Gender-based violence is a public health problem and there is evidence that the pandemic exacerbated existing issues for many intimate partners and families.
While approaches to preventing violence and helping victims and survivors have changed dramatically over the decades, there is much still to be done and ongoing, adequate funding remains a challenge.
National movements to respond to domestic violence may be traced to the 1970s when the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence was founded through grassroots organizing across the U.S., led by advocates such as Betsy Warrior, Valle Jones, Matilda ‘Tillie’ Black Bear, among other grandmothers of the anti-violence movement.
In 1984, the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) shifted criminal justice attention from an exclusive focus on apprehending criminals to recognizing the trauma victims experienced from violent assaults and the harm done to the larger community. Through VOCA, offenders funded in part victim services, such as domestic violence shelters, medical or funeral expenses and notification systems, and survivors or their family members were given the opportunity to make impact statements in court.
In September 1994, a decade later, Congress authorized the Violence Against Women Act. Since then, there have been four VAWA reauthorizations, which have facilitated recognition of protective orders across state lines and provided grants to states to strengthen policing, prosecution and victim services. The act also now emphasizes the special vulnerabilities of victims on college campuses, those in later life, immigrants, Indigenous women and girls, LGBTQ+ victims, as well as families whose abusers are members of law enforcement, among others.
There has been recent work in Utah as well. After student-athlete Lauren McCluskey’s tragic death on the University of Utah campus, the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, working with U. faculty, applied for and in 2019 received a federal grant to address dating/domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. The grant brought together a broad-based group of students, campus and community experts, known as the Coordinated Community Response Team, to foster relationships, collect statistics and strengthen the anti-violence movement at the U. It also provided partial funding for the U.’s first, full-time men’s engagement coordinator. And it paid for a campus-based campaign promoting community resources and options for victims and survivors—whether students, staff, faculty or campus visitors.
In 2020, another coalition of domestic violence experts across the state formed—the Gender-Based Violence Consortium. In 2022, the consortium completed a statewide needs assessment on domestic violence, sexual violence and human trafficking.
The assessment found that misperceptions about and inadequate resources to address domestic violence persist. Across Utah, there are 26 formally funded organizations that support survivors of domestic violence; these organizations are increasingly responding to complex cases, yet nearly half of them believe there are not enough resources to respond to survivor needs. And that while there is a wealth of expertise on violence across the state, many responders are overwhelmed, overworked, underpaid and are experiencing secondary trauma from their jobs.
As scholars focused on gender-based violence, we are pleased with how far we’ve come as a society in acknowledging and addressing domestic violence — and also hopeful that more positive change is possible.
Annie Isabel Fukushima is associate dean of undergraduate studies and an associate professor of ethnic studies at the University of Utah.
Sonia Salari is a professor with Family and Consumer Studies at the University of Utah.
They are co-founders of the Gender-Based Violence Consortium and both serve on the UDVC Board of Directors. Fukushima and Salari will share their perspectives of gender-based violence work in a Women’s Week event from 3-4 p.m. on Wednesday, March 1, in the Gould Auditorium at the U’s Marriott Library.