Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Violence is Violence, No Matter What Gender

Guest blogger: Samantha Aster, NWPC Legal Intern

After reading comment sections and posts responding to articles on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, it seems that one of the most prolific criticisms of the act is that it focuses solely on women. Many ask why women are singled out as a protected group when men are the recipients of domestic abuse, too. Some go further, suggesting a Violence Against Men Act.

Why does VAWA focus on women? Because up until the last 150 years or so, women were considered the property of their husbands, fathers, and brothers. And as property, women did not have very many legal rights and protections. Men could do as they pleased with the women in their households, including physically and sexually abusing them. While there has been some progress, the government has been slow to act on increasing certain protections for women. For example, the first federal law making marital rape a criminal act was not passed until 1993. And even still, many states have exemptions from prosecution for husbands who rape. Today, women continue to be the most frequent victims of domestic and sexual violence. VAWA was passed to help a group that has historically suffered violence combat continuing and future abuse.

But the Violence Against Women Act is not entirely gender specific. The spirit of VAWA is to help all victims of violence, and the bill gives prosecutors and police tools to help them, regardless of gender. Male victims who contact VAWA-funded groups are granted the same advocacy services as female victims.  Male and female victims have the same access to pro-bono legal services. VAWA increased resources for families who deal with domestic abuse, which helps both men and women in these families. In 2005, VAWA was expanded to fund and provide sexual assault programs that better meet the needs of male victims. And these protections work well for men: since the law passed in 1994, the number of men killed by an intimate partner has decreased 57%. These are just some examples of how men and women are protected under VAWA.

Ultimately, these criticisms of VAWA are unfounded. While VAWA was originally passed with the idea of helping women, the act actually works to combat violence against both sexes. VAWA must be passed in a way that maintains the important protections that already exist for both men and women. Domestic violence affects us all, so it is time for Congress to pass VAWA and protect us all.  

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