Violence Against Women Act – The Real War on Women
By Robert Franklin
November 5, 2012
For months now we’ve heard about the “War on Women” that’s sometimes called the “Republican War on Women.” While close inspection of the claim reveals the WOW to be little more than an election-year bid to keep female voters in the Democratic fold, there is a real war on women and up until this year, it’s been bi-partisan. It’s called the Violence Against Women Act.
How could VAWA, long touted by the domestic violence establishment as vital to women’s welfare, in fact be anti-woman? Let me count the ways.
1. When police are called to the scene of a domestic violence incident, VAWA encourages them to make an arrest whether or not they have probable cause to do so. VAWA funding goes to train police in this mandatory arrest policy, but the result is the opposite of what VAWA advocates imagine. Mandatory arrest policy actually increases a woman’s chance of being injured or killed by a domestic partner. Why? In a domestic violence incident, a woman must decide whether to call the police or not. If she does, she knows her husband or boyfriend will be arrested, jailed, charged and ordered to stay away from her, their children and their property. Faced with that, many women opt out of the system, preferring to remain with their partner and try to handle the situation themselves. That increases her chances of injury at his hands. A 2007 study at Harvard found mandatory arrest policies increase a woman’s chance of death by an intimate partner by almost 60%.
2. One of the leading causes of injury to women in domestic violence incidents is their own initiation of violence. She hits first and he retaliates with far greater force. Dr. Sandra Stith of Kansas State University has called it “a dramatically more important factor than anything else.” Studies conducted for the Centers for Disease Control show about 70% of reciprocal DV to have been initiated by the female partner. Meanwhile, about half of non-reciprocal violence is committed by women. But VAWA is based on the political ideology that men alone commit DV. The unsurprising result is that female perpetrators find it all but impossible to get the treatment they need to stop the behavior that often results in their own injury.
3. If a woman is assaulted by her partner, one of VAWA’s “solutions” to her problem is the issuance of a restraining order against him. He’ll be ordered to stay away from her, his house, his children, her place of work, etc. But are restraining orders effective at stopping domestic violence? Many studies say they’re not and some find they actually increase the likelihood of injury or death. Those studies are corroborated daily by the headlines on domestic violence. The great irony about restraining orders is that they’re most effective against men who aren’t really a danger to their wives or girlfriends. Contrary to VAWA’s ideological assumptions, the vast majority of domestic violence is (a) non-injurious and (b) situational, i.e. unlikely to recur. Men who commit that type of violence are likely to obey a restraining order while those bent on murder are not. After all, if the penalties for homicide don’t deter him, will a restraining order?
4. When domestic violence occurs, VAWA prioritizes separating the man from the woman. That’s because the political ideology underpinning the act holds that, contrary to massive amounts of social science on the issue, intimate partner violence is a “cycle” than only escalates. But men still tend to be the major breadwinners in families, so, with him gone, women and their children struggle financially. Indeed, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that single women with children are the most financially stressed people in American society. Median earnings for that group come to barely $23,000 annually, meaning many of those women with children live deeply mired in poverty. As social scientists are coming to realize, single motherhood is one of the most important factors in the widening divide between haves and have-nots. The United States government has no business pushing women toward poverty, but sadly, VAWA does exactly that.
5. VAWA advocates and stakeholders tirelessly promote the shelter system as one of its greatest achievements, but even casual scrutiny reveals serious flaws. Most important is the fact that a woman doesn’t have to be a victim of domestic violence to be accepted at a domestic violence shelter. The simple fact is that shelters do little-to-nothing to verify a woman’s claim of DV victimization. As one former shelter director said in 2007, “Most persons think of women in an abuse shelter as victims of severe physical abuse, bloodied and broken. In our shelter, however, only about one in 10 women had experienced any kind of physical injury… So the great majority of women were there because they claimed to have been subjected to verbal or psychological abuse. We did not verify the claims of new residents – if the woman answered the questions correctly, we basically believed what she said. There is no question that some women, many of whom were on welfare, were gaming the system to benefit from the many services our shelter provided.” With shelters packed with uninjured women, real victims of domestic violence are turned away, about whom we read every day.
If VAWA actually worked to reduce violence against women, all of the above might be defensible, but it doesn’t. In fact, domestic violence expert Dr. Angela Moore Parmley of the U.S. Justice Department has said, “We have no evidence to date that VAWA has led to a decrease in the overall levels of violence against women.” VAWA promoters themselves implicitly admit as much when, in their drive for ever higher levels of funding, they cite the increasing “epidemic” of domestic violence. If what they were doing worked, would violence levels continually rise?
The truth is that we know a lot about domestic violence. After almost 40 years of research, we have good ideas about what it is, who does it, when and why. We also know how to deal with people in violent relationships. The problem is that VAWA acknowledges none of that. VAWA pours billions of dollars a year into programs that can’t reduce violence or protect women for the simple reason that they’re based, not on science but on political ideology.
Until we scrap VAWA and replace it with fact-based interventions and treatment, women will continue to suffer at the hands of their intimate partners. Into the bargain, they and their children will continue to lose their loved ones and be dragged toward poverty.
If that’s not a War on Women, what is?