By Charlotte Hays
An important moment is upon us: The Huffington Post reports that the Violence Against Women Act is likely to be debated in the Senate this week. With Democrats pushing to reauthorize VAWA, Vice President Joe Biden, who sponsored the original bill in 1994, is hosting a Wednesday event in support of VAWA.
We hope that the discussion will be serious and will focus not on who can gain political advantage with the most incendiary rhetoric but on the merits of VAWA. We hope that those who want to reauthorize VAWA will be able to listen to our reservations without branding us as anti-woman.
We want to observe going into the senatorial debate that VAWA has a great name—who could be in favor of violence against women? But the act itself has many flaws. Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse of Concerned Women for America outlined some of them on a recent appearance on the the Diane Rehm Show:
Let me say right off, Diane, that I am very opposed to domestic violence. I have experienced it with a sister whose husband was violent, and restraining orders didn’t help or anything else. So I want to make sure that when you’re talking about a nice-sounding bill like this that I want to be solidly on the side of those who want to end domestic violence. But this plan has really morphed into a rigid and inhumane and ineffective matter of law enforcement.
I think [VAWA] has overly broad definitions, and it creates single-mom families and welfare-dependent families. That has been an unfortunate side effect. Any major bill like this, you have to look at the fine print. And I think that’s one of the problems that we have. We have unexpected consequences.
Such as the overly broad definitions that allow people who have been insulted, people who have not really experienced violence as we tend to think of violence — causing harm, physical harm — so that even saying, you’re not doing what I want you to do or you’re not looking like I want you to look, those kind of verbal comments could be considered violence. The main thing, though, that I object to, Diane, is the changes in our culture where men are seen as suspect and where women’s word is taken without any responsibility for backing it up with specific instances.
And a general view in society that a woman is — she can say anything and a man has to bear the consequences of her accusations. She is allowed to have free law enforcement — she is allowed to have consultation with lawyers, and the person who is accused is not. So those kinds of inequities, I think, are inherent in this bill.
Crouse also noted that VAWA deals with only half the problem. What about men who suffer violence?
Well, actually, there are 250 studies that show that there’s about equal violence from women as from men, so it’s an equal opportunity crime if you want to look at it that way. So I think when you have a bill that focuses exclusively on women, that in itself, I think, violates all feminist principles of equality.
Let’s also hope that the issue of VAWA and due process for the accused gets a thorough airing on Capital Hill this week.The potential effects of VAWA reauthorization on due process on campus are particularly worrying.
We quoted Will Creeley’s piece detailing concerns about due process in the latest version of the Violence Against Women Act’s yesterday. VAWA calls for “prompt and equitable” justice in dealing with accusations of sexual violence yesterday.
All decent people desire that justice to be “prompt and equitable.” That should go without saying, and I am particularly appalled when the allegations include male brutality towards a woman. The problem is that the “prompt and equitable” standard set forth in VAWA must be interpreted in a manner that will likely lead to miscarriages of justice. .
As Creeley pointed out in the piece quoted yesterday, a a letter from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) defines the “prompt and equitable” standard in a way that, while it will be prompt, may be far from equitable.
The OCR letter overrules normal standards of evidence. There are insufficient protections for the accused, who deserves a chance to prove innocence.
Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute, worries that this OCR guidelines (which will be VAWA’s guidelines) could lead to miscarriages of justice:
Now, it is undoubtedly extraordinarily difficult for a rape victim to face her attacker, but lowering the standards under which someone is judged for that crime and not allowing the accused to question his accuser opens the door to using accusation as a weapon, just as in Lanigan’s case or that of the Duke lacrosse team. Justice (what lawyers call “due process”) demands, among other things, that both accuser and accused have their day in court, and that there be a presumption of innocence. It is no more just for an innocent person to be smeared and forever tarnished — if not convicted and imprisoned – than it is to let a guilty man go free. Indeed, as Blackstone famously said, “Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”
I am in favor of throwing the book at men who are guilty of violence against women; but I have no desire to throw said book at men who are falsely accused. And—let’s face it—sometimes these charges are false. Daughters deserve society’s protection; so do sons.
Let’s hope that these issues are treated with the gravity they deserve this week in the U.S. Senate.