It’s VAWA season on Capitol Hill and throughout the blogosphere. All and sundry are shouting to the heavens that the Violence Against Women Act must be reauthorized or dire peril awaits us just around the corner. Democrats particularly couldn’t be more thrilled with Republican hesitation about reauthorizing the funding vehicle. Said hesitation plays all too neatly into the Democrats’ narrative about a Republican War on Women.
As with all wars, in the war on domestic violence, the first casualty was the truth. That tragedy played out long ago, but the debate around domestic violence hasn’t gotten a bit more honest. The fact is that the Republicans and Democrats have their own versions of VAWA, one not terribly different from the other. Here’s an excerpt from a press release by Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, long an advocate for sanity in domestic violence legislation.
The Huffington Post has previously criticized harsh attacks on House GOP leadership regarding the VAWA reauthorization as “incendiary and extreme”.Face it, when the arch-liberal Huffington Post calls pro-VAWA rhetoric “incendiary and extreme,” you know the debate has little to do with the merits of the law.
Yesterday a group called “Friends of VAWA Coalition” issued a press release headlining the Republican VAWA proposal as being “nothing less than shameful.”
The release claims the bill recently proposed by House Republicans would “deny critical services to many victims.” But SAVE’s review of the GOP bill did not identify any provisions that would restrict services for any group. One Republican aide specifically stated, “The House bill protects all people from discrimination.”
The Friends of VAWA Coalition also charges the GOP bill leaves Native American women “without vital protections” because it allows the defendant to request the case be transferred to a federal court to assure constitutional rights. But Senator Patrick Leahy, lead author of the Senate VAWA bill, has termed such a provision to be “reasonable; a middle ground position regarding tribal jurisdiction.”
The problems with VAWA are far too numerous to describe in anything short of a heavy tome. It’s sexist and ineffective; it encourages the denial of due process of law; it likely makes some kinds of DV worse and more prevalent than they otherwise would be; it favors a criminal law approach to something that’s overwhelmingly (though not entirely) a psychological issue; it encourages lying over the truth; it discourages reporting of DV incidents; it doles out money with little accountability or oversight; its draconian measures fall most heavily on African-Americans, Hispanics and the poor; it encourages the breakup of families and the separation of children from their fathers; it expands the definition of violence to include everyday non-violent behavior; it funds shelters that make little or no effort to ascertain whether residents have actually been abused; it’s based on the false premise that only men commit domestic violence and that only women are its victims; it refuses services to almost all male victims of domestic violence; it encourages the arrest of men even when they’re the victim of domestic violence; it denies services to female perpetrators.
I could go on, but will spare you. Put simply, the Violence Against Women Act is first and foremost a cash cow for the DV industry. Not surprisingly, that’s who’s calling loudest for its reauthorization. The gravy train has slowed.
The rhetoric surrounding VAWA and domestic violence generally is not only “incendiary and extreme” as HuffPo so accurately stated. Worse, it’s dishonest. Set a Google Alert for “domestic violence” and every day you’ll receive dozens of articles that repeat the same tropes. Time and again those are just flat wrong. The “debate” about VAWA doesn’t even come close to getting basic facts correct. Day after day, SAVE and other stalwarts fight for that simplest and best proven fact – that men and women are equally likely to commit DV – to be acknowledged. That’s as simple as “you have to put gasoline in the car for it to run,” but admission of the fact in DV rhetoric is a daily trial.
One of the themes of the Democrats’ promotion of their VAWA bill has been the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people from coverage by VAWA. Rising to heights of hypocrisy seldom before scaled, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy and others have excoriated Republicans for “not including all victims” in their bill. These people are defending a bill and an existing law that make no pretense of protecting 50% of the victims of domestic violence – the male half. Dishonesty doesn’t get much more blatant than that, but our national “debate” on the subject cruises right along, never pausing to question Leahy’s patently false assertion.
All of which is to say that it’s refreshing to read this blog posting by a woman named Alisa Valdes. It’s a well-written piece by a person who knows what she’s talking about. Though a victim of emotional and psychological abuse in a relationship, Valdes won’t be joining the movement called One Billion Rising or the pro-VAWA forces any time soon.
I’d like to support 1 Billion Rising. But I can’t. I’m too aware of its enormous blind spot to get involved. The movement, like most others around domestic violence, fails to acknowledge that men are just as likely as women to be victims of violence at the hands of their girlfriends or wives.Or arrest them. A couple of years ago I posted a piece about a police training course in New Hampshire for domestic violence incidents. The training materials (now no longer on the government’s website) gave eight hypothetical examples in which trainees were to decide what to do. In each example, the correct thing to do was to arrest the man. There were none in which the woman was to be arrested and none in which no one was to be. The eighth example described the police coming to the door of a residence identified in a domestic violence call. The man opens the door; he has a lump on his forehead and blood running down his cheek. What happened? “My wife hit me with that heavy glass ashtray.” “Did you hit her?” “No.” Then the police interview the woman. “What happened?” “I hit my husband with the heavy glass ashtray.” “Did he hit you?” “No.” Police response? Arrest the man. Why? Because he was the one who answered the door (that proves he’s controlling, you understand) and because the woman was afraid he’d retaliate.
According to a recent survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 40 percent of all victims of extreme domestic violence are men, with female perpetrators. Nonetheless, only 15 percent of all reported cases involve male victims, because, thanks to gender stereotypes, men know that society will most likely ridicule or dismiss them.
That’s VAWA teaching in a nutshell. Note that the man is to be arrested despite the fact that he hadn’t committed any form of wrongdoing. Note that the police had no probable cause to arrest him. Note that the woman admitted to the crime. Note that the entire focus of police activity is to decide whether the man is behaving in a “controlling” manner. If he is (and what behavior of his would not be deemed “controlling?”), he goes to jail. That concept – that DV is all about control, not violence – comes directly from the radical feminist playbook that was drawn up back in the early 70s. It has almost nothing to do with real domestic violence, the vast majority of which has nothing to do with control, and everything to do with a political ideology that seeks to separate men from women and put the former in prison.
Meanwhile, Valdes makes a very important point about how people, both men and women, learn to engage in domestic violence. The vast majority of abusers were abused as children. Who abused them? Their mothers. Literally, they learned the practice at their mother’s knees.
The factual truth about domestic violence is far more complicated than our culture makes it seem, and a lot of it, it seems, starts with women. The United States Department of Health and Human Services reports that children are THREE TIMES MORE LIKELY to be abused by their mothers than their fathers.Preach it, sister. Women need to be taught to not hit their kids; they need to be taught to not hit their husbands or boyfriends. We can’t possibly reduce the incidence of DV until women learn those things. VAWA? It’s silent as the grave on all those concepts.
What I learned from my own abuser is that boys who grow up to hurt women are almost always victims of earlier abuse by their moms. He certainly was. This doesn’t excuse what he did. I mention it to underscore the need to stop blaming only men for domestic violence. In truth, it’s a whole-family cycle that involves men and women, boys and girls. Until we stop blaming only men and assuming that it is somehow in their “nature” to harm women, until we stop thinking the solution is to “teach” males that women are human, until we stop this nonsense about needing to somehow civilize the brutes that are men, until we hold mothers, girlfriends and wives just as accountable for their abusiveness, the cycle will continue unabated and perhaps even get worse. After all, you cannot convince anyone of your own humanity whilst simultaneously stereotyping, degrading and willingly IGNORING [your] own.
Fortunately, Alisa Valdes and countless others aren’t.