Senator Rubio & the VAWA
By Hadley Heath
February 15, 2013
Marco Rubio has made several refreshing choices lately. Everyone knows about his sip of water, but it’s also a good sign that he was willing to cast a politically difficult vote against the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
This is a law that is desperately in need of reform, but today’s hashtag-and-run political discourse is promoting the false perception that opponents of this lovely-sounding law are “for” violence against women.
That’s far from the truth of course. There are legitimate reasons to oppose VAWA.
First, VAWA is an intrusion by the federal government into a realm where it doesn’t belong. States and local governments should respond to criminal acts of violence, because they are closer to the people (and because the Constitution gives them this policing power).
Second, VAWA’s ideological foundation assumes that violence against women is caused by pure sexism. This presumption is actually sexist toward men, and ignores proven causes of domestic violence, such as substance abuse, psychological disorders, and marital instability.
Third, the law does not include adequate safeguards against misuse of funds. Both the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Inspector General and the GAO have exposed blatant instances of waste and fraud in the use of VAWA grant funds.
Finally, VAWA’s impact, since its original passage in 1994, has been inconclusive. We should celebrate that intimate-partner abuse and fatal partner crimes have declined, but this trend started before the passage of VAWA. In fact, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has reported that all attempts to evaluate VAWA programs have been problematic.
Even worse, the law may be counter-productive. For example, although millions of dollars in VAWA funds go to support mandatory arrest and no-drop prosecution policies, a recent Harvard study found that such policies may lead to more intense levels of violence.
The proposed reauthorization that Rubio and other Republicans opposed would introduce other problematic provisions that give too much authority to tribal courts and single out lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender victims for special protections.
Clearly, all victims of violence — male or female, Native or immigrant, gay or straight — deserve equal protection under law. But the Orwellian-named “Violence Against Women Act” is a flawed approach. Rubio may have reached off-screen for a bottle of water, but at least he’s not drinking the VAWA Kool Aid.