Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Protections for domestic violence victims - a controversial issue?

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a subset of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, was signed into law in 1994. The passage of VAWA addressed the lack of significant legislation addressing domestic violence, making domestic violence a national priority. VAWA initially sought to provide legal protections for victims of abuse (for example, legally recognize orders of protection across state borders) as well as federal funding for domestic violence shelters and non-profit outreach organizations, a national domestic violence hotline, and youth education programs—to name a few.

Since then, it has expanded to include dating violence and stalking, legal assistance to victims, and the creation of new programs, including the National Resource Center of Workplace Responses. The results are obvious—since 1994, “non-fatal, violent victimizations committed by intimate partners [have] declined by 63%” (NNEDV).

Phyllis Schlafly, however, raises her voice in opposition to VAWA in "A Good Father's Day Gift"—her argument buried behind quips of “noisy feminists." Although she states that feminists stereotype women as victims and men as perpetrators, her article—her argument—hinges on generalizations about women.

For example, Schlafly argues that VAWA incentivizes false charges of domestic violence, or that all women, when armed with the opportunity (or in this case, legal backing), will freely accuse men of assault. She characterizes verbal abuse as “annoyance” or the use of a “naughty word”—a viewpoint that completely reinforces a rape culture in which small acts of violence and hostility are normalized. It reinforces a rape culture that downplays spousal abuse as “arguing” and marital rape as a sexual obligation inherent to a relationship.

Schlafly goes further to assert that shelters are centers of indoctrination that “promote divorce, marriage breakup, hatred of men and false accusations, while rejecting marriage counseling, reconciliation, drug-abuse treatment and evidence of mutual-partner abuse.” These centers, Schlafly argues, do not just exclude men, but actively encourage man-hating (one of the easiest cards to draw against feminism, and a false one at that).

According to NCADV (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence) , 85% of victims of domestic violence are women, and in regards to sexual assault, 91% of victims are female, while 9% are male (National Sexual Violence Resource Center). One of Schlafly’s arguemnts is that VAWA (a bill, to use Schlafly’s words, that “feminists lobbied [for]”) provides federal funds for shelters that turn away men.

In response to this I argue that feminists worked hard to pass VAWA and to secure funding for resources for domestic violence, shouldn’t men do the same? If VAWA does not address male sexual assault and domestic violence, then that should be some impetus to create new legislation.

This argument is very similar to other arguments I’ve heard before—do you open up an existing space to others or do you create your own space? I remember this argument was applied to the UCD feminist film festival, as a student critiqued the festival for largely excluding male-directed films. Another student responded--then why not create another film festival that includes both female and male-directed films? Why force a group to accommodate when it is their space?

I’m all for collaboration and inclusion, but I think this argument holds some weight. I don’t think that groups should have to bend over backwards to accommodate others. What do you think about this argument, as well as Schlafly’s other arguments?

Photo credit: Rainer Ebert on Flickr

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