Family and Domestic Rights in the Era of Trump

This post is part of the 2017 Transition series, in which iustitia explores the perspectives, statements, and proposed policies of the incoming U.S. administration and how it may affect the populations that iustitia works with. Read other posts in this series here.

With the Republican control of the executive branch, Congress, and soon the Supreme Court, as well as a majority of governorships and state houses, Republican leaders will have an unprecedented opportunity to set the political agenda and the path that the country will take for the foreseeable future.

In the Republican platform, adopted during the 2016 election season, there was some emphasis on protection of families. In this post we will touch on history and statements of the incoming president, as well as his appointees and nominees, on issues that may affect the rights and well-being of the family structure and the social supports put in place to protect families.

Adoption, Foster Care, and Child Custody

Although Trump and his colleagues have yet to address the issues of adoption, foster care, and child custody directly, it should be noted that a severe decrease in social services will hurt those with mental illness and intellectual disability the most. These family-related issues are often left to the states and state courts. However, the federal government can have a large role to play in setting baseline standards and enforcing certain policies that have a significant effect on the family structure.

The nomination of Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon with no real policy experience, as head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, provides an example of how the deterioration in social services may disproportionately affect individuals with mental illness or intellectual disability. His belief that the poor are best served by allowing them to fend for themselves, will surely lead to less services and more struggle for the section of American society that needs the most help. This trend, of putting the poor last, in all of Trump’s actions and nominations does not provide any hope for the systems of adoption, foster care, and child custody. Moreover, his open mocking of people with disabilities does not bode well for the future.

Domestic Violence

The normalization of misogyny and sexism should be met with the utmost vigilance. By ignoring casual sexism and the factors that lead to domestic violence, rape, and sexual harassment, we risk a degrading of the social and legal services that are offered to victims of such crimes, particularly those with severe mental illnesses as a result. The President-Elect’s stance on issues that affect women endanger survivors of domestic violence on many levels. First, by allowing and perpetrating emotional abuse against women who have previously worked for him or accused him of sexual assault, Mr. Trump is normalizing this aspect of domestic violence on a daily basis. “He lies. He bullies. He threatens. He calls women names.” When faced with criticism for the things he says and does, he does not apologize but believes he is doing someone a favor. For example, when facing uproar for how he treated Miss Machado, by emotionally abusing her in the form of fat shaming, and contributing to her severe eating disorder, he stated that the woman should thank him for saving her job. He does not apologize for how he makes women feel and continually puts women down for not living up to the docile, submissive ideal he puts forth. He perpetrates emotional violence against women on a daily basis.

Moreover, many of Mr. Trump’s nominees for various cabinet positions, and even the President-Elect himself, have been accused of perpetrating domestic violence, indicating the White House will be filled with individuals who may not hesitate to scrap protections for survivors. Andrew Puzder, Mr. Trump’s pick for labor secretary and Steve Bannon, chief strategist, join the President-elect as domestic violence perpetrators. Detailed accounts of the accusations are readily available. Yet, their supporters have shown a penchant to ignore or belittle the allegations, saying that accusations of domestic violence are “normal” in divorce proceedings. Such detailed, disturbing experiences of violence, told under oath, cannot be normalized. Women, particularly those with mental illness, may be coerced into recanting their accusations, as both women in these cases may have done. This brings into question whether survivors of domestic violence from around the country will face increased pressure in conjunction with decreased protections.

It should also be noted that Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for Attorney General, opposed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2012. The landmark legislation provides protections for survivors of sexual violence in the criminal justice system by creating a “rape shield law” that imposes federal penalties on repeat offenders and requiring the enforcement of victim protection orders across the United States. Recognizing that many victims of sexual violence may face severe mental health consequences, the act ensures the training of law enforcement on sexual violence issues and dealing with victims of such acts. Many of its provisions must be enforced by the Department of Justice, the very agency Mr. Sessions, if confirmed, will helm. Any erosion of the protections provided in VAWA will be devastating for survivors of rape and sexual violence.

The mental, physical, and legal ramifications of this presidency on survivors of domestic rights could be endless in terms of depression, post traumatic stress disorder, and other psychological illnesses. Only time will tell, however, the prospects are very grim.

Also posted on medium here