The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), first passed in 1994, has strengthen victim services and provided funding for investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women. VAWA provides grants for law enforcement, victim services, and violence prevention initiatives, among many other programs related to domestic violence and sexual assault.
VAWA is currently up for reauthorization. Ms. Magazine reports that when the Senate Judiciary Committee voted on the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011 in February, all Democrats voted to move the bill onto the Senate floor for a vote, and all Republicans voted no. Norma Gattsek, Feminist Majority director of government relations, called the Republican opposition a sign that "the war on women has no boundaries."
According to the New York Times, a newer version of VAWA would expand efforts to rural communities and Native American tribes, increase free legal assistance to domestic abuse victims, and expand the definition of violence against women to include stalking. Also, it would include same-sex couples under domestic violence programs and would allow more abused undocumented immigrants to apply for temporary visas. These last two elements have upset some Republicans, including Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). According to the Huffington Post, Grassley claimed that the provision creates too many new programs for underserved populations and would lessen focus on helping victims. He also condemned the provision as an "avenue to expand immigration law" and offer benefits to those in the U.S. illegally.
Similarly, in a March 19th column at Human Events, American Values president Gary Bauer called VAWA a "trap" because of its provisions for same-sex couples and undocumented immigrants. He also claimed that the right-wing war on women is "fictitious" and made jabs at Sandra Fluke.
I was shocked. Are victims of violence less deserving of protection because of their immigration status? Does helping LGBT or rural victims somehow detract from helping other victims? No! Domestic violence and sexual assault are abominable, no matter who the victim is. Victims deserve help, full stop.
Supporters of the legislation are rightfully outraged. The New York Times quotes Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) as saying she was "furious" at Republican opposition to VAWA. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) reportedly warned her Republican colleagues last Tuesday that the GOP risked being branded as anti-woman. Given the uproar over many Republican's stances on reproductive rights, I'd say this branding has already taken place.
However, right-wing hostility toward VAWA was smoldering long before this round of reauthorization. Members of the Religious Right such as antifeminist Phyllis Schlafly and the Eagle Forum have disparaged VAWA as "feminist pork," ignoring VAWA's positive impact on domestic violence and sexual assault services. That hostility is rearing its head once again.
First, in a March 19th press release, Stop Abusive and Violent Environments announced the release of its new report which alleges that VAWA has resulted in civil rights abuses. Also, in a March 5th commentary at the Concerned Women for America website, intern Wendy Chen called VAWA an "oft-misused bandage" against domestic violence. She complained about VAWA's price tag while complaining that it allegedly hadn't reduced violence against women.
In a March 5th column at American Thinker, Concerned Women for America senior fellow Janice Shaw Crouse wrote that VAWA was a "bad piece of legislation" that ran the risk of "poisoning relations between women and men." Crouse called VAWA a "thinly veiled means of promoting feminist ideology" and claimed that its supposedly "broad" definitions of violence have resulted in men being jailed on "flimsy" accusations. She accused VAWA of creating a "climate of suspicion of men" and fueling a system that aggravates the supposed breakdown of families. VAWA, she insisted, was all about "fostering false allegations," restraining orders, arrests, and "re-educating judges in feminist ideology and biases." Crouse venomously concluded that the legislation offered women a "powerful weapon" for getting out of marriages, getting revenge on men, or dealing with regrets the morning after.
According to a transcript of February 13th interview with The Diane Rehm Show, Crouse criticized VAWA for allegedly having "overly broad definitions" and creating "single-mom families and welfare-dependent families." Crouse told Rehm that she objected to cultural changes "where men are seen as suspect and where women's word is taken without any responsibility for backing it up with specific instances."
The February 2012 edition of the Eagle Forum newsletter bashed VAWA as well. The newsletter accused VAWA of doling out massive funds to "radical feminist organizations" and failing to help "real" victims of domestic violence. Furthermore, it claimed that VAWA is supposedly rooted in "feminist-created gender stereotypes" that men are "naturally" abusers and women are "naturally" victims. Like Crouse, the newsletter insisted that VAWA defines domestic violence as annoyance or unpleasant speech, and that it allegedly promotes divorce and hatred of men.
The contempt for women claiming abuse is palpable here. The constant refrain of "false allegations" and "real victims" smacks of reluctance to believe victims. The authors seem to have forgotten that domestic violence and sexual assault are serious problems, and that women are far more likely to be victims of domestic violence or sexual assault than men (see here, here, here, and here). Not surprisingly, these antifeminist attacks are reminiscent of the anti-VAWA rhetoric of so called "fathers rights" groups, as discussed in "Patriarchy Reasserted: Fathers' Rights and Anti-VAWA Activism."
I sincerely question how much research Eagle Forum and Crouse did on VAWA. First, VAWA does not frame all victims as female and all perpetrators as male. The legislation clearly states that male victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking can receive services and benefits under VAWA.
Second, despite claims from detractors that VAWA hasn't impacted violence rates, research suggests that VAWA grants have been associated with reductions in rape and assault. To boot, while they may bemoan the alleged costs of VAWA, research suggests that VAWA actually saves billions of dollars in net averted social costs (i.e., property losses, medical care, police response, lost productivity). As this VAWA evaluation explains, VAWA has has not only vastly expanded victim services, but honed the criminal justice system's response and fostered greater collaboration between stakeholders. Now, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking are treated as community problems requiring coordinated responses.
More than ever, enlightened men and women need to pay attention to the political landscape. VAWA, a vitally important tool for addressing violence against women, is facing resistance from several GOP lawmakers and right-wing voices. If we take domestic violence and sexual assault seriously, we need to speak out for VAWA.
For additional commentary, visit the following links.
U.S. Department of Justice: Building on a Good Foundation: Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act
Human Rights Watch: US Senate: Renew the Violence Against Women Act
The Hill: Congress must reauthorize VAWA now
Gothamist: Republicans Cool With Violence Against Women, As Long As They're Gay Or Immigrants
Feministing: Women Dems push for Violence Against Women Act