One of the cornerstones of a free society is the right of individuals, male and female, to be free from attacks on their person and property. Thus, protecting victims of violent crime is certainly a noble goal and a primary duty of government. The Violence Against Women Act, however, has inadequately discharged this objective.
Although the stated intention of the VAWA was to correct the ill administration of justice and provide more equitable protection to female victims, in actuality, the act has promoted a biased response to violence which ignores realities necessary to combat domestic and sexual violence effectively.
The VAWA’s flaws largely result from its ideological roots. From its inception, the VAWA has been based on an understanding of violence that grew out of radical feminism and its manifestations in the anti-rape and battered women’s movements.
A common mantra of radical feminism was the idea that, before women could throw off the shackles imposed on them by the family and capitalism, they would first need to identify themselves as an oppressed class. In other words, just as Marx believed that members of the proletariat would not revolt until they became conscious of themselves as a class, so also radical feminists believed that the feminist revolution could only occur when women came to terms with their oppression.
One of the methods of getting women to identify themselves as an oppressed class was to perpetuate the idea that violence against women is systemic and is caused by institutionalized sexism.
This belief that violence against women is simply a result of patriarchy has been successfully incorporated into the design and implementation of the VAWA.
In order to justify the massive redistribution of legal and economic resources to women that has taken place under the VAWA, advocates have virtually ignored the well-documented prevalence of domestic violence cases in which men are victims or in which members of the same sex are violent towards one another.
Despite growing evidence that violence affects victims from all classes and sectors of society and that the causes of violence are complex, many within the abuse industry continue to perpetuate this notion of class victimization and use demagoguery to silence their opponents.
Now that the VAWA is up for its third reauthorization, this mentality of class victimization is being used to pressure lawmakers into blindly supporting the law without any substantive consideration of its flaws or the negative consequences that might be involved in its expansion.
In an attempt to attract female voters, members of Congress have stalled negotiations over the reauthorization, and — as Democrats seek to capitalize on the claim that Republicans are waging a war against women — action before the November election may be unlikely.
Despite the impasse in Congress, however, a recent survey conducted by the Washington based anti-domestic violence organization Stop Abusive and Violent Environments suggests that there is common ground for reforming the VAWA among the electorate. In a national telephone survey of registered voters, solid majorities of those responding — including a majority of those who have been victims of domestic violence — supported reforming the VAWA to stop waste and fraud, to prevent discrimination in favor of certain victim classes, and to curb false allegations.
In order to effectively combat domestic and sexual violence, Congress should look past the ideological roots of the VAWA and should consider alternatives that address the true causes of violence and seek to provide equal protection to all victims. While reform will likely be far from perfect, provisions designed to strengthen accountability, protect all victims, and reduce fraud and false accusations provide a good starting point for effectively and efficiently responding to violence and are more in conformity with public sentiment.