Opposition to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has some who advocate for victims of domestic abuse scratching their heads.
“We're sort of shocked this solid piece of legislation hasn't been more quickly reauthorized,” said Carmen Pitre, the co-executive director of the Sojourner Family Peace Center in Milwaukee.
Tony Gibart, policy coordinator for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, agreed: “It is surprising to me there has been opposition expressed.”
The landmark piece of legislation, first signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, was re-authorized in 2000 and 2005. When first enacted, the law provided $1.6 million to local law enforcement agencies and battered women shelters. The reauthorized law would continue with that funding, but it would expand efforts to reach Indian tribes and rural areas. Additionally, it would allow more battered illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas and would include same-sex couples in programs for domestic violence.
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the reauthorization Feb. 2, but all eight Republicans on that panel voted against the act that has a bipartisan group of co-sponsors. The VAWA now goes to the Senate for a vote. Pitre and Gibart said the same-sex and immigrant provisions were what the Republican lawmakers balked at, although Gibart also mentioned the heightened partisan political climate in Washington and Madison.
“There is bipartisan support for this issue,” Gibart said.
Wisconsin Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee) introduced the reauthorized act on March 28, (Ed. note: see embedded video for the introduction on the House floor) saying domestic violence is a “cancer that pervades our communities and our home,” noting the number of domestic violence incidents dropped more than 50 percent since the law was first enacted.
Rep. Moore could not be reached for comment, but in a press release, she said, “As a survivor of domestic violence I feel it is my personal responsibility to reach back and help those who have been victimized. … Domestic violence is not just a Democratic or a Republican problem. It is an evil that reaches across party lines.”
Some who oppose VAWA, however, do not cite party lines or concerns about same-sex partners and immigrant rights. A group called SAVE, Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, opposes VAWA because it discriminates against men, said Steve Blake, the Wisconsin coordinator for the Maryland-based nonprofit.
“The Violence Against Women Act is a misnomer,” he said, adding that most acts of domestic violence are “reciprocal,” “perpetuated by both men and women on a roughly equal basis.”
Additionally, Blake said VAWA funds training programs that “perpetuate the myth of women as victim and man as aggressor.”
“Right now, we're dealing with half the problem,” he said.
Blake also said that under VAWA, the perpetrator is assumed guilty, and temporary restraining orders can be issued without “due process.”
“The Violence Against Women Act was well-intended, but it has unintended consequences,” said Blake.
Pitre, however, said there is no evidence that due process is lacking under VAWA.
“I think there's evidence VAWA has not skewed evidence,” Pitre said.
“There is nothing that changes constitutional guarantees,” agreed Gibart.
And Pitre said services are available for men and women who are domestic violence victims.
“We take a stand that no one deserves to be victimized,” she said. “Our stance is if a man comes to us for services, he deserves the same dignity.”
Gibart, meanwhile, said he had no figures on reciprocal domestic violence, but he said the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, conducted by the Center for Disease Control in 2010, indicated that the impact to women victims is more far reaching. He said the survey found that women are four times more likely to be beaten, nine times more likely to be strangled, five times more likely to need medical assistance and six times more likely to need housing after experience an incident of domestic violence.
“Those kinds of disparities point to why it makes sense to call the piece of legislation the Violence Against Women Act,” he said. “We're talking about crimes that are, by and large, perpetuated against women.”