Opinion: California Has a Chance to Lead the Nation in Ending Domestic Violence

Photo by Fly View Productions/iStock

California has a history of leading the way on big health and equity issues. The state has led the nation in providing universal access to health care, closing the wage gap between men and women and supporting reproductive freedom.

The Golden State has a chance to lead again. Earlier this year, the White House released the nation’s first comprehensive action plan to prevent gender-based violence. The wide-ranging plan recognizes the prevalence of all forms of gender-based violence, including intimate partner violence — often called domestic violence — and lays out strategies that touch nearly every federal agency, from the Health and Human Services’ Office of Child Care to the Federal Housing Administration. 

This broad approach is necessary because domestic violence is everywhere. In California, 58 percent of adult residents have been impacted by domestic violence directly or through a close friend or relative. Survivors are parents, children, students and employees. They are tenants, homeowners and people experiencing homelessness. They are immigrants. They are in the military. And, disproportionately, they are people of color with low incomes. Survivors are best served when they have support from multiple systems, including those covering housing, health care, social services, courts and employment.

The White House plan sets out to improve services for survivors and their families and, appropriately, begins with prevention as the first of its seven strategic pillars. This is a huge step forward because domestic violence will not end until we tackle the root causes, such as racism, economic insecurity and gender inequity. 

The plan is open-ended in terms of states’ roles, leaving the door wide open for California to expand on many of its proven and promising policies and programs created to prevent domestic violence — once again protecting the most vulnerable residents while establishing a model for other states to make a real difference on a pervasive problem.

The state, community organizations and funders, including Blue Shield of California Foundation, have built networks of experienced advocates, coalitions and programs to serve survivors and establish prevention strategies, positioning the state for leadership. 

California has also laid groundwork for leadership through policies. A new state law that addresses the interconnected issues of domestic violence and housing is one example of a policy that puts the state on a leadership path. The law requires local agencies working to prevent homelessness to include the unique needs of domestic violence survivors in their plans. Having safe, long-term housing for survivors is essential to both preventing domestic violence and reducing homelessness.

Our governor could take two steps right now that would bring together the committed players in domestic violence prevention, help identify and fill in gaps in support, and put the state even further along the road to meaningful leadership in preventing intimate partner violence. 

First, he could name a single leader to direct and coordinate the state’s domestic violence response and prevention efforts. This senior position could break down silos and build upon the powerful work already underway across the state. 

This idea has been percolating for a while. In 2021, the Little Hoover Commission, an independent state oversight agency, recommended the appointment of a leader who would be accountable for progress on a state strategy to reduce, prevent and recover from intimate partner violence. The commission recognized this as a steppingstone to a holistic, strategic, evidence-based and collaborative approach to domestic violence. Since the White House has refocused attention to these issues, the time is right to act on this recommendation.

The second move for the governor should be to look for opportunities to allocate new permanent state funding dedicated to preventing domestic violence. This would enable the state to build long-lasting programs that are not called into question each year. 

Armed with a national plan to prevent domestic violence and a history of proven programs, California is well-positioned to lead the country again. By unifying the work across the state, building upon our strong foundation of passionate advocates, and providing stable, annual funding for both established and promising new policies and programs, California can be the first state to reach for the bold goal of ending domestic violence.

Debbie I. Chang, MPH, is president and CEO of the Blue Shield of California Foundation, which supports work to end domestic violence.

The California Health Report receives funding from the Blue Shield of California Foundation but is editorially independent.

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