The coming debate over the Violence Against Women Act in the House is the last chance to stop or improve the bill before it becomes law for five more years.
This year there was a lively discussion in the Senate and meaningful opposition for the first time since VAWA became law in 1994. This means that for the first time in VAWA history there is genuine hope that the bill can be at the very least improved.
House Republicans are putting forward an alternative version of the bill passed in the Senate, sponsored by Rep. Sandy Adams of Florida and Rep. Kristi Noem of South Dakota. Adams has talked about her experience of domestic violence after marrying an abusive alcoholic at the age of eighteen.
We’ve had time to read the GOP bill. There are some enormous improvements to the bill passed in the Senate. But there are also disappointments.
This Republican bill provides for stronger fiscal accountability measures than the bill that passed in the Senate. It includes provisions to curb immigration fraud, and statutory language that is gender-inclusive, except for Title IX provisions regarding Native American women.
Unfortunately, some good ideas in the Senate bill put forward by Senator Chuck Grassley (it never made it to the floor for a vote) are not included: requirements for a GAO report on how shelters are using their VAWA grants, need for probable cause before an arrest is made, requirements for accreditation for training and education programs, and relocation of the Office of Violence Against Women to the Office of Justice Programs.
The GOP bill does not include measures to reduce rigid and ineffective law enforcement measures and nothing to allow couples to get into counseling instead of starting a process that often leads to divorce. There is also no mechanism for reducing false allegations (except regarding immigration fraud).
Especially worrisome is HR 4970’s expanded definition of sexual assault, which will turn millions of alcohol-imbibing brides and grooms into rape victims and rapists.
The Democratic bill has many deficiencies, including a serious lack of oversight of finances and a federal power grab that limits the ability of states to act in what is essentially a state-level issue. But its main drawback is an underlying philosophy of victimhood.
Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, Senior Fellow of CWA’s Beverly LaHaye Institute, made this point recently: “Decent people are outraged at abuse of women,” Crouse said, “but VAWA is more about building feminist power structures than about protecting vulnerable women or addressing the major problems of battered women who end up in hospital emergency rooms. VAWA has morphed into a gender-baiting tool to promote a victim mentality and push anti-family policies. VAWA-funded programs are riddled with fraud and financial irregularities; the funded programs focus on gender sensitivity training programs for judges, ineffective restraining orders, and inhumane arrests on the flimsiest of unproved accusations.”
Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, who voted against the Senate bill, said in an interview on the Heritage Foundation blog that VAWA “oversteps the Constitution’s rightful limits on federal power” The concerns he raises are serious and I urge you to read the post.