After three years of stalled negotiations, a bipartisan group of senators recently introduced the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (SB3623). The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was originally passed in 1994 to meet the needs of domestic violence victims. It needs to be reauthorized every five years and for the past few years, an agreement could not be reached. The bill is always controversial and this time around was no exception. It seems the Violence Against Women Act needs to be renamed in 2022.
Throughout the legislation the word “women” is struck out and the word “individuals” replaces it. Women are eliminated again when the language strikes “violence against women” and inserts “violence against individuals.” What is wrong with the word “women?” There is no doubt that men can be victims of domestic violence, but the law is meant to address the reality that women are most commonly the victims of these crimes.
Unfortunately, the safety and dignity of women remains at risk in this bill. Concern for female safety and privacy is brushed aside throughout this version of VAWA. Men who identify as women would be placed with women in prisons and in shelters, should this legislation become law.
This version of VAWA puts forth a new pilot program focusing upon Restorative Practices. Restorative Practices are efforts to bring those who have committed crimes together with the victims of those crimes to identify and address the damage caused by the crime. Those who support this sort of activity think that victims are empowered, because they have been given a voice. The hope is that offenders will hold themselves accountable and take responsibility for what they have done. Basically, the parties will “talk it out.”
Our criminal justice system is predicated on the notion that actions have consequences and accountability is crucial to a safe society. Many national organizations have been opposed to restorative practices being used in the context of domestic violence and sexual assault. There is very little research to show that it is effective or even safe. Survivors are often intimidated or manipulated by their abusers. This VAWA assumes that survivors would be voluntarily agreeing to go through a restorative practices process. What if they aren’t? How will we know?
The Battered Women’s Justice Project has found: “Violent criminals routinely escape justice by intimidating witnesses to their crimes, which has resulted in justice system professionals, community leaders, and researchers declaring witness intimidation a national concern and a challenge to administering justice.”
The Violence Against Women Act will be brought to the Senate floor in the next few days. It shouldn’t be, until these crucial concerns are addressed. This VAWA has sacrificed the wellbeing of women in pursuit of a liberal policy agenda. Not only are women being ignored by being removed from the bill’s text; but they are now being used as guinea pigs in a social science restorative practices experiment.