With much fanfare,
the Department of Justice recently announced that domestic violence
has been reduced by half over ten years. This is a little like the
old Soviet announcements of yet another increase in the wheat harvest.
carries several convenient implications for the federal government
and its feminist clients: First, it appears to vindicate more than
a decade of billion-dollar government programs. But second — in
the spirit of having it both ways — it implies that "more needs
to be done." As the report's author herself suggests with impeccable
bureaucratic logic, figures indicating that domestic violence has
decreased may indicate that it has not decreased. "The apparent
decline could mean that women are choosing to suffer in silence
rather than seek help."
the announcement preempts opposition. What are skeptics going to
do, reply that "No it has not declined"? It is the bureaucratic
equivalent of the question, "Have you stopped beating your
reply that the
figures do not include violence against male victims. But larger
issues are involved, like the manipulation of information (and us)
by the government.
the figures mean almost nothing, because the figures on domestic
violence generally mean almost nothing. And we might begin to wonder
about government figures on everything else.
of the domestic violence industry have already shown that any
decline is not likely the result of federal programs. Overall crime
appears to have been declining since the 1970s — years before domestic
violence legislation. At best, family violence went along for the
But the larger
question is what precisely are we talking about? The very designation
of a special category of "domestic" violence, separate
from other forms of assault — a category defined by the relationship
between the parties rather than the nature of the deed — raises
questions as fundamental as what is the subject under discussion.
Statistics purporting to quantify domestic violence are not based
on convictions through jury trials or even formal charges; they
are based on "reports" that are seldom substantiated.
Strong incentives exist not only for women in divorce cases but
also for federally funded feminist groups and government officials
to manufacture false accusations and exaggerate incidents, and there
are few penalties for doing so.
some justification exists for scholars to examine their subjects
in this loose fashion (though scholars, especially when government-funded,
have their own incentives to exaggerate the importance of their
subject). Yet when this spills over into categories recognized by
the penal system, it blurs the distinctions between crime and ordinary
this tendency is that virtually anything can be considered domestic
"violence" if a self-proclaimed "victim" says
it is. DOJ defines domestic "violence" to include such
offenses as "undermining an individual's self-esteem."
"Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic,
or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another
person," says DOJ. What "action" does not "influence
another person"? Breaking off a romance? Discussing politics?
Making a bank deposit? Among the "crimes" that are now
included in DOJ's definition of "violent" assault are
"constant criticism, diminishing one's abilities, [and] name-calling."
So DOJ's latest crime figures mean that, thanks to a $4 billion
federal program, name-calling is at last under control?
one-third of these offenses were serious violent crimes," DOJ
earnestly insists. Wait a minute. If we are talking about "violence,"
I would have thought that all the offenses are serious violent crimes.
But it turns out that two-thirds are not serious. So in what sense
are they "crimes" at all? And the one-third that are "serious,"
are these judicially confirmed? No. So who determines how "serious"
they are? DOJ bureaucrats of course.
is today's other great hysteria justifying plainclothes federal
gendarmes: child abuse. (Child abuse, however violent, is for some
reason not "domestic violence," unlike diminishing someone's
self-esteem.) Like domestic violence, child abuse is seldom adjudicated
as violent assault, so no objective measure of its incidence is
available. So here too, what precisely are we talking about? None
of the federal
studies purporting to quantify child abuse bases its figures
on convictions in jury trials or even court actions, even when the
cases are classified as "substantiated." (The exceptions
prove the rule: When the accused do receive jury trials, "A
verdict of not guilty in a criminal court will not affect the [substantiated]
finding in Juvenile Court because that finding is based on a different
and lower evidentiary standard," according to a San Diego grand
jury investigation.) At best, such studies are likewise based on
"reports" by social workers and even include alleged incidents
that are not reported at all. An official at the National Clearinghouse
on Child Abuse and Neglect Information explained to me that the
federal studies they conduct are not limited to reports from state
agencies (themselves not necessarily judicially substantiated) but
also include cases based on proactive interviews with non-specialist
"sentinels" about alleged abuse they chose not
to report but which officials nevertheless somehow know is happening.
So here too
the absence of evidence is held to confirm the problem. In his book
and Child Reunion, Warren Farrell notes that "Therapists
have concluded that a child was abused because the child adamantly
denied anything happened." This reasoning is reminiscent of
the Korematsu case, justifying internment of Japanese-Americans
during the Second World War for crimes not that they had committed
but that they were expected to commit: "The very fact that
no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming
indication that such action will be taken" (emphasis added).
The fact is
that it is virtually impossible to say that domestic violence or
child abuse have increased, decreased, remained constant, or even
taken place at all. These terms are matters of definition, and no
definition exists. To "define" means to limit, and
there is no limit on what constitutes these subjective infractions.
Like "hate crimes," they are creations of ideology, not
are not harmless: loose definitions ostensibly limited to purposes
of data collection become loose definitions used to justify federal
funding, which in turn become loose definitions used to secure convictions
or incarcerations without any conviction or even trial. This is
precisely what is happening in domestic violence and child abuse
cases. What is particularly insidious is that very little opposition
exists to question the government line. Potential critics of the
left and right become mute whenever phrases like "violence
against women" or "child abuse" are invoked.
effect is spreading throughout the criminal justice system. Dorothy
Rabinowitz and William
Anderson both argue the similarity between the child abuse hysteria
of the 1980s and 1990s and the Duke "rape" case. As both
point out, the Duke defendants are lucky compared to victims of
child abuse injustice, some of whom have remained imprisoned for
years. And these at least had a trial. Unsubstantiated domestic
violence accusations are sending citizens in and out of jail on
a daily basis and on a much larger scale, and most never see a jury
or an attorney, let alone an exposé in the media.
[send him mail]
is president of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children.
His book, Taken
Into Custody: The War Against Fathers, Marriage, and the Family,
will be published in the summer by Cumberland House Publishing.