Build Healthy Relationships to End Violence

2021 Blueprint of Federal Social Policy Priorities: Recommendations to the Biden-Harris Administration and Congress

Grand challenges for social work

Interpersonal violence has a traumatizing impact across the lifespan on individuals, families, communities, and society. Developing and broadly implementing interventions to promote healthy relationships and reduce violence should be a high priority for policy action.  Interpersonal violence costs lives and well-being, and squanders our nation’s personal and financial resources. Estimates of the cost of violence in the U.S. reach 3.3 percent of the gross domestic product (Mercy et al, 2017).

In their lifetimes, 44 percent of U.S. women experience sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner (Smith et al., 2018). Violence against women leads to health and mental health issues, injury, and homicide. Further, millions of children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year. Women from marginalized groups are at higher risk for violence and homicide. Many men and women experience arrests because of involvement in domestic violence—a result that flows from a restricted set of carceral responses that may not always be in either of their best interest.

Alternative social service approaches are needed. A growing interest to find safe non-carceral alternatives for those involved with violence is emerging (Goodmark, 2020; Moment of Truth, 2020). This is, in part, spurred by the national recognition of our over-reliance on arrest as an effective and equitable strategy to prevent harm. There is also growing consensus about the importance of empowering, intersectional, and trauma-informed care (Kulkarni, 2019).

The risks and protective factors for child maltreatment, youth violence, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, suicide, and elder abuse are significantly shared and have origins in the stressors of daily life, the impact of adverse environments and childhood experiences, power norms and differentials between dominant and non-dominant groups, and interpersonal relationships that mediate these challenges toward a safe, or violent, resolution (Wilkins, et al., 2014). Violence too often leads to more violence because we lack the resources and array of interventions to intervene.

There is growing recognition of the evidence base for mediation, restorative practices, and counseling as contributors to the service array to prevent and safely respond to intimate partner violence (Davis, Frederick, & Ver Steegh, 2019; Pennell et al., 2020; Wagers & Raditz, 2020). Funding for research on these approaches—and others that rely on strengthening relationships to reduce violence—is critically needed. Additional research on risk assessment is also needed as well as research into alternatives to current interventions that do not compromise safety but enhance and empower women’s opportunity to stop violence and maintain important family relationships. These research efforts should specify resources for understanding the needs of women of color whose concerns have not been adequately recognized.

NASW calls on national leaders to:

  • Revise and reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to eliminate barriers to providing women with services that are trauma-informed, empowering, survivor-informed, and research informed. VAWA should be modified to allow such research as part of the Office of Violence Against Women (OVW) grant program.
  • Support research to seek alternatives to current interventions, including under the OVW, the US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health and the Agency for Children and Families.
  • Enact the Securing Urgent Resources Vital to Indian Victim Empowerment (SURVIVE) Act (H.R. 1351 in the 116th Congress) to make grants to Native American tribes for programs and services for crime victims.
  • Help reframe the idea of public safety to promote practices that resist abuse and oppression, encourage the empowerment of women, and support safety and accountability.  These would include decriminalizing victim survival by addressing such policies as mandatory arrest and failure to protect.
  • Invest in research studying safe alternatives to incarceration for the perpetrators of violence such as mediation, restorative practices, and counseling and to identify alternatives to current interventions, especially for women of color.
  • Increase funding for Grants to Support Families in the Justice System.
  • Enact gun violence prevention measures.