Republicans Oppose Reauthorization of Violence Against Women Act (And They May Be On To Something)

March 28, 2012 | Posted by Enrique

[Note: Story Time with E is taking a break for a few weeks. We plan to resume normal programming in May. Cheers.]

As you may be aware, there’s a War On Women™ going on in these here United States, perpetrated as usual by the Republican party. A few weeks ago they had a good laugh while their leader Rush Limbaugh insulted that nice Fluke lady, which was all part of their plan to make it illegal for women to use birth control (or something). And now they’re trying to stop the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which, if it should expire, will mean that violence against women will be completely legal.

For our story this week, let’s have a look at what VAWA is supposed to do, what it actually does, and why we don’t need it. And we promise we won’t make any sophomoric sexist jokes unless they’re really funny.

The story so far…

Artist’s rendering of typical act of violence against women in U.S.

Mainstream political discourse in America holds that Republicans are anti-gay, anti-minority, and anti-woman. The anti-gay charge is obviously true, the anti-minority charge is played out at this point, but the anti-woman charge seems like a holdover from antiquity. It’s no secret that married women in particular lean Republican, but women overall were pretty Republican-friendly in the 2010 midterm elections. To assert that the Republican party is self-evidently anti-woman is just silly, and probably an insult to the intelligence of the fair sex.

Of course, insulting the intelligence of people you want to vote for you has a long history in U.S. politics (a consequence of the entrenched two-party duopoly I suppose). As such, Democrats have been pushing this “Republican War on Women” talking point for what seems like bloody ages now. I believe it began with some controversy over whether or not the government should force employers to provide “free” coverage for birth control, and now Dems think this War On Women is the hottest thing since the War On Poverty (another conflict they were on the wrong side of).

In an apparent effort to show women who wears the pants in the Legislative Branch, some female U.S. Senators are pushing for the swift reauthorization of VAWA:

The landmark 1994 measure is up for renewal this year and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has said that he expects to hold a vote in the coming weeks. Democrats see the debate over the bill and potential amendments as an opening to continue accusing Republicans of “waging war” on women’s rights. In recent weeks, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has used the issue — and the 11 Democratic women running in Senate races this year — to raise money from supporters.

The bill cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee last month on a party-line vote after Republicans opposed new elements of the legislation that provide protections to immigrants and same-sex couples and raised concerns about accounting for the effectiveness of federal grants it authorizes. […]

“This one shouldn’t be about politics. Protecting women against violence shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

Whenever a politician says that something shouldn’t be a partisan issue and we need to pass it very quickly and don’t ask any questions, you just know they’re full of it. Obviously no one thinks that women (or anyone) shouldn’t be protected from violence, but does VAWA do that?

Here are some tidbits about VAWA from its Wikipedia page (which I think we can safely assume is authoritative):

• VAWA was drafted by Joe Biden, which right there makes is suspect

• “It provided $1.6 billion to enhance investigation and prosecution of violent crimes perpetrated against women, imposed automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allowed civil redress in cases prosecutors chose to leave unprosecuted.” Sounds like a special interest handout, but maybe that’s just inartful wording by the Wikipedist.

• VAWA established an Office on Violence Against Women (OVAW) within the Justice Department, i.e., another permanent bureaucracy staffed by overpaid do-gooders that will never be eliminated no matter how many more trillions are added to the U.S. debt.

It appears the most obvious effect of the VAWA is that is creates additional ways for the government to spend money. Whether that has anything to do with preventing violence against women is unclear. The Office on Violence Against Women is a real thing, and its website is right here. What can we glean about the OVAW’s usefulness by examining its home on the internet?

The most prominent feature is that it provides contact information for various domestic violence support groups. That’s all well and good, but if you’ve got an internet connection to find the OVAW, you can also find the website of the National Domestic Violence Hotline without too much trouble, so that’s not exactly an essential service.

Other than that, there’s a couple links to other Justice Department agencies/programs. And there’s a link to selected publications, of which only five are featured (two of which are from the Bush administration). It should be no surprise that the link with the most content is for grant programs, of which there are 21. The OVAW’s news section and blog have both only been updated sporadically in the past six months. If this agency suddenly ceased to exist tomorrow, no one other than grant recipients would even notice.

But even worse than being ineffectual, parts of VAWA have serious civil liberties implications for men accused of sexual misconduct. Wendy Kaminer explains:

Section 304 [of VAWA], which governs the treatment of sexual violence charges on college and university campuses, requires that cases involving allegations of violence or stalking provide for “prompt and equitable investigation and resolution.” […]

[This language] is construed by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to require a low standard of proof (“preponderance of the evidence”) in sexual misconduct cases.

This standard was explicitly mandated in an earlier version of the VAWA reauthorization bill, and it was adopted by the Department of Education in a controversial April 2011 directive. It is practically a presumption of guilt. As former DOE official Hans Bader has explained, it means that “if school thinks there is as little as a 50.001% chance that the accused is guilty, the accused must be disciplined.” And, as I noted here, it means that the students may be suspended — or expelled — and exposed to civil and criminal liability on the basis of an inquiry that affords them little due process.

Moreover, if an accused student is not found guilty, even under this very low standard of proof, his or her accuser may be afforded a right to appeal (under section 304) exposing the accused to double jeopardy.

So not only is it uncertain that VAWA prevents violence against women, it can be used to deny due process to vulnerable young men.

Although it may seem wrong to be on the same side of Republicans on just about anything, their resistance in this case has a certain “stopped clock” aspect to it. The nation is not going to be worse off if one out of a thousand grant-dispensing government agencies disappears. And in terms of protecting civil liberties, we might actually be better off without VAWA.

If lefties and Dems want to do their part to protect the victims of violent crime, here’s a thought. According to Justice Department statistics, men have always been more likely to be victims of violent crime than women. The disparity is smaller than it used to be, but men are still about one-quarter more likely than women to be victims of violent crime.

If Dems were to propose a Violence Against Men Act, it would be long overdue. And it shouldn’t be a partisan issue.


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