Mention the word “authoritarian” and images come to mind of COVID mask mandates and arrogant school boards laughing off concerns about critical race theory. But authoritarianism in America goes back many years before “two weeks to flatten the curve” became a laughable prelude to arbitrary mask mandates.
In 1994, then-Senator Joe Biden celebrated the passage of his pet bill, known as the “Violence Against Women Act,” a piece of legislation very relevant given that Tuesday is International Women's Day.
How could any person doubt the good intentions of lawmakers who supported a law with such an innocent-sounding name?
Researchers knew full well that men and women were equally likely to engage in domestic violence. But concerns that the VAWA law ignored female-on-male violence were shrugged off. After all, the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees “due process” and “equal protection of the laws,” so no cause for worry. Right?
But it soon became clear that the movement to end domestic violence was being co-opted by a feminist crusade to stereotype men as abusers, weaken the family, and expand the power of the state. History would reveal the Violence Against Women Act to be one of the gravest threats to the Constitution in American history:
- First Amendment: Freedom of speech -- Civil law definitions of domestic violence include things like “annoyance,” “emotional distress,” and “harassment.” Such psychological states are typically caused by speech that is protected under the Constitution, but perceived by a partner as offensive.
- Second Amendment: The “right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” -- The Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban of 1996, often referred to as the Lautenberg Amendment, bans the ownership of guns by individuals who are under a final restraining order for domestic violence.
- Fourth Amendment: Citizens must be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects.” – VAWA promotes the issuance of no-contact orders that typically force a person to leave the house within one hour. Such orders are issued ex parte, meaning the expelled person, usually the man, is given no opportunity to tell his side of the story.
- Fourth Amendment: There must exist “probable cause” before a person can be “seized.” – From the beginning, VAWA has promoted “mandatory arrest” policies. Mandatory arrest is a clear violation of the plain meaning of “probable cause.”
- Fourteenth Amendment: No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property “without due process of law.”
- In most states, civil law definitions of domestic violence are overly broad, to the point that it is difficult if not impossible to disprove an allegation of abuse.
- VAWA funds the training of prosecutors and judges. Such training programs have been shown to present one-sided information, thus biasing the criminal justice system against male defendants.
- Fourteenth Amendment: “No State shall make or enforce any law which…den[ies] to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” – Despite men being perhaps more likely than women to be the victim of domestic violence, four out of five persons arrested for domestic violence are men, according to the Department of Justice (Table 5.9).
A report issued by my organization, the Coalition to End Domestic Violence, estimates that each year, two million persons experience violations of their constitutional rights as a result of VAWA-driven policies. This arguably represents the biggest civil rights roll-back in American history since the Jim Crow era.
Commentator Robert Franklin sums up the civil rights debacle this way:
For many years, feminists “lied about the facts of DV [domestic violence] in order to tar men as the sole abusers of women and demand radical changes in the law and police practice. Governments, seeing an opportunity to expand their power, readily agreed. Individual women soon came to understand their ability to recruit state power against their male partners. Due process of law went out the window as police were trained that, in any case of alleged DV, it was the male who was at fault. He could be removed from his home, children, and belongings, and placed under a court order solely on the say-so of his wife/girlfriend. DV restraining orders routinely violated the most obvious constitutional strictures.”
Once the Constitution is jettisoned for the chivalrous cause of protecting women, the proverbial slippery slope becomes a precipitous cliff. The most recent version of the Violence Against Women, S. 3623, introduced in February, shows this to be true.
First, the VAWA bill endorses the notion of “coercive control,” which includes verbal and psychological abuse. Verbal and psychological abuse are never defined, but certainly include loathsome honey-do lists and spousal nagging. Ladies, are you ready for that?
Second, the bill promotes the concept of “victim-centered, trauma-informed” investigations. In practice, “victim-centered” means accord greater credibility to the complainant rather than to the accused. And “trauma-informed” means interpret any inconsistencies in a person’s testimony as proof of the enormous trauma she has putatively suffered.
Imagine that. Simply accuse your spouse of nagging, and you get the house, the kids, and years of child support. No impartial investigations or messy court hearings necessary.
Edward E. Bartlett is the president of the Coalition to End Domestic Violence.