The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was the “permanent federal response” in efforts to decrease the occurrences of violence against women while providing the necessary resources and care to alleviate the stress of the situation. For 24 years, the act has served as a reminder that domestic violence is no longer just a private familial matter, but a public health issue.
But even with the act in place, many women still suffer financial and legal burdens, which create barriers to reporting or leaving their abuser, and result in their inability to access benefits crucial to their welfare. As a survivor of domestic violence, I understand that even given my experience with this kind of trauma, I have only scratched the surface of the issue of domestic violence. I understand that as a survivor, I have a larger role to play outside of my own recovery and for this reason, I created the “Domestic Violence, Abuse and Laws” DeCal. Though the Intimate Partner Violence Commission was founded in 2015 by fellow Cal undergraduate Ana Mancia, which serves to educate UC Berkeley’s surrounding community on domestic violence, this DeCal is currently the only student-led course on the topic and one of the only courses at UC Berkeley that focuses on domestic violence.
In the process of creating the curriculum for the “Domestic Violence, Abuse and Laws” DeCal, I spent months acquainting myself with the Violence Against Women Act, weeks reaching out to professors to be potential course sponsors and days drafting a syllabus, only to hit a continuum of roadblocks. But as of February 7th, twenty-six students were enrolled. Two students heard about the DeCal through an email from the Public Policy department, and the remaining twenty-four were made aware through flyers I spent my own time and money creating and posting, or through Facebook posts. Through my numerous acts to publicize my own course, I was able to recruit twenty-six students to take part in a class that tackles the pressing issue of domestic violence.
The course has opened up lots of productive discussions about domestic violence, showing that it is critical that UC Berkeley have more courses on domestic violence. During the DeCal’s meeting February 5, a student raised her hand and shared with the class that up until that point, she did not know about the existence of VAWA. The student’s lack of knowledge on VAWA is not a direct reflection of their intellect but rather a reflection of the lack of severity that college campuses place on reporting an accurate approximation of VAWA offenses. In 2016, Democratic senators noted that “only 9 percent of some 11,000 schools reported any occurrence of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking, according to the most recent data provided under the Clery Act.”
In the same year, professor and author at Washington University in St. Louis, Rachel Voth Schrag, published an article aimed at conveying the disproportionate representation of research on the reports of assaults. She noted that 22% of females on college campuses were victims of domestic violence. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 43% of women on college campuses have experienced some form of abuse including but not limited to physical, emotional and/or psychological violence. The statistical information reported by schools compared to reports through independent studies present a visible gap in their numbers. The disparity in reporting may be due in part to the victim’s fear of retaliation from their abuser, lack of support and social isolation, in addition to failing to recognize they are experiencing domestic violence.
The domestic violence movement spearheaded in the late 1960s and early 1970s was a very powerful movement, initiating a snowball effect which in turn contributed to the creation of VAWA. According to the Associate Director of the Alameda County Family Justice Center, Stephen Murphy, VAWA’s grant provides funding to services pertinent to victims such as legal services, immigration clinics, trauma recovery services and funding to victim advocates who work with police officers to help educate them on domestic violence and help them to understand how better to support a survivor. If VAWA is not reauthorized, community programs and educational services that have helped millions of people receive rights and justice will no longer be active.
The most efficacious solution that UC Berkeley can implement right now is the fight for awareness through education. The power to change a life rests in our voice. One class of twenty-six students can collectively bring forth more knowledge, awareness and recognition to create a larger population that can serve as the voice necessary to change policy. This class should be the first of many more courses that serves as the continuum of the domestic violence movement’s snowball effect.
Elizabeth Arutyunyan is a senior at UC Berkeley and the creator of the Domestic Violence, Abuse & Laws DeCal.