The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) passed 25 years ago with bipartisan support. It was meant to raise awareness about the vicious cycle of domestic violence and martial resources to assist victims and prevent its spread.
As the 25th Anniversary of VAWA is marked this year, Congress remains committed to fighting domestic violence. Yet that doesn’t mean the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA) passed on the House floor last week deserves support.
In fact, those committed to preventing violence against women should be fighting for the best possible version of VAWA. But it takes political guts to do so. VAWA has been so politicized that anyone who raises concerns with any aspect of it is immediately branded as “anti-woman.” Who wants to cast a vote against the law protecting women from violence? Certainly not white, middle-aged men constantly accused of being out of touch with women. A female politician questioning VAWA is immediately attacked as a traitor to women. VAWA today is a political weapon.
VAWA isn’t just being used as a political weapon in the public relations game. This latest reauthorization of VAWA shows the law has strayed far from its original purpose in order to advance a different political agenda. The 1994 version was a criminal justice bill focused on how law enforcement and the court system responded to domestic violence. It focused on protecting women, because women were overwhelmingly the victims in these cases.
This 2019 version of VAWA no longer prioritizes the comfort and safety of women victims. The bill would allow biological males to access and use female-only domestic violence shelters, putting the safety of the women and young girls in those shelters at risk. A woman who has just narrowly escaped an abuser probably won’t welcome sharing her sleeping quarters with a biological male. The bill could also enable male prisoners to be housed in women’s prisons.
This latest reauthorization of VAWA also flatly refuses to help victims of female genital mutilation (FGM). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates over half a million women and girls are at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the United States.
FGM is the total or partial removal of the female external genitalia for non-medical reasons, as defined by the World Health Organization. It has absolutely no health benefits and is internationally recognized as a violation of fundamental human rights. Clearly, this qualifies as violence against women, but the “new” VAWA ignores this growing threat. Obviously, VAWA should address FGM. Funding should be made available through VAWA for those organizations doing the important work of fighting this horrific practice.
Finally, all government programs should be held responsible for being good stewards of the resources that taxpayers entrust with them. Over the years, there have been many findings of irregularities and misconduct within the Office on Violence Against Women (the office created to administer VAWA programs).
Numerous inspector general reports found unallowable and unauthorized expenses, along with other misuse of taxpayer funds. One random audit found unallowable and unauthorized expenses in 21 of the 22 VAWA grants.
This lack of transparency and accountability has long been associated with VAWA funding. That can’t continue. Sadly, the new version of VAWA reauthorization is not taking these issues seriously enough. We shouldn’t tolerate resources being misused and wasted under the auspices of helping women.
VAWA reauthorization is being used as a vehicle to advance progressive causes clearly outside of the scope of the law. This bill includes an expansion of unemployment insurance benefits, a provision that would cost tens of millions of dollars in new taxes on employers who fund the employment security system and clearly ought to be considered separately from VAWA. The VAWA reauthorization also includes measures inconsistent with the second amendment and raises religious liberty concerns. It adds significant new requirements on housing providers far beyond the scope of the current law. It creates serious constitutional problems, because it grants tribes an “inherent” sovereignty over non-Indians. How in the world did we get here?
Politics. The basic goal of assisting victims of domestic violence through the criminal justice community has been lost in the rush to advance an unrelated progressive political agenda. Today, VAWA is no longer focused on helping the woman desperately fleeing her abuser, looking to rebuild a safe life.
Shouldn’t it be?