Violence Against Women Act Sanctions Rights Violations

Democrats are hoping to make political hay by characterizing Republicans’ opposition to the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) as “anti-woman.” Republicans are right to be against the Act—unfortunately, however, not for the reasons they cite—as ought all who favor the rule of law and due process.

VAWA was originally passed during the Clinton administration, and has been reauthorized twice in the intervening years. Senate Democrats have taken advantage of the current reauthorization exercise to add some riders to which some Republicans object, most notably one that would liberalize the issuance of visas to allow illegal aliens to stay in the country in order to testify in such cases. Following on the recent Republican-led “anti-woman” objections to President Obama’s free contraception mandate, Democrats are delighted to have the excuse to oversimplify the current debate as opposition to the very Act itself (despite the fact that Democrats roundly rejected a Republican version to reauthorize the Act without the riders). One can almost hear the sound-bite: “Republicans want to keep women beaten and pregnant.”

The argument over riders aside, the Rule of Law by definition provides for equality under the law regardless of gender, race, creed, etc., and no one should favor an act so blatantly sexist. Violence is violence, and can be dealt with perfectly well under a system of law that rightly holds accountable those who commit such acts. Further, women are just as capable of assaulting men as vice versa—as they increasingly do.

But this Act goes far beyond simple discrimination to actively circumvent law as we understand it: accusers need provide no proof and are not held accountable for lying. The accused can and are summarily jailed, denied access to their children, and put under restraining orders on nothing more than the say-so of a woman who may very well be acting out of anger, a desire to retain marital property or sole custody of their children, or just plain whimsy.

The Act has redefined “domestic violence” to include dirty looks, name calling, or simply the “intuition” (imagination) of a woman that the accused is thinking ill thoughts. As you may recall, TV host David Letterman was put under a restraining order from a woman he did not know who claimed he was sending her secret messages in his monologues!

The Act funds “training” for judges—retraining, more accurately—to be taught that under the terms of VAWA, the usual standards of due process, rules of evidence, and access to a defense are to be set aside.

The accused is guilty until proven innocent, but the deck is heavily stacked against him to be able to do so. The Act pays the legal fees of the accuser, but not the accused. Perjury laws do not apply. The accused generally can not confront the accuser in court. In practice, the accused is simply railroaded: you’ve been accused, sign a confession and get out on a plea bargain under which you are barred from future contact with the accuser, your children, your home, your children’s school, etc., or stay in jail on felony charges you can’t disprove.

If you think I’m kidding, take a look at this chilling admission—on national television—by a woman who felt her husband’s “disrespecting” her justified a false police report that put him in jail for 10 months:

Any advocate for justice should be appalled by the letter and implementation of this Act. Violence is serious, and every perpetrator needs to be held accountable. But doing so requires simply a justice system that deals blindly with actual crime, that upholds standards of proof, and provides restitution to victims and their families. Redefining terms and criminalizing behavior is nothing but a recipe for injustice on a grand and arbitrary scale.

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute. Having received her A.B. in economics from Stanford University, she is Managing Director of Lightning Ventures, L.P., a San Francisco Bay Area investment firm, former Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Salvation Army of both San Francisco and Alameda County, and Vice President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California.
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