“NO” on the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
This week, the Senate is expected to vote on the deceptively named Violence Against Women Act of 2013 (VAWA) (S.47). The bill would reauthorize and expand the 1994 law that made domestic violence – typically handled by state and local governments – a federal crime.
The Senate’s “reauthorization” of VAWA would broaden the definition of domestic violence to include causing “emotional distress.” This expansive and vague language will increase fraud and false allegations, for which there is no legal recourse.
It would also include radical changes that greatly alter the original purpose of the law, already problematic in its own right. Using federal agencies to fund the routine operations of domestic violence programs that state and local governments could provide is a misuse of federal resources and a distraction from concerns that truly are the province of the federal government. Simply expanding the VAWA framework with extensive new provisions and programs that have been inadequately assessed is sure to facilitate waste, fraud, and abuse and will not better protect women or victims of violence generally.
This bill also perpetuates the federal government’s practice of ineffective redistributionist policies. We have noted:
In an imperfect world, there will always be work to be done to prevent acts of violence. But the “solutions” put in place by VAWA are based on the idea that violence against women is a result of their “weaker social, political, and financial status.” Thus, the “substance of VAWA focused largely on redistributing power and resources to female victims.”
Moreover, there has not been a single large-scale, scientifically rigorous evaluation of VAWA’s effectiveness. This is underscored by the fact that there is not sound Constitutional grounding for the policies imposed by VAWA. Heritage has explained:
The VAWA would increase federal tax dollars going to groups who work on domestic violence issues, increase legal aid to victims, expand the definition of violence to include stalking and provide handouts to local courts to hire more counseling services. These ideas all sound good, yet they have no authorization in the Constitution. They’re more properly handled at the state and local level.
Additionally, for the first time in our nation’s history, the bill would allow non-Native Americans accused of domestic violence on tribal lands to be tried in those tribal courts, thereby eliminating the right of the accused to face a jury of their peers. Under VAWA, men effectively lose their constitutional rights to due process, presumption of innocence, equal treatment under the law, the right to a fair trial and to confront one’s accusers, the right to bear arms, and all custody/visitation rights. It is unprecedented, unnecessary and dangerous.
Expanding a constitutionally dubious law to include new groups would require more funding and resources in order to carry out the new provisions. This bill’s catchy name does not conceal the harmful, ineffective, and dubiously grounded policy inherent in it.
Heritage Action opposes the so-called Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and will include it as a key vote on our scorecard.