Remember the Super Bowl Sneak of 1993? Even if you’re not a sports fan — stay with us: it wasn’t a football play; it was a brilliant public relations campaign. Seven years later, with this year’s football festivities just behind us, we would do well to recall how effective a sneaky end-run around the truth can be.

Want to get legislation passed? You need to galvanize public opinion. If you are unconcerned about the truth, a simple way to do that is to make up dramatic data. After the truth comes out, people still believe the false factoids.

Case Study: domestic violence. Everyone now knows that the Super Bowl leads to an increase in domestic violence. Why? Because Lenore Walker said so — even though there isn’t a shred of evidence to back her up.

It began with a press conference held by a coalition of women’s groups just days before Super Bowl Sunday in 1993. The news? After the Redskins won games, there was a 40% increase in police reports of beatings and hospital admissions in Northern Virginia, according to a study done at Old Dominion University.

Walker, author of The Battered Woman, followed up with an appearance on “Good Morning America” claiming to have compiled a ten-year record showing a sharp increase in violent incidents against women on Super Bowl Sundays.

Then followed nationwide media hysteria, with interviews of domestic violence specialists who surmised, for example, that “provocatively dressed cheerleaders at the game may reinforce abusers” perceptions that women are intended to serve men.

Then again, maybe not. The author of the Old Dominion University study told Washington Post reporter Ken Ringle, “That’s not what we found at all.”

Lenore Walker referred calls to Denver psychologist Michael Lindsey who admitted to Ringle: “I haven’t been any more successful than you in tracking down any of this,” he said. “You think maybe we have one of these myth things here?”

Walker, pressed to detail her findings, said: “We don’t use them for public consumption. We use them to guide us in advocacy projects.”

And it worked. The next year, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

IWF National Advisory Board member, Christina Hoff Sommers, devoted two chapters of Who Stole Feminism? to an exposé of this masterful Super Bowl Sneak and the “noble lies” told by gender feminists to support their claims that the “patriarchy” uses systematic violence to oppress women as a class.  

Sommers concluded: “No study shows that Super Bowl Sunday is in any way different from other days in the amount of domestic violence.” Still today, millions of American women are completely unaware that the story was not true.

Even more troubling, the falsehoods are now enshrined in American law. The legislative history of the enactment of VAWA is replete with biased statements and statistics. Senator Joseph Biden chaired four Judiciary Committee hearings, presenting only witnesses who supported the bill. Those who testified generally represented the very groups and interests that stood to gain from the $1.6 billion five-year federal spending authorization under VAWA.

Since its passage in 1994, we have been warning that VAWA is not helpful to assault victims, and it has produced harmful effects on women and families.

To that end, in December, IWF filed a friend-of-the-court brief in United States v. Morrison, a case currently pending before the Supreme Court. The case began as Brzonkala v. Virginia Tech when Christy Brzonkala sued Virginia Tech in federal court for civil remedies under the provisions of VAWA over an alleged forced-sex incident in two male students? dormitory room. After the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the VAWA provisions were unconstitutional, the Clinton Justice Department took Brzonkala’s appeal to the Supreme Court.

In our brief for the court, IWF makes the following arguments:

First, in this legal battle, the Super Bowl Sneak lives on.  The deceitful data that appeared in the legislative history of VAWA, now reappear in the legal briefs, as if continued reliance on false statistics and nonexistent studies somehow gives VAWA constitutional credibility. Besides advocacy research, the plaintiff and the groups supporting her, like the groups that originally supported VAWA before Congress, have omitted some key facts.

Second, most violent crime is committed by men, against men. For every violent crime except rape, male victimization rates are higher than female rates. The one violent crime that disproportionately victimizes women, rape and sexual assault, has declined steadily since 1980. This is true even after “rape” was recently redefined to include attempts, verbal threats, and “psychological coercion” in the National Crime Victimization Survey.

Professor Richard Gelles, Ph.D., one of the nation’s foremost experts on domestic violence, states that reported rates of domestic (or intimate) violence against women declined between 1976 and 1986, when he and his colleagues conducted the First and Second National Family Violence Surveys, and have continued to decline since. He recently wrote that female-to-male violence showed no decline and was actually higher and about as severe as male-to-female violence.

Gelles emphasizes that women, usually smaller and weaker than men, are more likely to be injured as a result of partner violence, but rates of assault are about equal for men and women.

Statistics from the Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention show that between 1981 and 1997, “violent crime by girls increased 107%, compared to a 27% increase for boys.” Even Bonnie J. Campbell, director of the Department of Justice Violence Against Women Office, admits, “We are seeing numbers that suggest that young women are getting more aggressive.” These facts belie the underlying premise of VAWA, that women as a group are subject to oppression by men as a group. The truth is far more complex.

Third, VAWA is not only unconstitutional, but often harmful to the victims it purports to help. IWF’s science fellow, psychiatrist Sally L. Satel, M.D., reviewed numerous VAWA programs and concluded in an article for the Summer 1997 Women’s Quarterly: “A single complaint touches off an irreversible cascade of useless and often destructive legal and therapeutic events. This could well have a chilling effect upon victims of real violence, who may be reluctant to file police reports or to seek help if it subjects them to further battery from the authorities.”

Additionally, VAWA provides grant incentives for states to adopt mandatory arrest policies, which require police to make an arrest of the partner they judge to be at fault (or both partners) when called to a domestic assault scene. These policies have produced an unexpected result: There have been substantial increases in arrests of women.

Lastly, why is Christy Brzonkala suing in federal court? VAWA’s civil remedy provisions, which put “gender violence” under federal purview, are unconstitutional and counterproductive. The personal safety of women, and men, will be best secured by holding state and local authorities responsible for effective enforcement and prosecution against violent crimes, no matter what the “gender” of the victims.

We could scrap VAWA and start over, and nothing would be lost. Only this time we would observe the Constitution, examine all the facts — not the false factoids — and do what’s best for all crime victims, not just “gender” victims. As Professor Sommers notes, “Battered women don’t need untruths to make their case before a fair-minded public that hates and despises bullies; there is enough tragic truth to go around.”

Thanks to the lawyers who have provided pro bono services to file amicus curiae briefs on behalf of IWF in these recent cases, both of which involve constitutional challenges to VAWA civil and criminal provisions:

  • U.S. v. Morrison before the U.S. Supreme Court — Duncan Getchell, Jr., William Boland, Robert Hodges and William Baxter at McGuire Woods Battle & Boothe, Richmond, Virginia

  • U.S. v. Emerson before the Fifth Circuit Appeals Court — Hugo Teufel III at Hall & Evans LLC, Denver, Colorado