By Anna Rittgers
The 2011 Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA), if passed, will provide funding for programs to address domestic violence and will expand the act’s provisions to include services for gays and lesbians. Theoretically, male victims of violence are eligible for help, too. But did you know that? I thought not.
The problem with reauthorizing VAWA is that doing so would perpetuate the notion that domestic violence is something that happens only to women. While it is true that VAWA has evolved over time and now ensures that male victims of partner violence can avail themselves of VAWA benefits and services, the very name of the act implies otherwise. It is quite likely that a male victim would not know he can seek help, given the name of the act.
The image of the abuser is almost always a guy. But this simply isn’t the case. One of the pioneers of the study of family violence was sociologist Richard J. Gelles. Gelles wrote a seminal 1999 article for the old Women’s Quarterly, then a publication of the Independent Women’s Forum, on the “hidden victims” of violence.[i] Gelles admitted that 25 years earlier he had overlooked something important when, in the course of doing research, he meet a couple he called Faith and Alan. Faith had been beaten by boyfriends, her ex-husband, and her husband. Faith’s troubles became the focus of Gelles’s article. Gelles barely noted Faith’s violence towards men, which included breaking Alan’s bones and stabbing a man while he read the newspaper. Faith’s violence merited a mere footnote.
We know more about intimate violence directed at men than we did when Gelles wrote his article. But for cultural reasons, it is very difficult for male victims of domestic violence to seek help. Men are seen to be physically stronger than women, and so he should be able to just “take it.” Furthermore, domestic violence awareness campaigns are horribly one-sided, and almost always portray males as the aggressor and females as victim. Police are often hardwired to view men as the perpetrator. If a man calls 911 for help when he’s being attacked by his spouse or partner, he is often subject to arrest, even if he is the only one with physical injuries.
For seventeen years, there has been unequal treatment before the law. Female aggressors are keenly aware of this unequal justice, and a 2010 study on men who sustain abuse at the hands of their female partners discovered that 67.2% reported their female aggressors made false allegations of spousal abuse. [ii] Of those with children, 48.9% of the men reported that their partners made false allegations of child abuse.[iii] In other words, VAWA’s myopic view of who perpetrates domestic violence gives female abusers an additional avenue to torment their spouses.
The name of the Act itself makes it clear that the law’s focus is to address violence against women in particular, not the general problem of domestic violence. The specialized training that judges and law enforcement officers receive ignores the reality that women are as likely as men to be perpetrators of violence. This creates a justice system that treats male aggressors more harshly than female aggressors of the same crime.[iv]
One of the few studies to examine precisely how law enforcement differentiate in their treatment of male aggressors versus female aggressors in domestic violence cases determined that females were charged 60.2% of the time when the male partner was the only one injured, but males were charged 91.1% of the time when the female partner was the only one injured. [v] In no-injury cases, the man was charged 52.5% of the time, while the female only charged 13.2% of those times.[vi]
Worse still, since the prevailing view is that only women are victims of domestic violence, it makes it even more difficult for law enforcement, health professionals, and the judicial system to even accept the fact that men can be victims too, much less encourage these professionals to assist those men.
In many ways, VAWA is the epitome of modern legislation. It spends federal dollars to solve what is a quintessentially local law enforcement affair, propping up a cottage industry dominated by the feminist orthodoxy along the way.[vii] It is especially difficult for legislators to oppose the legislation—after all, the implication is that if you are against the VAWA, you are somehow in favor of violence against women. Nevertheless, if Congress is truly interested in honestly addressing issue of domestic violence, it should start by rejecting the gender disparity inherent in VAWA and vote against its reauthorization.
[i] Geddes, Richard. “The Missing Persons of Domestic Violence: Battered Men.” The Women’s Quarterly, Autumn 1999. Pg 18-22.
[ii] Hines, Denise and Douglas, Emily. “A Closer Look at Men Who Sustain Intimate Terrorism by Women.”Partner Abuse Vol. 1, No. 3 (2010) at 13. Available at http://www.clarku.edu/faculty/dhines/Hines%20&%20Douglas%20Dec_7_2009_closer_look_at_abused_men.pdf
[iv] Hamilton, Melissa and Worthen, Meredith, “Arrest Outcomes for Interpartner Violence: The Myth of Parity “ (June 1, 2010). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=997943 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.997943
[v] Carney, Michelle, Buttell, Fred, and Dutton, Don. “Women who perpetrate intimate partner violence: A review of the literature with recommendations for treatment.” Aggression and Violent Behavior, Vol. 12 (2007) at 111. Available at: http://studentweb.stcloudstate.edu/naad0501/Women%20who%20perpetrate%20Intimate%20Partner%20Violence.pdf
[vii] Gruber, Aya. “The Feminist War on Crime.” Iowa Law Review Vol. 92, (2007) at 741; Florida International University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 07-04. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=991563. See 754-55. (“In the feminist mindset, domestic violence and rape were not merely about individual “deviant” males asserting illegitimate power over individual women. Rather such crimes reflected larger social inequalities. Sexual and domestic crimes were problematic precisely because they reproduced and reinforced not only biases within the legal system, but also the vigorously defended patriarchal mindset of society.” The article continues on to discuss the success that the feminist movement had in achieving legal reforms in favor of female victims of domestic violence even though some feminist view the criminal justice system as institutionalized patriarchy.)