October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) in the U.S. This year, the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) chose the theme of #Every1KnowsSome1 to highlight how common domestic violence is. Each of us may (or likely) knows someone, either in our Jewish community or our secular communities, who has been impacted by or is a survivor of domestic violence.
We must look inward and recognize the Jewish community is not immune to this violence, and the Jewish community of all denominations, has a lot of work to do to support survivors and promote healing.
In the spring of 2021, Jewish Women International (JWI) released a study, "Domestic Violence in the Jewish Community: A Needs Assessment," which found survivor needs remain unmet in Jewish communities across denominations, and there is a lack of support systems, including safe housing, legal help, proper training for clergy, and financial aid.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence defines domestic violence as "the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another." In the U.S., nearly 1 in 4 adult women and approximately 1 in 7 men report having experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime, and nearly half of all women and men have experienced psychological aggression, such as humiliating or controlling behaviors.
While there are no reliable estimates of the incidence or prevalence of domestic abuse in the Jewish community, according to JWI, "clinical and other data support the assertion that domestic abuse is a significant and under-recognized issue that impacts Jewish homes and families." JWI reports that more than 9 in 10 Jewish survivors experience emotional/psychological abuse, physical abuse, and financial abuse, and more than 8 in 10 experience conflict around custody, isolation or ostracization, and sexual violence. However, Jewish survivors experience additional forms of violence unique to Jewish families, such as men withholding the "get" (or religious divorce decree) as a means of asserting power over their wives even after a civil divorce has been granted. Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the risk and incidence of domestic violence.
JWI's comprehensive culturally specific list of recommendations include:
- Adequate funding for all Jewish domestic violence programs so that each program is staffed with at least one trauma-informed attorney with expertise in family law to represent survivors in all court and legal proceedings.
- Encourage financial institutions to provide support, low-interest loans, cash assistance, and other services that expand long-term economic security. (Lack of financial resources, affordable childcare, transportation, and housing-or concerns over their ability to provide financially for themselves and their children-is a significant reason for staying in abusive relationships)
- Create a funding mechanism that recognizes the impact of financial abuse, most notably how abuse destroys credit and thereby inhibits access to traditional sources of loans and credit, so that survivors can access low interest loans to allow them to rent or buy housing in the Jewish community.
- All Jewish youth serving organizations, including camps, schools, youth groups, and athletic teams, must have ongoing training to understand and support children witnesses of domestic violence
- All rabbinical and cantorial seminaries should incorporate victim-centered trauma-informed domestic violence training into curricula. Training must be ongoing throughout clergy's professional life.
The lessons from the Needs Assessment can also inform policy on a national scale. Public policy is an effective strategy for preventing and addressing domestic violence or intimate partner violence at the community and societal levels. For instance, financial abuse (limiting access to assets, concealing financial information, etc.) is a common tactic used by abusers to gain power and control, and the impact of sporadic employment and legal issues make it difficult to obtain economic security and independence. Economic insecurity is also a risk factor for increased violence.
When survivors have stable access to resources to build economic stability and resiliency, they are more likely to remain safe. That said, NNEDV supports passing legislation for paid leave, to allow victims to take time off to address their health or attend to critical safety needs; access to unemployment insurance; equal pay initiatives, for as long as women make less than men, survivor' ability to gain financial independence is hampered; increase the minimum wage to help survivors' meet their families' basic needs and since low-wage workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation; affordable, quality childcare; and access to healthcare and social safety nets.
The Reform Movement and Women of Reform Judaism has long advocated for these policies and worker supports, including the Paycheck Fairness Act to end pay discrimination, the Raise the Wage Act to increase the minimum wage, and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to require employers to provide accommodations to pregnant workers so that they can remain in the workforce throughout their pregnancies. The 117th Congress still has time to pass this critical federal legislation to enable more economic stability and security for survivors and their children. Support survivors by taking action and telling your members of Congress to:
To learn more about DVAM, JWI's Needs Assessment, and resources to address gender-based violence, check out:
- Jewish Women International's "Domestic Violence in the Jewish Community: A Needs Assessment"
- Women of Reform Judaism's initiative, " WRJ says STOP: An Initiative Against Sexual Harassment and Assault " to address gender-based harassment and assault in Jewish institutions and create safe spaces in Jewish communities.
- National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence