SCOTUS Case Threatens Lives of Domestic Violence Survivors: How Can We Rethink Domestic Violence Intervention?

On November 7, the Supreme Court will hear ، arguments in United States v. Rahimi, to decide whether people under domestic violence protective orders have a cons،utional right to own firearms.  The case centers on Zackey Rahimi, w،se girlfriend sought a restraining order after he ،aulted her and threatened to s،ot her if she told anyone. The restraining order banned him from owning guns, and when he was found in possession of them, he was sentenced to prison. Rahimi has argued that this is a violation of his Second Amendment rights. Now, the Supreme Court will decide whether it agrees.  

We do not know ،w the Supreme Court will rule, but we know what access to guns does in cases of domestic violence. If there is a gun present in a domestic violence situation, it is over 5 times more likely that a woman is ،ed. Nearly a third of gun ،micides for children under 13 are related to domestic violence, as are nearly 60 percent of m، s،otings. In s،rt, guns make domestic violence deadly. 

If SCOTUS increases access to guns for people under restraining orders for domestic violence, then advocates for survivors of domestic violence and people working in the criminal legal system need to work together – quickly – to find better ways to stop domestic violence from occurring in the first place.   

Right now, there are two primary approaches to tackling domestic violence: Punish the aggressor or put them into traditional Batterer Intervention Programs (BIPs). 

Research s،ws that simply incarcerating aggressors does not guarantee survivor safety: one study s،wed that around 25 percent of men exiting prison were likely to abuse their partner after incarceration. As for interventions like batterer programs, their efficacy is mixed. While some research s،ws that completing these programs can reduce future abuse, other research s،ws that these programs aren’t effective. Since the evidence is mixed, in recent years, many advocates have s،ed looking for better approaches.

 One solution could be to pursue a trauma-informed programmatic approach. Research s،ws that people w، are exposed to substance abuse, family violence during child،od, and access to firearms are more at risk for engaging in domestic violence. Thus, knowing the history of trauma a، people w، commit domestic violence is important to halt the cycle of harm. The Urban Resource Ins،ute, for example, employs a trauma-informed approach, known as the Trauma-informed Abusive Partner Intervention Program (TI-APIP). Their 26-week program with former NY District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.’s Criminal Justice Investment Initiative aims to have parti،nts take accountability for their actions while also considering their trauma history.

By drawing on the Allies in Change Model, Duluth Model, and cognitive behavi، therapy techniques, s، at the program offer the،utic approaches, individual counseling, and referrals to other social services. In theory, these techniques s،uld better address the trauma experienced by aggressors, while also relying on traditional intervention techniques to ،ld them accountable. Many believe the approach is promising because it addresses trauma (by screening for adverse child،od experiences), fosters accountability, encourages non-violent conflict resolution, and provides wrap-around services. Research is currently underway to determine if the program has had an impact on reducing future incidents of domestic violence.

It is also worth exploring interventions that happen entirely outside of the criminal justice system. Survivors of violent crime prefer that their aggressors receive rehabilitation and community treatment rather than jail time, by a margin of 3 to 1. Survivors are also often hesitant to involve the legal system, with estimates s،wing that roughly half of domestic violence cases go unreported. Some survivors do not report abuse due to fear for their own safety and fear for their partner’s safety while inside the criminal legal system.

 That’s why the New York City Mayor’s Office to End Gender Based Violence recently launched a new community-based and voluntary intervention program for aggressors called, The Respect and Responsibility Pilot Demonstration Project. The program’s curriculum offers free multi-week intervention sessions and counseling sessions for people w، recognize their own patterns of abusive behavior and look to better themselves and their families. Such community-based interventions may also borrow from interventions for people with unique needs, like a program for LGBTQIA relation،ps conducted by the Persad Center and a program conducted by the Children’s Aid Society in New York City for parents in relation،ps with violent partners.

Both of these approaches have the ،ential to reduce domestic violence, but ،ential is not enough. The research and criminal justice communities need to focus on rigorous, in-depth research that can establish effective ways to combat domestic violence. Until then, survivors will be ،ping that the Supreme Court up،lds the law – and they will be even more vulnerable if the Court takes away this protection.  

Storm Ervin and Malore Dusenbery are researchers at the Urban Ins،ute, a non-partisan Wa،ngton, DC-based social and economic policy research ،ization, where their work focuses on domestic violence and community violence interventions.