Monday, February 20, 2012

What is the beef with VAWA

The mainstream perception of domestic violence also impacts the resources that are available to battered men. For example, the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women, the only national toll-free hot line that specializes in helping male victims of domestic violence, has faced numerous roadblocks in its search for funding. In Maine, where the helpline is based, the surest route to funding is through membership in the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. But, according to Helpline director Jan Brown, the Coalition refused to even issue the program an application for membership, effectively denying it access to funding. Today, 45 Helpline volunteers field 550 calls per month, 80% of which are from men or people who are looking for help on behalf of a man. Operating with a yearly budget of less than $15,000, it provides intensive training to its workers and offers victims housing, food, bus tickets and a host of other services. The Helpline's sheltering services are informal and ad hoc, largely because its lack of access to funding makes a shelter financially impossible. In fact, of the estimated 1,200 to 1,800 shelters in the U.S., only one -- the Valley Oasis shelter in Antelope Valley, Calif. -- provides a full range of shelter services to men. And, on average, less than 10% of OVW funds allocated to fight domestic violence are used to help men. The next step is to admit that domestic violence is not a male or female problem, but rather a human problem, and that a lasting solution must address the cruelty -- and suffering -- of both sexes. ->

Almost all violence prevention and treatment programs are based on the assumption that partner assault is almost exclusively a male crime. [...] Program providers are committed to the idea that men are almost always the only violent partner, and that male dominance is the problem rather than the dominance of one partner regardless of whether it is the male or female partner, as was found as long ago as the 1975 National Family Violence Survey (Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980). They remain committed to the belief that “patriarchy” is the overwhelming cause of partner violence rather than just one of many causes. Consequently, they are unwilling to create gender-inclusive programs that can be studied. Some states, such as Colorado, prohibit joint treatment, even though numerous studies (some cited earlier) have found that both parties are typically violent. Violence is most often a family system characteristic, and joint treatment is usually needed to treat systemic problems. At the national legislative level, the Violence Against Women Act effectively blocks funding gender-inclusive services that could be studied. [...] The politically based blockage of gender-inclusive programs will eventually change, and the research community needs to be ready to begin empirical investigation of the new prevention and treatment modalities as soon as they begin to emerge. The change will come about by the same political processes that enabled the women’s movement to create a national recognition of wife beating as a major problem and to create services for battered women. There is a small but increasingly influential men’s movement starting to change the political climate. For example, they have lobbied members of Congress to make the renewed Violence Against Women Act gender inclusive. In New Hampshire, the legislature created a committee on the status of men. There is a hotline for male victims and another that is explicitly gender-inclusive. Both have been refused funding under the Violence Against Women Act; however, legal action is being taken to reverse that, just as legal action was crucial in the effort to force police and prosecutors to treat violence against women as the crime that it is. ->

Several themes arise from these data on callers to the only hotline in the United States devoted to male victims of IPV. [...] Many of the men were victims of their spouses using the system, which is designed to aide female victims of domestic violence, to their advantage. The female abusers were able to successfully get restraining orders under false pretenses, and thus labeled the male victim as the abuser. Female abusers with children were able to threaten to take the children away from the male victim or even threaten to hurt the children so that their husbands would comply with their abuse. These women probably knew that they could behave in this manner because the system is designed to help not only female victims of domestic violence, but mothers as well. Because male victimization is not widely recognized or accepted as a serious form of victimization (Steinmetz, 1977; Straus, 1997), these women were able to use the system to their advantage so that the women were viewed as victims, not the men. [...] In addition, these data gave some information regarding some of these men’s experiences with the system, the same system that their female abusers’ have sometimes used against them. Several men, before finding the DAHM, were turned away and/or laughed at by other hotlines designed to help victims of IPV. Moreover, a few men who experienced severe violence from their abusers reported that they either were forced to enter a batterers’ program or were referred to batterers’ programs. What these results show is that a system that has been set up to help victims of IPV is unavailable to half of the population. Male victims, unless they come upon the DAHM, may be unable to find resources to help them change or leave their abusive situation, and in many ways, they are revictimized by the system. This situation has occurred because the current system that has been developed to deal with victims of IPV is heavily influenced by the prevailing feminist perspective on domestic violence, which states that victims are women and perpetrators are men, and that any violence by women is solely in self-defense. The results from these male victims of IPV show otherwise: males can be victimized by females, and thus, the system that is currently in place to help IPV victims is inadequate because it at best ignores and at worst revictimizes many of those victims. ->

Section 304, which governs the treatment of sexual violence charges on college and university campuses, requires that cases involving allegations of violence or stalking provide for "prompt and equitable investigation and resolution." What's worrisome about this language? Will Creeley of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) points out that "prompt and equitable" is a term of art under federal anti-discrimination law. It's construed by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights to require a low standard of proof ("preponderance of the evidence") in sexual misconduct cases. This standard was explicitly mandated in an earlier version of the VAWA reauthorization bill, and it was adopted by the Department of Education in a controversial April 2011 directive. It is practically a presumption of guilt. As former DOE official Hans Bader has explained, it means that "if school thinks there is as little as a 50.001% chance that the accused is guilty, the accused must be disciplined." And, as I noted here, it means that the students may be suspended -- or expelled -- and exposed to civil and criminal liability on the basis of an inquiry that affords them little due process. Moreover, if an accused student is not found guilty, even under this very low standard of proof, his or her accuser may be afforded a right to appeal (under section 304) exposing the accused to double jeopardy. [...] These low standards of proof, together with the appeals provisions, reflect the tendency of victim advocates, including Obama Administration officials, to err on the side of presuming guilt in sexual misconduct cases. Some have unabashed contempt for the rights of the accused: Boston attorney Wendy Murphy writes disdainfully of "lawyers for men accused of rape (who) injected themselves into college disciplinary proceedings demanding 'due process' and arguing that accused students have a constitutional liberty interest at stake." The accused have no constitutional claim to due process, she writes approvingly, but "student victims of sexual assault" do, "because sexual assault is a form of gender discrimination." Perhaps. But if violence against women is a form of gender discrimination, so is the systematic denial of due process to "men accused of rape." It is also a prescription for false convictions. ->

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is up for reauthorization this year and Congressman Ted Poe, Texas Republican and long time I-VAWA supporter, says he would now support re-writing the legislation as gender neutral. [...] VAWA has more than 60 passages in its lengthy text that exclude men from its benefits. For starters, the law's title should be changed to Partner Violence Reduction Act, and the words "and men" should be added to those 60 sections. Congressman Poe, a member of the House Judiciary committee, argues that men can still apply for the same services women apply for under the current law, but said: "I certainly agree with equal protection under the law. And maybe a name change is in order." He added, "Certainly, I think that’s something that we could consider, because the law applies equally between men and women under the act already even though the name says only women. So I’m open to changing the name. Domestic Violence Act. I like that phrase." Mr. Poe also supports replacing the word “woman” in the legislation to a non-gender specific term like “person” or “men and women” or “men or women.” “The Constitution uses ‘person.’ They thought of it long before we did, so 'person' is an appropriate term,” he noted. ->

About Patricia Overberg:

From 1990 to 1998, Patricia directed the Antelope Valley Domestic Violence Council in Lancaster, California, also known as the "Valley Oasis" shelter. After realizing male victims had no place to go, she courageously changed her women-only policy by setting aside one of her shelters for male victims and their children, and in rare cases of overflow she would obtain consent from residents in another one of her shelters to mix the sexes, which, she says, never created a problem. Nonetheless, Patricia was mistreated by other shelter directors who insisted services should only be for women. The mistreatment became so severe that she filed a complaint with the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. In 2004 Patricia encouraged NCFM to file a lawsuit to end the discrimination against male victims and their children. NCFM filed the lawsuit in 2005 and in 2008 won a landmark appellate victory that held it is unconstitutional for the State of California to exclude male victims from the state laws that fund domestic violence services. The case is David Woods v. Horton (2008) 167 Cal.App.4th 658 and can be read at

Or take this report ->

A new addition via NSWATM commenter Schadrach:

“(A) Nondiscrimination.–No person in the United States shall on the basis of actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity (as defined in paragraph 249(c)(4) of title 18, United States Code), sexual orientation, or disability be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity funded in whole or in part with funds made available under the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (title IV of Public Law 103-322; 108 Stat. 1902), the Violence Against Women Act of 2000 (division B of Public Law 106-386; 114 Stat. 1491), the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005 (title IX of Public Law 109-162; 119 Stat. 3080), the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011, and any other program or activity funded in whole or in part with funds appropriated for grants, cooperative agreements, and other assistance administered by the Office on Violence Against Women.”

Because I’m pretty sure that clearly qualifies that VAWA funds cannot be used in a way that discriminates one the basis of actual or perceived race, color, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability. Oh, wait there was another paragraph right after that…

“(B) Exception.–If gender segregation or gender-specific programming is necessary to the essential operation of a program, nothing in this paragraph shall prevent any such program or activity from consideration of an individual’s gender. In such circumstances, alternative reasonable accommodations are sufficient to meet the requirements of this paragraph.”

…unless they are discriminating against males (or trans folk, what with that actual or perceived bit), then it’s OK so long as they claim that it’s needed and provide a “separate but reasonable” alternative. There’s one important thing missing here: define reasonable. It’s certainly a lower standard than “equal”, but where exactly does it lie?

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