ANALYSIS: Domestic violence act has problems
WASHINGTON (BP) -- One of the age-old tricks of the legislating trade is to name legislation with a title that sounds either catchy or simply too good to oppose. Naturally, lawmakers invoke this tactic on both helpful and harmful bills alike. Such is the case with a deceptive domestic violence bill presently under consideration.
This week, the Senate is taking up a measure to reauthorize a nearly two-decades-old program designed with the express purpose of reducing levels of violence against women. As such, it also originally aimed to ensure that justice is served for victims' abusers, namely men. The present version of the Violence Against Women Act (S. 1925), however, is a significant departure from that original stated objective.
Under the reauthorization, VAWA, as the bill is known, would spend vast sums of taxpayer money -- more than $400 million each year -- on programs that lack sufficient oversight and fail to address the core issue of protecting vulnerable women from abuse. Many of the programs duplicate efforts already underway. Among other problems, it would expand special protections to include same-sex couples. Men who are victimized by their male sexual partners would receive benefits under the law not afforded to heterosexuals. And with broadened definitions of who qualifies for services, the women who are most in need of the bill's protections would have diminished access to it.
First enacted in 1994 and reauthorized in 2000 and 2005, VAWA was noncontroversial among lawmakers in its first rendition; it sailed through the Senate in 1994 without objection. But that sentiment has since changed.
"If we had just a straight reauthorization, it would pass 100 percent," Sen. Chuck Grassley (R.-Iowa), ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, speculated in March. A report by Sen. Grassley, who is among a number of senators who have registered their complaints on the bill, also noted that a Department of Justice inspector general review of 22 randomly audited VAWA grantees from 1998-2010 found 21 of them "to have some form of violation of grant requirements ranging from unauthorized and unallowable expenditures, to sloppy recordkeeping and failure to report in a timely manner." This lack of accountability -- which includes one grantee found to have "questionable costs for 93 percent of the nearly $900,000 they received from the Department of Justice" in 2010 -- is hardly encouraging.
Pro-family groups, too, have been leveling attacks on the bill for months for its anti-family policies. Many of them expressed those concerns to the Judiciary Committee in February in hopes of derailing the bill. "We, the undersigned, representing millions of Americans nationwide, are writing to oppose the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)," Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land, along with nearly two dozen other religious and conservative leaders, wrote in a Feb. 1 letter to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "This nice-sounding bill is deceitful because it destroys the family by obscuring real violence in order to promote the feminist agenda."
"There is no denying the very real problem of violence against women and children. However, the programs promoted in VAWA are harmful for families. VAWA often encourages the demise of the family as a means to eliminate violence," they added.
Regrettably, a slim majority of committee members rejected that counsel, ultimately approving the bill in February on a narrow 10-8 vote. Now the battle lies in the full Senate, where those opposed to the new VAWA are facing significant pressure to support it. Allies of the bill are tagging its opponents as waging a "war on women."
But no matter how noble its title suggests, the Violence Against Women Act is the wrong answer to addressing ongoing domestic abuse. With a shortage of evidence to date of VAWA's success in reducing levels of violence against women, the war to decrease such violence and to ultimately strengthen the family shouldn't include reauthorizing a flawed policy that promises an expansion of the same.
Doug Carlson is manager for administration and policy communications for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission's Washington D.C. office. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).