VAWA must stop the hateful stereotypes

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Senate Judiciary Committee recently held a hearing on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Americans certainly should do all we can to stop partner aggression…but does that mean it’s fine to batter the truth?

In order to convince over-burdened taxpayers to pony up the nearly $400 million for VAWA’s wide-ranging criminal justice programs, proponents have tucked into the law a series of alarming findings designed to play on the chivalrous impulses of male lawmakers…and the darkest fears of their female constituents.

[box type=”note” icon=”none”]To put the issue into perspective, every good study has found that women are as likely as men to haul off and slap, kick, or punch their partners. And when women are maimed, more often than not, it’s the female who started the melee.[/box]

Professor Martin Fiebert at California State University has compiled the results of over 250 studies, concluding “women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners.” The problem is especially worrisome with high school girls who, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, are 25% more likely than boys to be the instigators of partner abuse.

So welcome to the world of VAWA-land, where statistics are blithely sliced, diced, and cherry-picked to the point that they bear little resemblance to the truth. Here’s just a sampling from the make-believe smorgasbord….

First, the over-wrought generalizations. One of the VAWA findings avers, “One out of every 3 Indian women are raped in their lifetimes.” But that statistic is based on the responses gathered from a grand total of…ready for this?…88 women.

Second, the creative mangling of the truth. VAWA claims, “There is a strong link between domestic violence and homelessness. Among cities surveyed, 44 percent identified domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness.” But according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors report that is the basis of the claim, domestic violence is only the fifth leading cause of homelessness.

[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]The CDC says the actual percentage is less than 1%. But hey, when we’re talking about a subject as important as domestic violence, any number will do.[/quote] Next come the weasel words. One finding states solemnly, “the former United States Advisory Board on Child Abuse suggests that domestic violence may be the single major precursor to child abuse and neglect fatalities.” But according to the far more authoritative National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, children living in single-parent households face an 80% higher risk of experiencing serious injury or harm from neglect. In other words, breaking up a family on account of minor abuse constitutes a far greater risk to kids than the initial incident of partner abuse.

Then we come to the one-sided claims: “40% of girls ages 14 to 17 report knowing someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend.” Shocking indeed, except it fails to mention the percentage of teenage boys who know of someone assaulted by a girlfriend, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 40%.

This brings us to the gross misrepresentations: “Each year about 324,000 pregnant women in the United States are battered by the men in their lives. This battering leads to complications of pregnancy, including low weight gain, anemia, infections, and first and second trimester bleeding.”

Outrageous? Now do you want to hear what the research really says? According to the analysis published by Julie Gazmararian in the Maternal and Child Health Journal, in her words, “we can estimate that between 152,000 and 324,000 women experience violence during their pregnancies.”

So VAWA conveniently omits the fact that the actual number may be 152,000, not 324,000. And most incidents of “violence” consist of a minor shove or slap – a far cry from what most people think of as “battering.”

Ready for the galloping falsehood? “37% of all women who sought care in hospital emergency rooms for violence-related injuries were injured by a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend,” the VAWA finding screams. But the US Centers for Disease Control says the actual percentage is less than 1%. But hey, when we’re talking about a subject as important as domestic violence, any number will do.

And now the grand finale, the gender vilification: “in a national survey of more than 6,000 American families, 50% of men who frequently assaulted their wives also frequently abused their children.” This claim is based on the 1985 National Family Violence Survey. Look closely at Table 14.2 of that study, and you’ll see that child abuse rates for abusive moms and dads are nearly identical.

Overall, VAWA contains dozens of alarming findings that depict a nation of women besieged by loathsome men incapable of containing their abusive impulses. Each year the federal government spends $84 million on domestic violence education and training programs that spew flawed statistics, one-sided claims, and undeserved stereotypes.

It’s time we stop the misinformation and hate.

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