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February 14 2012

Wanted: An Honest Discussion About the Violence Against Women Act

Town Hall
Charlotte Hays

 

A noble band of Republicans legislators on Capitol Hill is doing something almost unheard of in the annals of courage: not jumping through hoops to placate the nation’s feminist minority.

For the first time in recorded history, the Violence Against Women Act, which is at its core an ideologically-driven boondoggle that helps finance (among other things) the salaries of feminist activists in the domestic violence field, is facing a spot of turbulence as it comes up for reauthorization.

Although Republican Senator Mike Crapo from Idaho joined Senator Patrick Leahy, the Vermont liberal, to bring forward a bill to reauthorize VAWA, the response from his fellow Republicans has been less than enthusiastic. VAWA, first introduced in 1994 by then-Senator Joe Biden, has been renewed in the past by unanimous voice votes. It has a built-in advantage: its name. "You don't favor violence against women, do you, Senator?"

But this year Republicans, previously feminist-pecked, are taking a harder than usual look at VAWA. Senator Charles Grassley, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has had the audacity to offer a counterpoint bill that, while not perfect, would introduce more stringent accounting policies and altogether eliminate the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women. Headed by Susan Carbon, this office administers VAWA, doling out grants nationwide for shelters, often staffed by feminist ideologues, and law enforcement training, often grounded in feminist theory.

The Office on Violence Against Women’s budget request this year is $454,898,000, and, while that is certainly less than was poured down a green rat hole on Solyndra, it should raise eye-brows in economically tough times.

What is at stake in deciding whether to reauthorize VAWA is not whether domestic violence is a serious problem—it is. To the extent that VAWA has made the public aware of this, it is to be applauded. But unfortunately VAWA activists have primarily sought to use the law and their funding to further the feminist cause, which is not always the same as the cause of women.

The “must-arrest” policy advanced in VAWA, for example, may sound like a winner to anti-male ideologues, but it's more complicated for real women. Knowledge that a call seeking help can set off an irrevocable process may also discourage some true victims of violence from seeking help they need. It also means that women who have begun the process of pressing charges against violent partners are often not allowed to drop them if they change their minds. Obviously, a woman’s decision to take a bum to court deserves society’s utmost support, but the current policy has often forced women who might otherwise have opted for counseling for both parties in an effort to save a marriage to go ahead with more drastic measures.

And only the most naïve would assume that women don't recognize that a charge of domestic violence is itself a powerful weapon. It's also a weapon that's almost exclusively used against men, even though women are known to be instigators of violence, too.

The problem with VAWA is that it makes women not just victims of crime, but special victims, with special rights and special standards of what is right and wrong.

And while VAWA may have succeeded in raising awareness about the problem of domestic violence, it's also encouraged the dissemination of misinformation too.

A post on the DOJ website by Ms. Carbon approvingly notes that the FBI agreed to change the definition of rape from what Carbon deemed an “exceedingly narrow” one to a broader one that adds women who never dreamed they’d been rape victims. The FBI’s old definition of rape, the basis for the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, used to be “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.”

Well, no longer—forget the use of force. Rape is now defined as penetration without consent. That may sound harmless, but failure to give consent can include giving consent after having a few too many. The potential problems are evident: Suzy can get drunk, have boozy sex, and presto—young Billy is up before the magistrate before you can say Ellie Smeal.

Since a “preponderance of evidence” standard, rather than more exacting standards applied elsewhere in the judicial system, is used in sexual violence cases, Billy may well see his constitutional rights fly out the window. This does nothing to advance the cause of preventing violence, or encouraging healthy relationships between men and women, but advances the feminist agenda by painting rape as ubiquitous, and women as a dependent victim class.

In the Leahy-Crapo reauthorization, the pool of victims is actually broadened—VAWA, if renewed, would add special protections for transgender victims of violence. Illegal aliens are also included, and in a number of cases VAWA provides a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who are victims of abuse. This may be wrong or right, depending on what you think about immigration. But it was not part of the original intent of the bill when it was first passed.

Violence against women, illegal immigrants, and transgender people is always wrong. But we have a criminal justice system to deal with such offenses. We do not need to become a nation of special victims. Politicians may need courage to say it, but Congress should get rid of the Office on Violence Against Women and recognize that women's true interests aren't always furthered by more federal involvement, even if the bill does have a nice sounding name.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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