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‘I think actually the prosecutions of women would skyrocket.’

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‘I think actually the prosecutions of women would skyrocket.’

Coalition to End Domestic Violence

March 12, 2021

The recently introduced Violence Against Women Act bill includes this proposed redefinition of domestic violence (H.R. 1620, Section 2):

“The term ‘domestic violence’ means a pattern of behavior involving the use of physical, sexual, verbal, psychological, economic, or technological abuse.”

So ask yourself, “In the past year, has my spouse or partner….”:

  • Called me a name such as “stupid” or “lazy”?
  • Given me the “silence treatment”?
  • Scolded me to not over-spend the checking account?

These three questions represent verbal, psychological, and economic abuse, respectively. When these questions have been posed to Congressional staffers, almost all have answered with a sheepish smile, “yes.”

VAWA’s proposed expansion of the definition of domestic violence would serve to classify almost every American as a “victim” of domestic violence. This would have major consequences throughout our society:

  1. Criminal Justice Services: Expansive definitions would result in a sharp increase in the number of calls to police for protection from a spouse or partner who is engaging in such actions — as well as more arrests and prosecutions. This would reduce criminal justice services for the victims of violent crimes.
  2. Victim Service Providers: Turning every American into a victim would create requests for many billions of dollars in financial assistance from victim service providers and other agencies. Persons experiencing such actions could suddenly quit their jobs, costing states billions in Unemployment benefits.[1]
  3. Fragile Families: Eight percent of Americans report being falsely accused of abuse.[2] Claims of verbal, psychological, or economic abuse often are so vague that accused persons have no viable defense against a false allegation. This would exacerbate partner conflict and worsen family instability.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year men are more likely than women to be the victims of psychological aggression:[3]

  • 20.8 million male victims
  • 17.0 million female victims

Which is why University of Maryland law professor Leigh Goodmark commented about the criminalization of emotional abuse, “I think actually the prosecutions of women would skyrocket.”[4]

Verbal and psychological abuse is a real problem in our country. But turning this into a crime would wreak havoc on criminal justice services, victim service providers, and on fragile families.



[3]  Tables 5.2 and 5.5.

[4] Presentation at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, Baltimore, Maryland. October 2, 2015.