Congress Should Kill Discriminatory Domestic Violence Act

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The
Violence
Against Women Act
(VAWA) will expire this September if it is
not reauthorized by Congress. Largely viewed as an anti-domestic
violence measure, VAWA has become a flashpoint for the men’s rights
advocates who see it instead as the living symbol of anti-male bias
in law.

Although
a significant number of domestic violence victims are male, VAWA
defines victims as female. As one result, tax-funded domestic violence
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 offers 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 DOJ study: Men constituted
27 percent of the victims of family violence between 1998 and 2002.

Accordingly,
men’s rights activists not only accuse the VAWA of not merely being
unconstitutional for excluding men but also of dismissing the existence
of one-quarter to one-half of domestic violence victims.

The
criticism should go deeper. In many ways, VAWA typifies the legislative
approach to social problems, which arose over the 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 domestic violence 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
the FBI,
other times to a 1983 report by the Department of Justice’s Bureau
of Justice Statistics. But neither the FBI
nor the DOJ
sites seems to include that statement or a similar one.

Men’s
rights activists contend
that the elusive statistic derives from the book 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 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 men are also victims. By omitting male
victims from their efforts, however, domestic violence activists
create the impression of a national epidemic that uniquely victimizes
women who require unique protection.

In
response to public outcry, Congress was pressured to “do something.”
It passed VAWA 1994, granting $1.6 billion to create a bureaucracy
of researchers, advocates, experts, and victim assistants, which
some collectively call “the domestic violence industry.”

Reauthorized
in 2000, VAWA’s funding rose to $3.33
billion
to be expended over five years. Now, VAWA 2005 seeks
more
money
.

Voices
like the National
Organization for Women
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 be difficult
to argue for more funding.

Data
indicates that traditionally
defined violence
against women has declined sharply. The rate
of family violence reportedly “fell from about 5.4 victims per 1,000
to 2.1 victims per 1,000 people 12 and older,” according to DOJ
statistics.

VAWA
2005 faces much more opposition than its earlier incarnations. One
reason is that men’s
rights activists
have been presenting counter-data and arguments
for over 10 years.

Advocates
of VAWA 2005 have
responded
with pre-emptive
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
men’s rights activists 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,
The
Presumption of Shared Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act

was defeated by vehement opposition from the New Hampshire Coalition
Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. The coalition both wrote
to and spoke before
the Legislature. Accordingly, father’s rights
advocates in New Hampshire are seeking language in VAWA 2005 to
prohibit any VAWA-funded 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 domestic violence.

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

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

June
30, 2005

Wendy
McElroy [send her mail] 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 the
new book, Liberty
for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century

(Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002).

Wendy
McElroy Archives

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