prohibits the abuser (the subject of the order) from being within a certain distance of the victim or engaging in other abusive or threatening behavior with respect to the victim. This law enables victims to call upon local authorities to enforce a protection order when they move to a different state.
 
o  Interstate Travel to Violate an Order of Protection, 18 U.S.C. § 2262:  This law has two parts. First, the law makes it is a federal crime to travel across state lines with intent to violate a valid protection order that forbids credible threats of violence, repeated harassment or bodily injury. Notably, there is no requirement in this first part of the law that the victim be an intimate partner or that there be bodily injury resulting from or occurring during the course of the travel. Second, the law makes it a federal crime to force an intimate partner to travel across state lines (whether by force, coercion, duress, or fraud) when bodily injury results, in violation of a valid protection order. For the second part of this law to apply, the victim does have to be an intimate partner of the offender and there does have to be a showing of intentional injury to the victim. However, the offender does not have to intend to force the travel as long as force, coercion, duress, or fraud can be shown. Protection orders under this law are issued by state courts. In order for this law to apply, there first must be a review of the order to see if it complies with federal requirements (e.g., an assessment that the person subject to the protective order poses a credible threat of violence, repeated harassment or bodily injury).
 
 
· VAWA also provides for various rights and remedies to victims of domestic violence:
 
o  Restitution to Victims of Domestic Violence, 18 U.S.C. § 2264:  After an offender has been convicted of a VAWA crime, the court must order restitution to reimburse the victim for the full amount of losses. Recoverable losses span many categories, including costs for medical or psychological care, physical therapy, transportation, temporary housing, child care, lost income, attorney's fees, and costs incurred in obtaining a civil protection order, as well as any other losses.
 
o  Right of Victim to Speak at Bail Hearing, 18 U.S.C.§ 2263:  A victim of a VAWA crime has the right to be heard at a bail hearing for the defendant who injured her regarding the danger posed by the defendant. Depending on this and other circumstances, the defendant may be denied bail and remain in custody until trial.
 
o  Self-Petitioning for Battered Immigrant Women and Children, 8 U.S.C. § 1154:  In recognition that the victims of domestic violence may be dependent upon an abuser for their right to remain in the U.S., VAWA also provides the battered and abused spouses and children of U.S. citizens and permanent residents with a way to self-petition for independent legal residency in the U.S.
 
o  U-Visa Status for Battered Non-citizens:  The U-visa was created to: (i) provide relief to non-citizen victims of qualifying crimes, including acts of domestic violence and sexual assault; and (ii) assist in prosecution of these crimes. Victims who have suffered “substantial physical or mental abuse” as a result of being a victim of a qualifying federal, state or local criminal law may apply for a U-visa. A victim must have information about the crime and demonstrate that she “has been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful” in the investigation or prosecution of the crime, and obtain Certification from a Certifying Agency. U-visa applicants or recipients are never eligible for public benefits. Once the U-visa is approved, a recipient is allowed to live and work legally in the U.S. for up to four years, with the possibility to apply for legal permanent residency after three years. U-visa recipients may petition for their spouse, children and qualifying family members to come to the U.S.  
 
· The federal government has criminalized certain acts as part of Gun Control Laws in order to help prevent domestic violence. Investigations under these laws are led by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF).
 
o  Possession of Firearm While Subject to Order of Protection, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9) This law makes it a federal crime for someone to possess a firearm while subject to a protection order that restrains such person from harassing, stalking or threatening an intimate partner or the intimate partner’s child. Just as with the law against interstate travel in violation of a protective order, for there to be a violation of this law there must be some review of the relevant state’s protection order for compliance with federal requirements. This law does not apply to law enforcement officers or military personnel while they are on duty.
 
o   Transfer of Firearm to Person Subject to Order of Protection, 18 U.S.C. § 922(d)(8):  This law makes it a federal crime for someone to transfer (e.g., sell or give) a firearm to a person subject to a protection order that restrains such person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or the child of an intimate partner. For there to be a violation of this law it must be shown that a violator of this law had knowledge of the protective order. This law does not apply to law enforcement officers or military personnel while they are on duty.
 
o  Possession of Firearm After Conviction of Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9) and Transfer of Firearm to Person Convicted of a Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence,18 U.S.C. § 922(d)(9). These two laws are analogous to the laws applicable to persons subject to a protection order, described above, but apply to persons who have been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. The prohibition under these laws applies even if the conviction for a misdemeanor occurred before these laws came into effect. However, in order for the underlying misdemeanor to qualify as a basis for protection, the misdemeanor must have involved the use or attempted use of physical force or the threatened use of a deadly weapon. For example, a conviction for a misdemeanor violation of a protection order will not qualify, even if the violation was committed by a violent act, if the statute violated does not require the use or attempted use of physical force or the threatened use of a deadly weapon. These laws do not apply to law enforcement officers or military personnel while they are on duty.
 
o  Amendment of the Brady Statement, 18 U.S.C. § 922(s) (1996):  This amendment to the Gun Control Laws requires that any recipient of a firearm make a written statement that he or she has not been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. While the amendment does not currently require a similar statement that the firearm recipient is not subject to a protection order, the recipient is required to fill out an ATF form requiring certification that he or she is not subject to a valid protection order.
 
 
· Child custody in divorces involving domestic violence are another significant issue in the United States: 
 
o  An additional issue relating to domestic violence is that of custody disputes in divorce cases involving abuse. Women who seek separation and divorce from abusive spouses often must face family court judges who do not believe claims of domestic violence or incest. As of 2006, every state mandates that domestic violence be considered a factor in child custody cases, but only 24 states have statutory language creating a rebuttable presumption against granting custody to perpetrators of domestic violence. In the other 26 states, domestic violence is one factor of many to take into account during deliberations. And while legislation increasingly takes domestic violence into account in custody hearings, women can face judges and juries who have biases and misinformation about domestic abuse. In fact, courts often grant visitation or joint custody in cases where the fathers have a history of violence against the mothers.
 
o Judges and juries may discredit claims of abuse in divorce, assuming that women are lying to ensure sole custody. This can be exacerbated if the victim is suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which can include seeming to be distraught or angry. Abusers, on the other hand, often appear relaxed and composed. Research has shown that education for judges and court personnel can mitigate the tendency towards mistrust of victims’ claims.
 
o  Separation and divorce proceedings often escalate violence, placing the mothers and children at increased risk of physical harm. Even in cases where judges find little or no evidence of previous child abuse, this is not necessarily an indication that the children are safe from physical harm. Additionally, emotional and psychological abuse of children is very often ignored completely in custody cases, even though almost all cases of domestic violence against mothers expose children to such abuse. Children who do not witness physical violence may still hear yelling, hitting, and objects breaking. In situations where children fear for the lives of their mothers, they may attempt to intervene or face guilt for ineffective intervention. Courts should consider these factors when making custody decisions.