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By Attorney Robert Franklin
January 26, 2013

The Violence Against Women Act died a couple of weeks ago. The Senate version of the bill failed to make it to a vote in the House of Representatives and so will have to be reintroduced when the new Congress is gaveled into session later this month. Predictably, VAWA’s demise was immediately met by howls of outrage from Democrats, feminists and the huge, federally funded domestic violence establishment.

The ladies (and gentlemen) do protest too much, me thinks. Their anguish is out of all proportion to what actually happened. The shrillness of their words suggests they perceive more to be at stake than the simple delay in funding the lapse of VAWA actually means. In fact, I’d say they fear two things - first the widespread realization that VAWA doesn’t work and second the loss of a cash cow without which tens of thousands of people who live off VAWA might have to get real jobs.

It’s fascinating to read articles excoriating House Republicans for VAWA’s end. From CNN, to The Nation, to The Atlantic Monthly, to MSNBC, all decry the failure to reauthorize the act’s funding, but make only the most half-hearted effort to pretend that VAWA actually works to reduce domestic violence. There’s a good reason for that; there’s little-to-no evidence that VAWA has any effect on the level of intimate partner violence. Just three weeks ago, Kim Gandy seized on a recent study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics to claim that VAWA had decreased DV incidents by over 60% since its passage in 1994.

But Gandy’s claim was so much nonsense. The BJS report never mentioned VAWA and certainly never drew any correlation between it and declining rates of DV. Indeed, what the report made crystal clear is that all violent crimes came down sharply in the same time period. In fact, they declined at a greater rate than did domestic violence, so if anything VAWA actually lessened the rate of decrease for violence between intimate partners. Finally, incidents of domestic violence came down for men at the same rate as for women, but VAWA, as the name implies, provides essentially no services for male victims or female perpetrators. So how does Gandy explain that anomaly? She doesn’t. She’s kept her head down since first making her patently specious claims.

The DV establishment would prefer that VAWA be reauthorized without examination as it has been in the past. Policies like it can’t stand the light of day. If people came to understand what VAWA really is, where it comes from and what it does, they’d rightly call for reform. They’d call for what we should have had all along – a law that’s effective at combatting domestic violence and costs a fraction of what VAWA does. That would mean the wholesale dismantling of much of the VAWA infrastructure and firing most of those who (wo)man the barricades.

The simple fact is that VAWA is among the most flawed of all legislation. It makes no pretense of protecting male victims of domestic violence even though they make up half of all victims. But even if we care only about female victims, it’s ineffective. How could it be otherwise? In the first place, by assuming all perpetrators to be male, it removes services from women who attack their partners. And yet, reliable studies show that one of the surest ways for a woman to be injured in a domestic violence incident is to hit first. So even if we were only concerned about women’s victimization, we’d still tell them loudly and clearly, “don’t hit first.”

But VAWA’s roots are in radical feminist ideology, not reliable social science, so nowhere among the vast array of VAWA-funded organizations do we read or hear that simple message. The DV establishment would rather see women injured by their intimate partners than deliver a message that contradicts their ideology.

Into the bargain, VAWA encourages states to adopt policies that not only trample the due process rights of the accused, but tend to make the danger of violence in the home worse, not better. VAWA funds police training that promotes mandatory arrest policies. Under those, it is usually the man who is arrested, often absent probable cause. Once arrested, he’s removed from his home and family, arrested and ordered by a court to stay away from his partner, his children, his home and his belongings. All that occurs long before he has an opportunity to contest the charges against him. It also occurs despite the fact that his wife or partner may have developed second thoughts about having him arrested. In vain does she try to stop his prosecution. Even if she refuses to testify against him, prosecutors simply enter into evidence her previous claim to the police and presto! her husband, the father of her children and provider for her family is convicted and possibly incarcerated.

All that might make sense in a case of serious abuse and injury, but study after study shows that only a small fraction of DV cases are at all injurious. So what’s the result? In the event of domestic violence, victims overwhelmingly refuse to call the police. The Canadian Government reported only last year that well over 70% of DV incidents are never reported to the police. The reason should be obvious; faced with the inevitability of arrest, employing an attorney, incarceration, restraining orders, etc., people opt for handling the situation themselves.

That’s probably a good idea given the fact that – again contrary to DV establishment claims – the great majority of domestic violence is an occasional or one-time thing. But unfortunately, there are cases of serious, hurtful domestic violence and victims of that type also typically refrain from calling the police for help. That means that, according to one study by a Harvard researcher, more women die at the hands of a domestic partner than would if we adopted saner DV policies.

VAWA’s shortcomings are legion. Its demise provides a rare opportunity to re-think domestic violence policy and shape it to fit reality. That would mean distinguishing between serious incidents committed by dangerous abusers and the far more numerous DV that’s doesn’t cause significant injury and is only occasionally done.

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Perpetrators of the latter should be channeled into counseling. Psychologists have long known the pathologies that lead a person to use violence against a partner and are able to intervene effectively to change that behavior. The former are appropriately the subjects of the criminal justice system.

We won’t hear any of this from the DV establishment that’s currently up in arms. But contact your congressional representative and tell him/her that violence in the home is too important an issue to leave to political ideologues. Tell your elected officials that we need a change and we need it now. Click here to visit home page.

� 2013 - Robert Franklin - All Rights Reserved

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Robert Franklin has been a licensed attorney in Texas since 1980. He’s on the Board of Fathers and Families, the largest and most effective organization in the country fighting for family court reform. He writes and edits the Fathers and Families blog. He’s published journalism, essays and op-eds in a wide variety of online and print media including the Toledo Blade, Houston Chronicle, Seattle Times and World Net Daily. His legal writing has appeared in the Houston Law Review and he’s published poetry in several journals including the Concho River Review and an anthology of Texas poets.

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The Violence Against Women Act died a couple of weeks ago. The Senate version of the bill failed to make it to a vote in the House of Representatives and so will have to be reintroduced when the new Congress is gaveled into session later this month.