Uncomfortable Truths About The Violence Against Women Act

For years those of us who are concerned with the issue of Domestic Violence have noted disturbing flaws in America’s so-called “Violence Against Women Act.” Groups as diverse the Ms. Foundation for Women (founded by Gloria Steinem and other noted feminists in the 1970s), the Independent Women’s Forum (formed by “equity feminist” Christina Hoff Sommers and other non-leftist feminists), and various men’s rights, family rights, domestic violence, and anti-child abuse advocates have been criticizing the act for years. The law’s fundamental problems include sexist double-standards, ignoring (and even encouraging disparagement of) violence and abuse toward men, harming children by legally persecuting or even imprisoning non-abusive parents and leaving children with abusive parents, violates fundamental due process rights, and even sometimes violates the rights of the very women the act is supposed to protect.

Rather than addressing these urgently-needed reforms, which many anti-Domestic Violence advocates have been raising with increasing urgency over the last decade and a half, it appears that Democrats have decided that one of this year’s election themes is to be a “War On Women by Republicans.” Thus, as the New York Times reports, Senate Democrats are using this legislation as a club against their opponents, urging its expansion without talking about reforms. Republicans, foolishly, are behaving in a cowardly posture rather than forthrightly stating the well-known problems–the sexist language, the harm it does to women, to men, to children, and threats to civil rights–and are instead weasel-wording and whining about it. They, and everyone else, should simply state the truth: there is is much that is good and laudable in this legislation’s intent, but it needs substantial revision before being expanded.

There seems to be something deeply ingrained in the American psyche (and maybe it’s not just America) to see women as victims who need defending no matter what:

But the truth of the matter is that women can be very violent and abusive indeed. That first video is rather tame compared to this one:

An ever-growing body of research is showing that women are every bit as likely to be abusers as they are to be abused, and that in about half of domestic abuse situations, abuse is mutual. The entire portrait of men-as-perpetrators, women-as-victims, is outdated, sexist, and destructive. Men and women appear to attack each other physically at about exactly the same rate, and while men are more likely to cause serious injury when they physically attack women, women often even the odds with weapons or by attacking when men are most vulnerable–and worse, the entire system, and even the culture, is set up to discourage men from even reporting this when it happens to them. Indeed, it is often the case that even when a man is a victim of violence by a woman, he is the one more likely to be arrested, when the abuse may have been mutual or may have been originally perpetrated by the woman. Strong social taboos still hold in the culture when it comes to admitting this, but the evidence is large and growing.

This is not just a women’s issue, and more people need to speak up about that fact.

Researchers, advocates, and groups have been increasingly vocal about the problem with our entire mindset when it comes to the issue of domestic abuse, but right now Congress appears stuck in the 1970s. The act should almost certainly be renamed; its current title is utterly sexist and demeaning. Domestic violence is an equal-opportunity offender, and is not a simple tale of brutal men versus victim women and children. Addressing it requires sober, serious reflection and looking at how best to address it. This may be hard to achieve in times of high political polarization, but the question becomes: if not now, when? If not us, who?

Resources:

Women Against VAWA Excess (Much incredible reading here by women.)
Is the Violence Against Women Act Really Pro-Woman? (PDF)
Stop Abusive and Violent Environments. (Much useful information and many resources.)
Have Domestic Violence Programs Delivered on Their Promises to Women? (PDF)
Three Sides to Every Story – Fix VAWA Campaign.
Domestic Abuse Hotline for Men and Women (a helpline that serves everybody equally).
Male Victims of Domestic Violence: When HE is the Victim (by Judith Brown in Regal Magazine)
RADAR: Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting. (More useful information and resources.)
Widespread Civil Rights Violations Under The Violence Against Women Act (PDF)
Disabusing the Definition of Domestic Abuse, a 2003 scholarly paper by Linda Kelly.

(This item cross-posted to The Moderate Voice.)

  • http://www.richwasp.com The Rich Wasp

    I have a lifelong friend whose parents argued a lot. If anything they argued more than my divorced parents. Now he’s married and he and his wife argue to the point of being verbally abusive. I think they tone it down around me.

    My wife and I argue more “politely” in private than they do in public.

  • Dishman

    Looking at VAWA, and the harm it causes, I’m not sure if the harm is a bug or a feature.

  • http://www.deanesmay.com Dean Esmay

    Linda Kelly’s 2003 paper is probably the best one to look at that question, Dish. The short and charitable answer would appear to be that this is a well-intended fault caused by ideology.