Reexamining the Violence Against Women Act

On behalf of Maynard & Sumner, LLC posted in Domestic Violence on Thursday, February 28, 2013.

After a prolonged political battle, the House of Representatives has sent President Obama the revamped and renewed Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA) for signature just today. The reauthorization of the bill is being heralded as a victory for women nationwide. However, the prolonged debate over the bill’s renewal has raised an important matter of debate that should continue past the signing of the bill.

One of the primary goals of VAWA is a reduction in the rates of domestic violence that occur annually in the United States. The legislation is written in such a way that the primary mechanisms for achieving this goal are law enforcement officers charged with arresting alleged offenders.

Certainly, the criminal justice system functions to hold individuals accountable for illegal acts. However, it also aims to prevent crime from occurring in the first place and to prevent first-time offenders from becoming repeat offenders. If we as a nation are focusing primarily on locking alleged domestic abusers up rather than treating those with abusive tendencies so that they do not offend in the first place or return back to jail for similar offenses, are we really reaching the primary goals we are setting for ourselves?

In addition, mandatory arrest provisions may be causing the problem of domestic violence to exist underground with increasing frequency. Experts suggest that VAWA’s emphasis on arrest above all other courses of action is leading domestic violence to persist in many homes where victims are hesitant to call law enforcement or are holding out that anger management and other tools will eventually solve the issue.

No one can dispute that domestic violence is a sincere problem in our society and must be addressed. However, the debate over the renewal of VAWA has led a great many Americans to question how we are addressing the issue and whether our approach should be reformed. Hard evidence and the principles that define the criminal justice system seem to suggest that reform is indeed necessary.

Source: TIME, “What’s Wrong with the Violence Against Women Act?” Kate Pickert, Feb. 27, 2013

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