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Why Trump likely erased protections from the legal definitions of domestic violence/sexual assault

It appears that the man who brags about assaulting women and jails children to act as a “deterrent” might actually be a monster. Surprise?

In a stunning abuse of power last Friday, Trump quietly rolled back 50 years of women’s protection in one fell swoop by significantly altering the Department of Justice (DOJ) definitions of domestic violence and sexual assault.

No one knows why he did this. What I do know is that NO ONE asked him to do this.

Not one legislator or official complained that our domestic violence definition was too protective.

Furthermore, as Slate points out, this is especially confusing since the DOJ is specifically tasked with funding and implementing solutions on this kind of violence, not just the prosecution of individuals.

I can think of three reasons.

But before I get to that, let’s look at what Trump removed from the definitions.  First is domestic violence.  After years of study, the previous definition used by the Department of Justice was put in place with input from criminal justice organizations and vetted by experts on domestic violence. The key here is that domestic violence is NOT just about hitting someone.

This was pulled from a web archive of the DOJ. The old definition before February 2019 read as follows:

We define domestic violence as 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.

Physical Abuse: Hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting, hair pulling, etc are types of physical abuse. This type of abuse also includes denying a partner medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drug use upon him or her.

Sexual Abuse: Coercing or attempting to coerce any sexual contact or behavior without consent. Sexual abuse includes, but is certainly not limited to, marital rape, attacks on sexual parts of the body, forcing sex after physical violence has occurred, or treating one in a sexually demeaning manner.

Emotional Abuse: Undermining an individual's sense of self-worth and/or self-esteem is abusive. This may include, but is not limited to constant criticism, diminishing one's abilities, name-calling, or damaging one's relationship with his or her children.

Economic Abuse: Is defined as making or attempting to make an individual financially dependent by maintaining total control over financial resources, withholding one's access to money, or forbidding one's attendance at school or employment.

Psychological Abuse: Elements of psychological abuse include  – but are not limited to – causing fear by intimidation; threatening physical harm to self, partner, children, or partner's family or friends; destruction of pets and property; and forcing isolation from family, friends, or school and/or work.

Domestic violence can happen to anyone regardless of race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender. Domestic violence affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels. Domestic violence occurs in both opposite-sex and same-sex relationships and can happen to intimate partners who are married, living together, or dating.

Domestic violence not only affects those who are abused, but also has a substantial effect on family members, friends, co-workers, other witnesses, and the community at large. Children, who grow up witnessing domestic violence, are among those seriously affected by this crime. Frequent exposure to violence in the home not only predisposes children to numerous social and physical problems, but also teaches them that violence is a normal way of life – therefore, increasing their risk of becoming society's next generation of victims and abusers.

Now, here’s the new Trump definition on the DOJ website.

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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.

What about sexual assault?  This was the old definition:

Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.

This is the new Trump definition:

The term ‘sexual assault’ means any non-consensual sexual act proscribed by Federal, tribal, or State law, including when the victim lacks capacity to consent.

Notice that it removes any reference to child molestation (Roy Moore), incest and fondling (Trump), and attempted rape (Kavanaugh).

So why did he do this?

I can think of three likely reasons:


  • Trump knows some sordid details are about to come to light. He is being investigated six ways from Sunday, and we know from multiple allegations of abuse (and his own words) that sexual violence is a part of who he is. Was this an attempt to blunt an upcoming charge towards him? (Or perhaps the skeevy junior?)


Maybe it’s a combination of all three.

Whatever the reason, the effects are bad.

The limited definitions will restrict community grants to fight domestic and sexual abuse, meaning that many victims will not be able to get the services they need. This also means that prosecutions will be limited to physical violence, so many victims will have a harder time coming forward and will be stuck in horrid, abusive relationships.

As Holly Taylor-Dunn put it, who has worked in the field of domestic violence for 17 years, it’s a “massive step backwards. We have literally gone back to the 70s.

There are more than 18 million victims who visit a mental health care clinic every year due to domestic violence.   We have so many reasons to defeat Trump in 2020.

You can now add 18 million more.

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