A domestic violence advocacy group has released model legislation it hopes will replace VAWA. Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE) has drafted legislation that would transform existing federal domestic violence law if passed. Here's
As those who follow VAWA and domestic violence issues already know, current federal law is riddled with problems. Beginning with its title and the history of its original passage, VAWA has always been radically anti-male.
Since its inception, the law has been amended to contain gender-neutral language (except its title), but its effects have been, and continue to be, anything but. As but one example, federal dollars fund hundreds of shelters for women, but not one for male victims of DV.
And speaking of shelters, although hundreds of millions of dollars go into DV shelters every year, we know little about what actually happens inside their walls. That's because the federal government seems not to much care. As little as 18 months ago, the website for the Office of Management and Budget rated federally-funded DV shelters as "non-performing." That means they don't bother to put forward any criteria for success with the unsurprising result that no one knows if they're successful.
In short, DV shelters take the money, but no one asks them to report on their activities or measure them against any objective criteria. Is our money being spent wisely or not? We don't know because our government doesn't ask and the recipients don't tell.
What studies have been done of DV shelters are sketchy, but should be enough to spur aggressive inquiry by oversight agencies. (You can access some of those on the SAVE website.) Among other things, most DV shelters don't require any verification that an applicant actually have been the victim of domestic violence. Simply making the claim is sufficient.
So it comes as no surprise that many DV shelters serve as homeless shelters for women who don't care for the Salvation Army. And given that, what one finds inside the shelters are often drug dealers and women who need psychiatric care more than a shelter.
All of that is what led shelter resident Ebonee Barnes to call shelters she's lived in "beyond livable." She of course is far from the only one. Blogs by women living in DV shelters paint an unflattering picture of violence, theft, drug abuse and dysfunction.
Of course not all shelters have those problems. But with neither standards nor oversight, shelter owners are largely free to provide any sort of conditions they choose. And that's an open invitation for abuse and corruption.
So the fact that federal law is anti-male is only one of its many problems. And even that would be acceptable if it in some way reflected the reality of domestic violence in this country, but it doesn't.
We've known since 1976, the year in which the first major study of domestic violence was done for the national Institute of Mental Health, that men and women perpetrate DV equally. At the same time we've known that about 35% of those injured in DV incidents are male. And yet we utterly ignore male victims and therefore female perpetrators.
A woman concerned about her propensity for attacking her male partner and seeking treatment, might as well look for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. DV shelters don't believe she exists and their ideological construct of domestic violence has no concept that she might need help. Therefore, there is none.
Oh, if she has the money for a private therapist and is lucky enough to find one who knows the science, she can get help. But that's what government money ought to do; it ought to heed the huge amount of science on DV and bring realistic solutions to bear.
But VAWA has always prevented that. Now SAVE has created its model legislation in the hopes of bringing reason, balance and science to the topic of domestic violence in the United States.
It's called the Partner Violence Reduction Act and, according to SAVE, it,
1. Gives first priority to real victims and reduces false allegations by constraining definitions and distinguishing between an allegation and a judicial finding of domestic violence.
2. Makes the law gender-inclusive and removes discriminatory policies.
3. Seeks to protect and restore families when the abuse is minor.
4. Removes harmful mandatory arrest, predominant aggressor, and no-drop prosecution policies, thus helping to restore due process.
5. Allows legal assistance to be provided both to the alleged victim and alleged offender.
6. Improves the accountability of domestic violence organizations.
7. Curbs immigration fraud.
8. Removes provisions that violate the Constitution and restores civil rights to the accused.
Now, I don't have remotely enough time or space to go into those in detail. But each addresses a major shortcoming of domestic violence law at the federal level. Here's
a link to the text of the model legislation itself.
What I will do is point out that domestic violence law is one of the major culprits in the break-up of families and the separation of children from their fathers. Pretty much anyone who follows issues related to fathers and children knows that even bare allegations of violence can be used to separate the two, sometimes permanently.
We read frequently about allegations of abuse that are raised for the first time during divorce and custody proceedings. According to a recent study of custody evaluators, far more mothers than fathers level allegations of abuse at their partners. When they do, family courts routinely issue temporary orders restricting the fathers' access to their children. Those temporary orders create a fait accompli
keeping fathers and children apart permanently.
Indeed, often as not it seems that opponents of fathers' rights to access to their children have but one bullet in their gun - domestic violence. In Australia, the modest gains dads made in the 2006 amendments to the Family Law Act are under attack based on essentially one claim - dads are violent and shouldn't be around children.
Never mind that mothers abuse children twice as much as do fathers. The anti-dad crowd's got it's story and they're stickin' to it.
Domestic violence law in this country is based, not on responsibly-done science, but on the ideology-based claims of a few who in the beginning were frankly anti-family and anti-male. Their claims have always been factually wrong and politically motivated. As such the basis they form for DV law ignores the science on the subject and the equal protections of both sexes by the Constitution.
This country must scrap VAWA and start again with legislation that is science-based and that treats men and women equally. Until we do that, we'll continue to throw huge sums of money at programs that don't work because they don't acknowledge what the problem is.
SAVE's model legislation won't be enacted any time soon. The forces arrayed against it are far too strong to allow reason and justice to win the day. But SAVE's representatives have been walking the corridors of the Capitol talking with congresspeople and their aides, and they've gotten a generally favorable reception.
That's a long way from passing legislation, but they've begun the process of education of Congress. In so doing, congressional representatives and their staff have been educating SAVE. The more they talk, the more SAVE will come to understand where the weak spots are in the armament of VAWA's defenders. In time that will mean more effective lobbying and legislation that's more apt to attract sponsors.
It's only the beginning, but that's what's needed; we need to begin to end the tyrany of VAWA over innocent men and their children. SAVE has done just that.