A Bad Law on Life Support

A bad piece of legislation is about to be reauthorized, empowering bureaucrats and tort lawyers and poisoning relations between women and men.  The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) could be fixed, but Senate Democrats will not hear of it.

Vice President Joe Biden says that out of all the legislation that he was associated with while serving in Congress, he is most proud of his role in getting the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) passed in 1994.  Now, seventeen years later, even the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), admits that the bill is too broad to be effective.  An expert in family violence, Dr. Angela Moore Parmley, concurs: "We have no evidence to date that VAWA has led to a decrease in the overall levels of violence against women."  To the contrary, some studies indicate an increase in violence against women since VAWA was enacted, including in one study a 60-percent increase in intimate partner homicides.

VAWA has created a vast bureaucracy with an annual price tag of $455 million. Instead of addressing the root problems of violence and ending battering, the broad definitions of violence in VAWA mean that husbands are thrown in jail based on flimsy allegations of causing "emotional distress" or of "unpleasant speech."  Meanwhile, drug-addicted boyfriends and alcoholic cohabitors continue to batter, and all men are assumed to be capable of violence.

The end result is that a bill that supposedly addresses domestic violence is, instead, a thinly veiled means of promoting feminist ideology, and anyone who dares to raise questions is accused of waging a "war against women."  In such a climate, rational disagreement is virtually impossible.  After all, VAWA, like many leftist progressive initiatives, sounds positive.  Who, besides jihadists, favors abuse of women?

Decent people condemn anyone who uses power, physical strength, or superior position to take advantage of, abuse, or batter a vulnerable person.  But decent people are also outraged at false accusations, trumped up campaigns to promote hidden agendas, and the rush to judgment that so often obscures facts in favor of emotional accounts of abuse.  Crystal Smoot, writing on the website WAVE: Women Against VAWA Excess, wrote, "VAWA creates incentives for people to commit fraud, but does not include penalties to punish those who misuse the law.  We cannot assume that everyone reporting abuse is telling the truth when rewards are available, especially when innocent people can find themselves accused of a crime."

Yet on February 2, the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected a commonsense amendment that would have curbed the bill's excesses and ensured that it actually protected anyone (not just women) from abusive attacks.  Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) proposed an amendment -- instituting accountability measures and streamlining the vast bureaucracy -- that was rejected.  Imagine such a decision in these days of fiscal crisis, when the national deficit affects everyone's future.  Sen. Grassley's amendment, he said, "means that less money is spent on bureaucrats, leaving more funds for victims."  Nevertheless, the reauthorization of the bloated legislation passed out of committee on a strict party-line vote.  It will now come before the Democrat-dominated full Senate and, even in this time of fiscal crisis, it is expected to pass along partisan lines.

A major underlying problem with VAWA is that the bill lacks appropriate focus.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified approximately 30 causes of domestic violence.  From this, we know the factors that lead to violence in the home.  Those factors are a complete mismatch with the provisions of VAWA.  Domestic violence is a problem that stems from problems in relationships, psychological or social maladjustment, anger, alcoholism, and substance abuse.  VAWA is all about restraining orders, arrests, prosecution, batterer intervention programs, fostering false allegations, re-educating judges in feminist ideology and biases, and law enforcement training, all of which have been shown to increase rather than decrease violence.  The vast VAWA bureaucracy is a full-employment entity for feminist lawyers and social workers and a boondoggle for feminist organizations who assume that all men are prone to violence and that any accusation a woman makes is fully truthful without question.  Any skeptic is labeled "anti-women."

An unintended (or perhaps not) consequence of VAWA is that the legislation has created a climate of suspicion of men and an abusive system that contributes to the breakdown of families.  The bill is more about pushing a gender ideology than about stopping partner violence.  The result has undermined males in general and husbands/fathers in particular.  As lawyer Phyllis Schlafly pointed out, "[a]ny man accused of domestic violence effectively loses a long list of Constitutional rights accorded to ordinary criminals.  These include due process, presumption of innocence until proven guilty, equal treatment under the law, right to a fair trial, right to confront his accusers, freedom of speech, right to privacy in family matters, custody or visitation rights with his own children and even the right to bear arms.  On the other hand, the woman receives free legal representation even if she has presented no evidence of injury or harm."

A favorite (unsubstantiated) argument frequently used by feminists is that "controlling communities" foster violence against women; those "controlling communities" are military and religious families.  Not only are these families not on the CDC's long list of risk factors for domestic violence, but the social science data are clear: families that go to church are happier and healthier on every measure of women's well-being.  A married father-mother home is the safest and most nurturing place for the nation's women and children.  Military personnel, too, are not potential abusers of women because of their profession; they are, by and large, honorable men who are in the military to protect their families and nation.

By now, everyone should know that the majority of "domestic violence" incidents are committed by boyfriends, not husbands.  Probably because of that fact, statistics are now kept on "intimate partner" violence, and we refer to "domestic violence" rather than breaking down violence into types of intimate partners or domestic household arrangements.  We also know that out-of-control anger, alcoholism, and drug addiction are among the top risk factors; VAWA ignores those problems in favor of "re-educating" judges and law enforcement on the feminists' version of "women's rights."

In short, VAWA offers women both a "tactical advantage" and a "powerful weapon" when they want to "get back" at a man, have regrets the next morning, or want out of a marriage for any reason at all.  Allegations of abuse can cause men to lose their homes, jobs, children, and standing in the community.  Once they've been thrown in jail because of mandatory arrests and have been assumed guilty, where do they go to get their reputations and their jobs back when the accusations are proven false?

Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D. serves on an international task force to end abuse of women.  She is senior fellow of Concerned Women for America's Beverly LaHaye Institute.

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