TRACY -- A subtle change of wording by the U.S. Department of Justice is causing strong backlash from domestic violence survivors and awareness advocates.
The DOJ changed the definition of domestic violence on its website that used to include mental, verbal and financial abuse but now it only pertains to physical violence.
Andrea Juarez is a domestic violence survivor.
“I was in a situation where it was physical. I had broken bones for it. But it was also emotional, psychological,” Juarez said.
She escaped an abusive relationship and is now a volunteer for Chest of Hope in Tracy, a nonprofit that helps women get out of abusive relationships.
Juarez says the DOJ’s decision to change the definition “tells countless victims they don't matter.”
“You don’t have to hit somebody over and over in the face for that to be domestic violence,” she said. “What you could do is break them down by your words. You can break them down by eliminating their economic ability to sustain themselves as an individual.”
Juarez says financial abuse keeps women dependent upon their abuser.
In some cases, emotional or psychological abuse can be worse than physical violence.
“Words actually hurt longer than physical damage because the physical damage heals but the words stay forever,” Juarez said.
Organizations like Chest of Hope say they're also concerned about how the change in definition may impact victims looking for a way out.
“Emotional violence is life-threatening it can actually be more life-threatening do to the fact that emotional, psychological victims have a higher rate of suicide therefore if they're no longer able to gain assistance for that emotional or psychological damage we might see an up rise in suicidal rates for victims,” Juarez explained.
Juarez says even though the DOJ change the definition, they can't change what she and other survivors experienced.
“The scars don't change, whether they're physical or they're deep down, those scars do not change. Those scars may heal but you're always going to have those scars,” she expressed.
Domestic violence organizations say the change is so new they're unsure of how the new definition will impact funding for a range of domestic violence programs.