Programs funded by the Violence Against Women Act systematically misrepresent the nature of domestic violence, who are its victims, its perpetrators and the best ways to address the problem. Those are the blockbuster findings of a new report issued by the anti-domestic violence organization, Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE). Indeed, according to the report, the federal government spends some $76.3 million per year spreading false and misleading claims about violence between intimate partners.
Each year the federal government spends $76.3 million for domestic violence (DV) training, education, and public awareness programs (Appendix A). These training, education, and public awareness programs shape the understanding of judges, prosecutors, and the public-at-large regarding the profile and dynamics of partner abuse. These perceptions eventually serve to shape government policies, legislative initiatives, and legal decisions.It wasn’t long ago that revelations came out about the expenditure of over $1 million in VAWA funds by various recipients for things like unapproved positions at shelters. Indeed, at one VAWA-funded legal services organization in American Samoa, three people pleaded guilty to misappropriating funds.
Yet many of these programs may be systematically biased.
But SAVE’s report alerts us to yet another scandal involving VAWA. Put simply, if the federal government wants to combat domestic violence, it shouldn’t hand its money to people who don’t tell the truth about it. For example,
In late 2010, SAVE initiated an extensive review of every page of the website of the Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women (OVW). The analysis concluded that overall, less than one in 10 of the domestic violence statements posted on, or found on documents linking from, the OVW website were found to meet minimum standards of accuracy, balance, and truthfulness.Another example:
The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) is one of the leading domestic violence organizations in the United States. According to its annual report, the NNEDV serves as the “national voice for the 56 state-wide and territorial coalitions against domestic and sexual violence.”Nor is the American Bar Association exempt from false reporting on DV.
An analysis was conducted of the NNEDV “Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Fact Sheet.” But a review of the Fact Sheet’s 30 claims reveals only 5 are truthful – see Appendix C. The remaining 25 claims are false, one-sided, outdated, misleading, unverifiable, and/or rely on studies relying on flawed methods.
The American Bar Association has published a number of documents on the topic of domestic violence. For example, the ABA report, When Will They Ever Learn? Educating to End Domestic Violence, opens with this claim: “Experts estimate that 2 to 4 million American women are battered every year.”26 But family violence expert Richard Gelles has derided the “2 to 4 million battered women” claim as an unverifiable “factoid from nowhere.”But the misuse of VAWA funds to perpetuate false and misleading claims about domestic violence doesn’t stop there. For example, did you ever wonder why judges are so ready to jail fathers and other men on simple allegations of domestic violence? Well, one answer comes from the fact that they’re trained to do so and much of that training is paid for with VAWA funds.
The ABA Commission on Domestic Violence (CODV) has published the flyer, 10 Myths about Custody and Domestic Violence and How to Counter Them. A detailed critique of the ABA document undertaken by SAVE concludes, “of the 19 claims, only 2 are correct… Overall, the great majority of assertions and conclusions in the CODV flyer are found to be unsupported, misleading, or wrong.”
By this calculation, only one in 10 claims in the ABA flyer are truthful.
Judges often rely on benchbooks to summarize the relevant laws and other key information about domestic violence. A review of these documents reveals substantial deficiencies:The same holds true for VAWA – “educated” police personnel. As with the public generally, judges, DV shelter workers and the like, the police are inculcated with the false notion that those who commit domestic violence are most likely men and their victims most likely women. Hundreds of studies over 37 years show that to be false, but our tax money is being spent by the bushel basketful to convince people that it’s true.
• Alabama’s Domestic Violence Benchbook contains the claim, “National crime statistics show that about 95% of spouse-abuse victims are women.”
No mention is made of the well-known shortcomings of crime statistics.
• The benchbook from the New Mexico Judicial Education Center opens with this remarkable disclaimer: “The discussion in this chapter will assume a heterosexual relationship with a male abuser unless otherwise indicated.”
• The Tennessee Domestic Abuse Benchbook features dubious claims such as “Women are unlikely to commit homicide except in self-defense.”
• The West Virginia benchbook states baldly that “women are overwhelmingly the typical victims of domestic violence.” The book features the Power and Control Wheel—the identical diagram that appears in the previously discussed handbook by the West Virginia Domestic Violence Coalition.
The biases documented in this section challenge fundamental notions of truthfulness and fairness. One judge admitted that the information presented at a domestic violence seminar he attended “blew up…all my concept of constitutional protections.”
The misrepresentations documented in this Special Report go beyond the occasional misstatement of fact, unwarranted generalization, editorial slip-up, or inadvertent transposition of numbers. The biases are found to be systematic, widespread, and highly resistant to correction.According to researchers Margaret Brinig and Douglas Allen, attempts in the late 1990s by the State of Oregon to bring greater equality to custody decisions were thwarted in large part by allegations of domestic violence. Those allegations, whether true or false were effective at separating fathers from their children, sometimes permanently.
This analysis of domestic violence claims points to a singular and troubling conclusion:
The bulk of domestic violence information is one-sided and systematically biased. Only one in 10 statements made by domestic violence organizations is accurate, balanced, and truthful.
It is difficult to gauge the precise effect that these programs have had on our nation’s legal and criminal justice system, but the impact is believed to be substantial:
• Family researcher Richard Gelles has noted that “policy and practice seemed to be more influenced by ideologies and political values than actual research and evidence.”
• “Police, prosecutors, judges, social workers, psychologists, parenting evaluators, counselors, et al, have been indoctrinated…that men commit 95 per cent of all domestic violence, [and] are more likely to abuse their children,” recounts one attorney.
Domestic violence expert Murray Straus has documented a variety of strategies by which some “have suppressed data on violence by women.”
Professor Straus reaches this sobering conclusion: “History is full of atrocities carried out in the service of a moral agenda.”
And of course we’ve been told by family law practitioners for years that allegations of domestic violence are routinely made to gain an advantage in custody cases.
Now it turns out that the federal government has been instrumental in spreading the epidemic of fatherlessness family courts have foisted on this nation. It is completely unacceptable for public funds to be spent to lie to the American people about anything, much less an issue as important as domestic violence. At a very minimum, if the U.S. government is going to fund advocacy of any point of view, that advocacy must be at least arguably accurate. The pedagogy of countless government-funded organizations regarding domestic violence is false and misleading. Each such organization should be prohibited from receiving a penny of public money until they start to tell the truth.
It’s more than just a matter of money, of course, although that’s important. More important is the fact that we can never begin to solve the problem of domestic violence as long as we refuse to admit what it is, who does it and what it takes to prevent it. Into the bargain, we can never solve the problem of fatherlessness as long as we teach false and inaccurate claims about domestic violence.
The federal government needs to get out of the business of promoting fatherlessness.