“Get-Tough” Thinking Deserves Re-Thought

Don Mathis
November 7, 2010

For years, politicians have sought election by claiming to “get-tough” on one thing or another. A judge may want to a “get-tough” on crime. But when you stop and think about it, isn’t that what a judge is supposed to do? A candidate for the office of the Attorney General may campaign to “get-tough” on child support collection. But when one realizes that the AG gets federal funds for every broken family, one may surmise that it is the politician’s pockets, not the interest of the child, that motivates him.

In like manner, we have office seekers wanting to “get-tough” on domestic violence. This is a nice ‘sound bite’ but what does it mean? Advocates may call for mandatory arrest in every domestic violence situation – regardless if there is any probable cause. Usually the man is arrested because the typical man can hit harder than the typical woman. But the injuries of domestic violence go beyond physical pain. Ones self-esteem is damaged when an attack is unwarranted – and that can happen to men or women.

“Get-tough” policies on domestic violence also ignore the fact that men and women are equally likely to initiate and engage in partner aggression. In about half of all cases, the aggression is mutual, meaning that there is no clear-cut initiator of the altercation. Advocates of “get-tough” policies ignore the fact that female initiation of partner violence is the leading reason for a woman becoming a victim of subsequent violence.

Passage of the Violence Against Women Act came in 1994 during the great O.J. scare. One individual was characterized as evil incarnate – and stereotypes were projected onto all men. The VAWA represented a law enforcement watershed because the act endorsed mandatory arrest. Mandatory arrest requires a police officer to detain a person based only on the existence of a complaint; facts and evidence are thrown out the window.

Recipients of VAWA grants receive millions of taxpayer dollars – ostensibly to help the victim. Such money often goes to training law enforcement agents the policies advocated by VAWA. Directors of abuse centers make a comfortable living in this industry. Batterer intervention programs receive another large part of
VAWA funds. Few dollars ever go to the victim.

Mandatory arrest often gives the victim of violence a false sense of security. How well does a piece of paper, even if it’s a restraining order with a judge’s signature, actually stop violence? Mandatory arrest also often means there is an unintended victim – the individual incarcerated by false allegations.

Then there is the fact that allegations of domestic violence are often used as a ploy in divorce and custody cases. Indeed, false allegations of abuse are so common in dissolving unions that protective service workers often discount their investigation. Such are the consequences of ‘crying wolf’ too many times. Mandatory arrest policies waste limited law enforcement resources and rob the true victims of needed protections.

Defendants are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty – this notion is one of the things that makes our country a democracy. But when you have laws that mandate arrest for alleged assault or require arrest for violation of a restraining order you have hundreds of thousands of persons wrongfully arrested each year. And because of the fast-track prosecution procedures in the VAWA machine, suspected perpetrators are back on the streets quicker than ever.

The billions of federal funds spent on VAWA would be better spent on programs that help to solve the problem of domestic violence. We do no one a service by casting aside the civil rights of innocent citizens.

A ‘get tough’ policy has much symbolic value but it can lead to a multitude of problems. A choice of symbols over substance is a choice to cease supporting the true victim of violence.

The Fourth Amendment ensures us of several things: ‘The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.’ We need to re-establish the “probable-cause” standard for arrest.

We need a national campaign to protect victims from harmful mandatory arrest laws. We need to bring an end to senseless false arrests!

Source: http://www.ifeminists.net/e107_plugins/content/content.php?content.833