Last month, OAESV had the esteemed honor to present to representatives from the White House Gender Policy Council on recommendations for the first-ever U.S. National Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence. This is a historic moment for the prevention of and response to gender-based violence, and OAESV is grateful to have been involved. An action plan is long overdue for the United States and is necessary to ensure coordination of efforts, standardized measures, and system-wide adoption.
Representatives held multiple listening sessions across the country and with varied groups, including coalitions and grassroots efforts. A prevention-specific listening session was held by PreventConnect. This is especially heartening as comprehensive prevention is critical to a successful national plan. If you are interested in reading an overview of this listening session, head to PreventConnect’s blog.
OAESV’s Director of Prevention & Public Health, Caitlin Burke, was one of four participants chosen to present verbal testimony during this prevention-specific session. All participants had a chance to provide written recommendations through the chat. She recommended four main points of focus:
- The national plan must have an intersectional approach that recognizes shared risk and protective factors and social determinants of health. This ensures that funding stays as unrestricted as possible and reduces siloed efforts.
- A population-focused approach rooted in public health is necessary to ensure we don’t continue our inefficient focus on individual education and our field’s dependence on punitive responses to harm.
- Prevention-specific funding is necessary to increase nationwide capacity.
- A national priority for increasing the research base is critical to ensure we have a full understanding of the issues.
You can view the recording here and read Caitlin’s full comments below.
Members of the White House Gender Policy Council and VALOR US, thank you for the opportunity to present to you today. My name is Caitlin Burke, and I am the Director of Prevention and Public Health at the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, Ohio’s anti-sexual violence coalition. I am also a Bloomberg American Health Initiative Fellow on Violence through the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. I want to thank the Gender Policy Council for ensuring prevention is a core focus of the National Plan, as evidenced through our gathering here today. Violence prevention must be a national priority that is adequately resourced and researched.
There have been many positive outcomes from our federal and public health focus on gun and community violence. However, even then, we rarely see an emphasis on prevention or an understanding that many forms of violence are connected. A national plan on gender-based violence must recognize shared risk and protective factors and social determinants of health, which often create the conditions for violence to happen in the first place. There should be no siloed efforts specifically for this issue, or heavily restricted funding.
The national plan must focus on public health models of prevention which highlight that individual education is necessary but not sufficient. For too long, we have focused solely on educating young people and reacting with punitive responses to harm rather than examining the conditions in our society that support violence. Ignoring a population approach to prevention has only caused burnout in the field and a national crisis of imprisonment. For prevention to be successful and worth our effort, it must encompass community leadership, a population focus, and strong policy support.
Additionally, there is not enough funding for prevention, especially compared to what is available for intervention services. The suggested increase in Rape Prevention and Education funds through the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act of 2021 is positive. However, it is not enough when that is one of the only grants that require prevention activities rather than prohibit them. And, many programs have had to decrease their prevention programming in response to cuts to federal funding for intervention services.
Lastly, this plan must focus on adequately supporting these efforts by building the research base. There are currently no evidence-based societal-level protective factors against sexual violence. That must change.
Overall, this plan must focus on the root factors of violence by understanding the connections between risk and protective factors, social determinants of health, and other forms of violence. Comprehensive prevention activities need to be supported through effective policies and adequately supported by funds and research.
On Friday, October 22, 2021, the Biden-Harris Administration did issue their national gender strategy to “advance the full participation of all people – including women and girls – in the United States and around the world.”
Some of the strategies that were included were:
- Improving economic security.
- Preventing and responding to gender-based violence.
- Increasing access to health care.
- Advancing democracy, rights and full participation.
You can read the full report here for more information.