Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Written Statement

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Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
May 5, 2010
Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D.
Concerned Women for America


“Violence Against Women” is a general term used to refer to violent acts committed primarily or exclusively against women; it is a type of violence with the victim’s gender as the primary motive. The 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women included among the perpetrators, “assailants of either gender, family members and even the ‘State’ itself.”1

Right away with the “State” identified as a possible offender, it is obvious that “gender” as a concept is inherent in the United Nations’ view of violence against women. This view is further substantiated by the text of the declaration that mentions the “historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women, and that violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men.” 2

A women’s health journal described violence against women as a “system of socially constructed gender relationships that generate an imbalance of power between the sexes in which men are seen as superior. As a result, women – victims of discrimination and social inequality – are dominated by men, who exercise control over their bodies and decisions.” 3 Indeed, over the past 15-20 years, the women’s movement has used the issue of violence against women to increase their influence around the world. 4

When violence against women is viewed in this broad context, the numbers are skewed and the brutality of the actual battering of women is diluted. Violence is also diluted when psychological and verbal violence is thrown into the mix. As awful as these things are, they differ in magnitude from the physical battering that some women endure. Laws against husbands beating wives were enacted in the 1870s. Domestic violence is now called “Intimate Partner Violence,” which includes live-in boyfriends, who are the source of most domestic violence (rather than husbands). 5 Clearly, women are most likely to be victimized by someone with whom they are intimate. Physical violence is not to be tolerated, and VAWA needs to focus on ending those crimes rather than broaden the definition of violence to the point of meaninglessness. In 2005, 1,181 women were killed by an intimate partner, as compared with 329 men who were similarly murdered. 6 Violence also occurs within lesbian relationships, mother/daughter, roommate, and other domestic arrangements where more than one woman is housed. 7

The American Psychiatric Association now includes a new series of relationship disorders that separates out “Marital Conflict Disorder” into two categories: one that includes violence and another without violence. This new categorization recognizes that psychological and verbal abuse differs significantly from the physical battering that ends up in an emergency room and ultimately in a legal case. 8

Violence Against Women and Human Rights:

The United States Constitution, with its Bill of Rights and Amendments, presents the fundamental freedoms that are the foundation of American liberty; these principles ensure that America remains a “government of laws and not of men.” 9 Our individual rights are referred to as our “civil rights,” and “these rights are rooted in the 14th Amendment.”

SAVE: Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, an organization located in Rockville, Maryland, presents the historical development of domestic violence laws:

1980s – first state-level laws were enacted to permit restraining orders for partner abuse to be issued. 1984 – the federal government passed the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (funding abuse shelters and state domestic violence coalitions) 1994- Violence Against Women Act (expanded state domestic violence laws to about 1,500, encompassing all phases and facets of the law enforcement and criminal justice systems, including 911 calls, civil restraining orders, arrest, prosecution, and judicial education.) 10

SAVE identifies nine fundamental civil liberties that are affected by domestic violence laws, including abuses that affect an estimated 2.2 million persons:

Restraining orders – biased criminal justice procedures violate the rights of an estimated 1.5 million people. Biased criminal justice procedures within the Criminal Justice System violate the rights of an estimated 462,000 people. Discriminatory treatment services are estimated to violate the rights of 272,000 people. 11

Despite the likelihood that men and women are equally aggressive against their partners, according to SAVE, men are far more likely to be compromised by the laws, especially African-American men. Men receive 85 percent more restraining orders, 77 percent more arrests for domestic violence, and less than one percent of men are put in transitional housing. 12 SAVE believes that more than 25 million Americans have seen their civil rights abridged since 1994 when VAWA went into effect. 13

Violence Against Women Misinformation:

The misinformation about violence against women is pervasive. In 2005 Congressional testimony, a celebrity witness, Salma Hayek, said, “We cannot tolerate a world in which one in three women is or will be a victim of domestic violence.” 14 There is no indication where or how she came up with that figure. Maryland Senator Ben Cardin repeated that statistic in his February 12, 2010, statement in support of the International Violence Against Women Act15 and called violence against women “a public health epidemic” that is “a major cause” of women being in poverty. That celebrity mentioned earlier also said, “The Violence Against Women Act has changed the mindset of this country.” 16 Indeed, it has changed mindsets – to believe that the government can eliminate domestic violence with more money and more programs.

In another news release, violence against women was blamed for robbing women of “their right to a dignified existence, which is the most fundamental right guaranteed to all human beings.” 17 Again, those sincere individuals who want to spread the alarm about violence against women dilute their argument by expanding the boundaries of the crime beyond all human reason. There is no “right” to a “dignified existence,” much less a “fundamental right” that is “guaranteed.”

Since the enactment of VAWA, domestic violence has decreased and states have passed more than 600 laws to combat domestic violence crimes. In addition, funding has increased, and there is now a significant government commitment to end violence against women – STOP grants (Services, Training, Officers, Prosecutors) were funded at $175 million, and more than $50 million was added for Transitional Housing Assistance Grants. 18

Violence Against Women and the Economic Downturn:

Numerous writers link economic stress with increased abuse (including more violent and more dangerous abuse) and also cite increases in abuse when unemployment is high. These arguments sound very plausible, but the “cause/effect” relationship is almost impossible to document. It reminds me of the brouhaha as a result of the sensational claims about abuse of women increasing on Super Bowl Sunday – which turned out to be untrue, though highly plausible. 19

Many well-intentioned writers seeking to bring a problem to the public’s attention have gone overboard in trying to make their point. For instance, in a recent article, the author cited “three-fold” increases in domestic violence related homicides in Massachusetts, 2005-2007. The author claimed that researcher Jaclyn Campbell identified two key factors in the increase: (1) limited access to services for victims and (2) unemployment for batterers. 20 As unfortunate as these tragedies are, unemployment could not have been a factor, because during the period in question, the unemployment rate in Massachusetts declined from 4.9 percent in January of 2005 to a low of 4.4 percent by October of 2007. 21 So unemployment actually declined rather than going up during that time period when homicides increased.

A far more important factor than economics in the increase of violence against women is the growing proportion of young women (even those with children) who are cohabiting. In cohabiting households with children, the batterer is frequently an adult male who is not the biological father of the children. This is a high risk situation that is completely avoidable. If Campbell does not address this risk factor, then her research is incomplete. I noted that one of her publications focused on “power and control” in relationships, which certainly doesn’t point to economics as a primary cause of problems. 22 Dr. Jackie Campbell is a noted researcher at Johns Hopkins University who specializes in danger assessment. She was closely involved in developing and testing the following two assessments.

In the “Psychometric Data” assessment of danger in relationships, there is a whole collection of interacting risk factors for potential violence against women. 23 Five items were considered “significant” in the multivariate analysis: (1) Do you have a child that is not his? (2) Is he unemployed? (3) Have you left him during the past year? If you have never lived with him check here __. (4) Do you currently have another (different) intimate partner? and, (5) Does he follow or spy on you, leave threatening notes, destroy your property, or call when you don’t want him to? 24 The Centers for Disease Control reports an annual cost of domestic violence to the nation’s health care system of $4.1 billion a year. 25 With a price tag that high, we need to get the danger assessment right.

In another danger assessment scale, designed for law enforcement officers, there are 11 questions. The victims’ answers indicate the degree of vulnerable for violence she faces. The questions include: Has he threatened to kill you? Do you have a child that is not his? Is he an alcoholic or problem drinker? And, do you think he is capable of killing you? 26

It is also important to note that the unemployment rate for men is higher than for women but also that the gap that has opened up between the two is nearly three times as great from this recession as compared with the previous one, i.e., 2.2 percentage points compared with 0.8 percentage points.


Having made all the above arguments, there are those who claim that during an economic crisis there is an increase in calls to hotlines, visits to emergency rooms, and increased use of social services and women’s shelters. The question is whether there is a cause/effect relationship involved in those increases or if the underlying personal relationships and household arrangements are what drive the violence.

None of us likes to see anyone abused, and we all recoil at those situations where women and children are battered and assaulted. However, those who really want to help those women cannot continue to “add on” to the list of abuses things that are regrettable and objectionable but not “abusive” in the general use of the term. We must focus on abuse that is observable and quantifiable; we cannot say (as I heard one feminist remark at an international conference) that when a woman is “meant” to write poetry and she doesn’t have an “opportunity” to write poetry, that is violence against women. Instead, we must recognize those factors that social science research has identified that contribute to domestic violence situations and take the “gender” politics and “politically-correct” agenda out of the public policy solutions that we propose. Further, we must insure that those programs that are funded really do help women, rather than merely increase the federal bureaucracy and impose further barriers between hurting women and those who are eager and qualified to help them.

End Notes
“Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women,” United Nations General Assembly, 1993. and “Violence Against Women and Girls is a Violation of Their Human Rights,” Women’s Health Journal, January 1, 2008, Karen Morgaine, “Domestic Violence and Human Rights: Local Challenges to a Universal Framework,” Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, March 1, 2007. Diana Zuckerman, “Research Watch,” National Research Center for Women and Families, and http://www/ Fact Sheet: Lesbian Partner Violence. “Violence Against Women,” Wikipedia, “Assaulting Our Rights: How Domestic Violence Laws Curtain Our Fundamental Freedoms,” SAVE: Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, 2010. “Assaulting Our Rights,” SAVE. “Assaulting Our Rights,” SAVE. “Assaulting Our Rights,” SAVE. “Assaulting Our Rights,” SAVE. Salma Hayek, “Violence Against Women,” Congressional Testimony, July 19, 2005, HighBeam Research. 3 May. 2010 The Honorable Ben Cardin, Member Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “International Violence Against Women Act, States News Service, COMTEX News Network, Inc., February 12, 2010. Salma Hayek, Congressional Testimony, 2005. “Eliminating Violence Against Women,” Daily News Sri Lanka, March 27, 2009. The Honorable Patrick Leahy, Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, “Violence Against Women Act,” Congressional Testimony, June 10, 2009. “Super Bull Sunday,”, February 3, 2005. Campbell, J.C. (1992). “If I can’t have you, no one can”: Power and control in homicide of female partners. In: Femicide: The politics of woman killing, edited by J. Radford and D. E. H. Russell, New York: Twayne, p. 99-113. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. J.C. Campbell, “If I can’t have you, no one can.” “Psychometric Data: Danger Assessment,” “Psychometric Data: Danger Assessment.” Patti Seger, “Domestic Violence Tragic for Families, Costly to Companies,” Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI) September 1, 2007. Karen L. Bune, “Lethality Screen for Domestic Violence Situations, Exclusive, April 2, 2008.

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