Congress enacted the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 with laudable goals. It wanted to both prevent and treat intimate partner abuse, specifically against women in America. Since its enactment, the issue of domestic violence has been heightened in the public arena, and many abused women have received assistance not available prior to 1994. But has the law reduced the incidence of domestic, intimate abuse? And have the laws enacted at the state level given women what they need? A recent report by the non-partisan organization Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting is saying "no" in response to these and many other questions about the unintended consequences of VAWA, and is lobbying for an overhaul of the laws.
Intimate partner homicide statistics, for example, were already on a steady decline for nearly two decades prior to VAWA's enactment (as shown by Department of Justice numbers), and although they have continued to decline since then, there is no evidence attributing the further drop to the law.
The agency's findings show that rigid law enforcement policies, aggressive prosecution practices, expanded definitions of abuse and ineffective treatment can result in putting victims at increased risk, breaking up families and removing children from their homes.
In addition, treatment and counseling programs proscribed and funded through VAWA are far too often ideologically driven instead of scientifically based. Those programs are "absolutely ineffective, and have no discernible impact on rate of recidivism," according to psychologist Donald Dutton, quoted in the report.
"The appropriate help is not a (VAWA) batterer's intervention program," said Elizabeth Crawford, the agency's spokeswoman and director of the Domestic Violence Counseling Center in Charleston, W.V., who went on to say that such programs funded by VAWA are usually based on feminist ideology, not plausible theories and scientific proof. "The science-based therapy
is going to facilitate (abusers) changing their behavior," Crawford said, later adding that both victims and abusers must be educated as to the causes of their behavior before they can make strides towards healing. With current VAWA programs "they're not getting good information," she said.
"VAWAI was going to say it treats the symptoms but doesn't deal with the problemsbut I don't even think it treats the symptoms in a lot of cases," Crawford said.
For more information on RADAR and the VAWA, go to http://www.mediaradar.org.