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Commentary

Domestic Violence Law Fuels Big Government


     
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A new appropriation request for over $360 million will soon hit Congress, but a chance for gender sanity is coming. The answer to renewing VAWA should be a thundering “NO!”

What is the Violence Against Women Act? In 1994, Congress passed the act as part of an Omnibus Crime Bill. VAWA pitted the sexes against each other by focusing on “crimes of violence motivated by gender;” victims were defined as female and only women were offered the massive tax-funded benefits.

VAWA institutionalized the political belief that women, as a class, must receive special protection from men and privileges from government.

Domestic violence was a specific focus. When male victims protested their exclusion, VAWA advocates dismissed them as statistically insignificant. Today, an impressive body of research shows that men constitute anywhere from 36 to 50 percent of domestic violence victims. (The situation is similar with rape. Women are the victims only if you exclude prisons where male rape is prevalent.)

But VAWA is more than an attempt to establish women as a protected class at the expense of men. If this were its only flaw, then including men under its umbrella would have solved the Act’s unfairness.

The Act seeks to create new gender attitudes through the social engineering of society. The most aggressive example was also VAWA’s biggest failure to date: namely, its attempt to revise the judiciary system in order to benefit women.

A key section of VAWA ’94 allowed a “rape” victim to sue her alleged attacker for compensatory and punitive damages in federal civil court on the grounds of having violated her civil rights. The federal claim did not replace criminal punishment on the state level; it was a supplement.

In 1995, Christy Brzonkala brought a federal lawsuit over an alleged rape at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. The two accused men had been cleared by both a university judicial committee and a criminal grand jury. Under VAWA, however, Brzonkala could pursue a case that was not admitted into criminal court.

The U.S. Supreme Court found VAWA’s civil rights remedies and access to federal courts to be unconstitutional.

VAWA 2000 was rewritten to exclude the unconstitutional bits and to broaden the Act’s mandate to areas such as “Strengthening Education and Training to Combat Violence Against Women.”

In short, to change society’s attitudes on gender through education, research and training programs. The underlying ideological bias is illustrated by the fact that, after spending millions of dollars on domestic violence research, VAWA advocates couldn’t seem to find male victims. Or, if they did, the data did not induce them to rename the Violence Against Women Act.

VAWA’s attempt to educate society into adopting new attitudes on gender contributed to what some call “the domestic violence industry.”

The Massachusetts News offers a glimpse into the programs in its state. “Every month, it [the woman’s safety movement]...spawns new sub-programs, clinics, shelters, research institutes, counseling centers, visitation centers, poster campaigns. The state disbursed about $24 million for domestic violence services last year, but that certainly is not all the money spent... ”

Women’s “safety” has become a tax-funded growth industry for lawyers, consultants, researchers, counselors, professors and other “experts” who always seem to conclude that more funding is needed.

VAWA advocates trumpet the Act’s funding of domestic violence shelters, and it is difficult to argue against helping a battered woman. It is not clear, however, that the bureaucratic and “industrialized” approach to domestic violence is an effective form of help. Every dollar spent on ideological programs is a dollar snatched from a victim. Moreover, the ideology blinds VAWA advocates to many real victims.

The Massachusetts News also reports that the state has 37 tax-funded women’s shelters, but no “shelters or services for men,” except homosexual men.

Battle lines on VAWA 2005 have been drawn. A prominent men’s rights site claims, “According to inside sources, the Washington Post is about to launch its publicity campaign to renew the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).”

The referenced campaign was evident in the Post’s recent and heavily criticized front-page series on the murder of expectant mothers by intimates. The Post, a supporter of past VAWAs, is accused of trying to create fear in women and sustain the image of a domestic violence victim as being female.

The accusation is lent credibility by the National Organization for Women, which favorably reviewed the Post series, stating that the series, “In compelling detail exposes the extent of murder and violence directed at pregnant women and new mothers in the U.S. NOW and our allies will be paying special attention to these needs as the Violence Against Women Act is up for reauthorization.”

Unfortunately, many VAWA opponents are focusing on the inclusion of men within the Act rather than on its defeat. At the Men’s Rights Congress 2004, speaker Dave Burroughs recommended, “The re-authorization...should be re-titled to the Intimate Partners Violence Act” and funding should “encompass sheltering and services for all victims of domestic violence regardless of their gender...”

VAWA is a fundamentally flawed piece of social engineering. The proper response is not “Me Too!” It is a flat “no,” followed by an insistence on rethinking our entire approach to issues like domestic violence.


Wendy McElroy is a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute. Her books include the Independent Institute volumes, Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century, and Freedom, Feminism, and the State.


  From Wendy McElroy
LIBERTY FOR WOMEN: Freedom and Feminism in the Twenty-First Century
With its vision of individualist feminism, Liberty for Women boldly explores a wide range of issues that confront the modern woman, including self-defense, economic well-being and employment, sex and abortion, the family, technology, and much more.






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