Violence Against Women Act

It’s not really our job to question people’s motives.  It is possible that advocates of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) are well intentioned with regard to protecting women.  That being said, the policy is a proven failure and, since it is a federal law, it inappropriately gives the federal government authority that has historically and constitutionally been reserved to the states. 

CQ reports (sub req’d) that the House and the Senate are still struggling to come to a compromise with regard to the reauthorization of VAWA.  The vice president of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, Terri Poore, fears that the bill won’t be reauthorized in time saying, “to see all that work fall by the wayside would just be heartbreaking.”

Members of the House are concerned, in part, with a provision in the Senate version “that would raise fees to pay for an expansion of visas made available to undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic abuse and cooperate with law enforcement in the prosecution of their assailants.” House leaders contend that “the Constitution requires such revenue increases to originate in the House and have called on the Senate to remove the provision.”

Harry Reid (D-NV) calls the flaw a ‘hyper-technical budget issue’ that the House could work around “if it wished.”  On the other hand, House bill would also force the Senate Democrats and some Senate Republicans — which have been pressured by a number of advocacy groups as well as the White House to expand the scope of the bill — to make concessions…but let’s be honest, tweaking an already flawed law doesn’t make for good policy.

With each reauthorization of the bill, some contend, it has been “strengthened.”

However, strengthening the bill is a questionable characterization.  If by strengthened they mean making it more of an encroachment on states’ police powers, then yes, there could be truth to that statement.  If they mean that it has been improved, that is unlikely, since the “General Accounting Office concluded that previous evaluations of VAWA programs “demonstrated a variety of methodological limitations, raising concerns as to whether the evaluations will produce definitive results.”

In light of this debate, it is important to look at what Heritage has identified as some of the most concerning flaws in the legislation:

  • “The bill engages in mission creep by expanding VAWA to men and prisoners, despite the lack of scientifically rigorous evaluations to determine the effectiveness of existing VAWA programs;
  • The bill expands upon the already duplicative grant programs authorized by VAWA; and
  • Without precedent, the bill surrenders the rights of Americans who are not American Indians to racially exclusive tribal courts.”

Heritage also exposes the flawed philosophy behind VAWA and demonstrates how such a philosophy undermines equal protection:

“The VAWA initiated an extensive federal role in combating sex-based violence. Because proponents of the law argued that violence against women is a form of social control perpetuated by—according to their arguments—women’s weaker social, political, and financial status, the substance of the VAWA focused largely on redistributing power and resources to female victims. This philosophy of group victimhood undermines equal protection and the rule of law and has been detrimental to the protection of victims generally.”

Heritage also explains that the original intent of the law — to reduce domestic violence against women — is eroded by the addition of men and prisoners to those covered by the law’s protections.  Not only this, but since the programs authorized by VAWA were created, there has not been rigorous scientific study to evaluate the effectiveness of the law in accomplishing its supposed goals.  Finally, there is the problem of duplication, meaning that there are already functions sanctioned by the law that are duplicated by already existing federal agencies.

Heritage Action has key voted against the Senate’s VAWA reauthorization and, with the law becoming increasingly flawed with many of its revisions, we are only emboldened to continue our opposition.

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