The sad fact is that, almost 20 years after its first passage, VAWA proponents can point to no evidence of its success at doing so. True, late last year former NOW president Kim Gandy claimed that a recent report by the Department of Justice “showed conclusively” that VAWA has reduced rates of domestic violence. In fact, it’s done no such thing.
What Gandy neglected to mention is that the DOJ report made no reference to VAWA at all much less credited it with the decline in domestic violence. Far more important, reduced domestic violence rates were just a subset of an overall decrease in violent crime (72 percent) that was significantly greater than the decline in domestic violence (64 percent). The final blow to the “VAWA works” argument is that the rate of domestic violence by women against men came down right in line with that by men against women, but VAWA provides essentially no services to male victims or female perpetrators. How do VAWA proponents explain that anomaly? They don’t.
Analysts of VAWA who are more serious than Gandy know there’s no evidence that the law has ever functioned as intended. In fact, domestic violence expert Dr. Angela Moore Parmley of the U.S. Department of Justice has said, “We have no evidence to date that VAWA has led to a decrease in the overall levels of violence against women.” The law’s proponents prefer to overlook that inconvenient fact.
VAWA fails to protect male victims and that ends up harming women. The organization that tracks domestic violence policy, Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (S.A.V.E.), calculates that less than 2 percent of VAWA funding goes to help male victims or female perpetrators despite the fact that 50 percent of the victims of domestic violence are men. That unwillingness to help women who hit, or men who are hit, increases the number of women who suffer at the hands of an abuser.
Why? As the social science on domestic violence has long revealed, about half of domestic violence is “reciprocal.” That means that it’s not just John hitting Mary or Mary hitting John, but one hits and the other hits back. According to a study for the Centers for Disease Control, in about 70 percent of reciprocal cases, it was the woman who hit first and the man who retaliated. Combine that with the fact that women are about twice as likely as men to be injured in a domestic violence incident and we’re forced to conclude that one of the most important things we can do to protect women is teach them “don’t hit first.”
Even if we care not a whit about male victims, we would preach that message, but VAWA-funded institutions say nothing of the kind. Their decades-old message that domestic violence is strictly gendered, apart from long being proven false, redounds to the detriment of the very people they pretend to care about – women.
In filing his VAWA reauthorization bill two weeks ago, Senator Leahy declaimed,
"A victim is a victim is a victim. We should stop setting up standards that say we will have one standard of law enforcement for one group of victims but not for another.”
But under VAWA a victim is not a victim if he’s a man. Leahy’s bill and current law frankly ignore male victims and female perpetrators. That means domestic violence will continue as it always has and more tax money will be wasted on a domestic violence “fix” that’s never fixed a thing.
Two decades on, if VAWA worked to stem the tide of intimate partner violence, don’t you think we’d see some evidence of it? For the sake of all victims of domestic violence, VAWA needs to change.
Franklin is an attorney, writer and spokesperson for Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (S.A.V.E.)