The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is currently in the Senate awaiting debate and reauthorization. VAWA is the federal touchstone for how sexual abuse, especially domestic violence (DV), is addressed and funded nationwide. It has vastly expanded from its 1994 roots and epitomizes not only the inevitable drift of government toward greater power but also the dynamics of how the victimhood industry abets in and weaponizes this power.
Much of current politics devolves to the question of who has a right to speak for the victim. Speaking for victims is a massive industry through which politicians and advocates can achieve immense status and wealth. They can also implement unrelated agendas as long as they are attached to cries of racism or rape. No wonder there is stiff competition among victimhood professionals for who has the right to speak for victims so that they can acquire tax-funding and the weight of law. In the jostle for power and podium, however, the victims themselves are often lost in the shuffle so that no one seems to speak for them, except out of self-interest.
VAWA is an example of victimhood professionals and legislators damaging the very people they claim to protect. It expresses the ground game of most if not all social justice campaigns?
A social justice campaign begins by sculpting the definitions of what constitutes DV and who is viewed as a “victim” in order to make them useful to the “correct” narrative and policies. Whoever controls the definitions wins the argument.
The current VAWA uses and amends Section 40002 of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (34 U.S.C. 12291). DV is defined as “a pattern of behavior involving the use or attempted use of physical, sexual, verbal, psychological, economic, or technological abuse or any other coercive behavior committed, enabled, or solicited to gain or maintain power and control over a victim.” This vague and expansive definition would include lover’s quarrels (verbal abuse), threats of leaving the relationship (psychological), imposing a budget (economic), and sending emails repeatedly after a break-up (technological). It criminalizes common, nonviolent behavior so that government and law enforcement can intervene in the minutia of relationships to benefit one side. An example of an amendment: “Sexual contact is not a necessary component of such a relationship.”
Over time, VAWA’s has deeply embedded “the personal is political” into DV policies and law. The underlying theory of this slogan is that all actions and attitudes, however personal they may seem, have political significance; they occur within the political framework of an oppressive culture and impact society. Almost in self-defense, therefore, society has a ‘right’ to encourage—if not mandate—‘proper’ actions and attitudes; it has a ‘right’ to discourage improper ones, by law if necessary. This is the stripped-down core of political correctness and purpose of the social justice warrior.
The current VAWA deceptively designates a “person” who is subjected to the treatment defined under DV to be a victim. This is deceptive because VAWA, in its programs and rhetoric, is almost entirely directed toward women as victims and men as perpetrators. The only exception seems to be males in same-sex relationships. The wording of VAWA has changed over time, however, to reflect advocates awareness of the long-standing criticism that it excludes men who are subjected to DV at roughly the same rate as women. After all, the accusation of discrimination may call VAWA’s reauthorization into question. The Omnibus Crime Control And Safe Streets Act Of 1968 42 U.S.C. § 3789d, for example, prohibits discrimination in applying tax-funded grants. “No person in any State shall on the ground of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under…in connection with any programs or activity funded in whole or in part with funds made available under this chapter.” When criticism based on discrimination is cited today, VAWA advocates can point to the word “person” in the legislation even though its past implementations might as well have used the word “woman.”
Armed with obedient definitions, the next step toward social justice is to create an hysteria to establish the urgency of action. A common way to do this is to cherry-pick statistics that paint an alarming picture. Consider the VAWA section headed “Title IX, Safety for Indian Women,” especially on Native American women’s safety. It opens, “More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women, or 84.3 percent, have experienced violence in their lifetime.” The statistic comes from a National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NIPSVS), “Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men.” But VAWA makes a curious omission. Immediately after the 84.3 percent figure cited, the NIPSVS reads, “More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native men (81.6 percent) have experienced violence in their lifetime.” This is only 2.7 percent less violence than women but this data is ignored. If VAWA cares for “victims,” why the conspicuous omission?
The short answer: the omitted data do not support the social justice narrative or the goal of assisting the oppressed class of “women.” The dismal does not come from the ignorance of advocates or from indifference toward male suffering; they fear presenting an accurate picture. If a balanced discussion of sexual violence occurred, then their preferred group would lose its monopoly on victimhood; advocates would lose funding, status, and power.
Instead, they selectively use stats to declare a DV epidemic against women and to demand legislation. Often, the next step in a social justice campaign is to have carefully selected victims testify in public about about their suffering. The testimonials serve at least three purposes other than stoking hysteria. They allow advocates to ride a wave of moral and emotional outrage that sidesteps the need for reasoned arguments. They silence critics who appear to be callous and indifferent to the revealed agony of women if they ask questions. They also push aside inconvenient victims who interrupt the desired narrative; not all of these victims are male.
If the foregoing analysis sounds cynical, it is partly because I am one of the discarded victims. I am legally blind in my right eye due to a severe DV beating I experienced in my 20s. But I do not agree with the ideology, goals, methodology, or conclusions of VAWA. And I am convinced that my experience would have been much worse if I had been processed by the victimhood industry. For one thing, they would have insisted on that my blindness were caused by the system and culture. I knew it had been caused by one man—not by all men, not by society—by one man. I am not the voice VAWA advocates want to hear; I am one of the voices they need to silence. As such, VAWA and other DV advocates have been cynical toward me simply because I want to speak the truth of my own experience.
The focus of this article has been VAWA and DV but the dynamics explored apply to any of many expressions of the victimhood industry, including race. The victimhood complex a huge network of bureaucracy that directly results from “the personal is political.” But the personal cannot be found in a government agency. People will never be empowered by bureaucrats; people are empowered by speaking themselves.