Kill Discriminatory Domestic Violence Act

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) www.mediaradar.org/vawa_info/JEN05634_LC.PDF will expire this September if it is not re-authorized by Congress. Largely viewed as an anti-domestic violence (DV) measure, VAWA has become a flash point for the men's rights advocates (MRAs) who see it instead as the living symbol of anti-male bias in law.

Although a significant number of domestic violence (DV) victims are male, VAWA defines victims as female. As one result, tax-funded DV shelters and services assist women and routinely turn away men, often including older male children.

Estimates vary on the prevalence of male victims. Professor Martin Fiebert of California State University at Long Beach www.csulb.edu/~mfiebert/assault.htm offfers a bibliography that "summarizes 170 scholarly investigations, 134 empirical studies and 36 reviews". It indicates that men and women are victimized at much the same rate. A lower-bound figure is provided by a recent BOJ study: men constituted 27% of the victims of family violence between 1998 and 2002.

Accordingly, MRAs not only accuse the Act of not merely being unconstitutional for excluding men but also of dismissing the existence of one-quarter to one-half of DV victims.

The criticism should go deeper. In many ways, VAWA typifies the legislative approach to social problems, which arose over past few decades and peaked during the Clinton years.

The legislative approach follows a pattern: public furor stirs over a social problem; Congress is pressured to "do something"; remedial bureaucracy arises, often with scant planning; the problem remains; more money and bureaucracy is demanded; those who object are called hostile to "victims".

VAWA arose largely from the concern stirred by feminists in the '80s. They quite properly focused on DV as a neglected and misunderstood social problem. But their analysis went to extremes and seemed tailor-made to create public furor.

As an example, consider a widely-circulated claim: "a woman is beaten every 15 seconds." The statistic is sometimes attributed to www.sedgwickcounty.org/da/dv_facts.html the FBI, other times to a www.pinn.net/~sunshine/now-news/dv2.html 1983 Bureau of Justice Statistics report. But neither the www.fbi.gov/ FBI nor the www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/ BOJ sites seems to include that statement or a similar one.

MRAs www.responsibleopposing.com/facts/15sec.html contend that the elusive statistic derives from the book www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0385142595/002-0373237-7762417?v=glance "Behind Closed Doors: Violence in the American Family" (1980) by Murray Straus, Richard J. Gelles, and Suzanne K. Steinmetz. The book was based on the first www.socio.com/srch/summary/afda/fam31.htm National Family Violence Survey (1975), from which the FBI and other federal agencies drew.

The survey does support the claim that a woman is battered every 15 seconds but also indicates that a man is battered during the same time frame. Omitting male victims, however, creates the impression of a national epidemic was uniquely victimizes women who require unique protection.

In response to public outcry, Congress was pressured to "do something." It passed VAWA 1994. $1.6 billion created a bureaucracy of researchers, advocates, experts, and victim assistants, which some collectively call "the DV Industry".

Re-authorized in 2000, VAWA's funding rose to www.acadv.org/VAWAbillsummary.html $3.33 billion to be expended over 5 years. Now, VAWA 2005 seeks thomas.loc.gov/home/gpoxmlc109/h2876_ih.xml more money.

Voices like the National Organization for Women www.now.org/issues/violence/051305vawa-youth.html insist that 'the problem' remains. To argue for the "growing problem of gender-based violence", however, NOW reaches beyond traditionally-defined violence against women and seeks to protect high school girls from abusive dating experiences. NOW states, "Nearly one in three high-school-age women experience some type of abuse-whether physical, sexual or psychological-in their dating relationships."

Without expanding the definition in such a manner, it would difficult to argue for more funding. seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2002332042_violence13.html Data indicates that traditionally-defined violence against women has declined sharply. The rate of family violence has reportedly "fell from about 5.4 victims per 1,000 to 2.1 victims per 1,000 people 12 and older", according to BOJ statistics.

Happily, VAWA 2005 faces much more opposition than its earlier incarnations. One reason is that www.thepriceofliberty.org/05/06/13/guest_trudy.htm MRAs have been presenting counter-data and arguments for over ten years. Advocates of VAWA 2005 have responded with www.policyalmanac.org/elists/viewtopic.php?t=193 pre-emptive spaces.msn.com/members/lastliberal/Blog/cns!1pkAlpUeLQX-nmj6w5lyseSQ!1620.entry accusations that paint opponents as anti-victim: for example, "If Congress does not act quickly to reauthorize the legislation, they are putting women's and children's lives at risk."

But most of the anti-VAWA arguments are not anti-victim. Many are anti-bureaucracy and could apply to any of the so-called 'industries' created by the legislative approach to social problems. (The Child Protective Services is another example,)

Some anti-bureaucracy objections focus on the billions of dollars transferred into programs, often with little oversight or accountability attached.

Other objections point to those dollars being used for political purposes rather than clear and immediate assistance to victims. The misuse of tax dollars is most often alleged on the grassroots level, where MRAs often face VAWA-funded opposition to political measures, especially on father's rights issues.

One incident in New Hampshire illustrates the point. Earlier this year, www.1590.com/Stories/0,1413,222~23677~2840939,00.html HB 529 -- The Presumption of Shared Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act -- was defeated by vehement opposition from the NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. The Coalition both www.nhcustody.org/NHCADSV,%20opposes%20HB%20529%20shared%20parenting,%203-22-05.pdf wrote to and spoke before the legislature. Accordingly, father's rights advocates in NH are seeking language in VAWA 2005 to prohibit any VAWA-fund agency from "legislative lobbying, advertising, or otherwise supporting the endorsement of, or opposition to, any state proposed legislation" which is not explicitly related to the prevention of DV.

I think they should seek to kill the Act entirely. I believe VAWA is not only ideological-inspired and discriminatory, it is also an example of why bureaucracy-driven solutions to human problems does not work.

I hope VAWA becomes the Titanic of the legislative approach to social problems. I hope it sinks spectacularly.

©2007, Wendy McElroy

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Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including her latest book, Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century. She lives with her husband in Canada. E-Mail. Also, see her daily blog at www.zetetics.com/mac

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