VAWA @ 20: HIV, VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN, AND CRIMINAL LAW INTERVENTIONS

Aziza Ahmed*

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The growing calls for the “securitization of body and property,”[1] documented by Jonathan Simon in his book Governing Through Crime, illustrates a deep tension in our understanding of the role of criminal law as a tool for societal transformation.[2] For some, including communities of color, the criminal legal system is a place where inequality flourishes;[3] for others, including those feminists who have support criminal law interventions, it has become a tool to realize equality.[4] The Trafficking Victims Protection Act, reauthorized in 2013 as an amendment to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA),[5] relies heavily on the criminal law to obtain its goals. Countering the conventional reliance on criminal law, critical feminist legal scholars concerned about the detrimental impact on poor communities and communities of color. They critique the criminal law orientation of TVPA and VAWA for contributing to the destabilization of communities, particularly, communities of color.[6] The carceral aspects of VAWA/TVPA also raise difficult questions for anti-violence advocates concerned about the war on crime, including, mass-incarceration. How has this “feminist war on crime,”[7] backfired?

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VAWA @ 20: Art, Violence, and Women

Yxta Maya Murray*

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Morrison v. United States threatens to shrink our understandings of the violence women suffer and the varieties of harmony they deserve. In that way this Supreme Court decision that struck down the Violence Against Women Act’s civil provision proved a disaster in far more ways than one.

Women often experience brutality, and seek—what, precisely? Ah, the old woman question. To understand these endurances and quests, we must fathom with far more precision what “violence” means to women, and what its opposite looks like to them. Until quite recently, such grand definitional projects seemed beyond the human ken. At the inception of second wave feminism, poet Muriel Rukeyser wrote: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.”[1]

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VAWA @ 20: THE POLITICS OF PRETEXT: VAWA GOES GLOBAL

Deborah M. Weissman*

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The twentieth anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides an opportunity to assess the meaning and consequences of the Act. VAWA and its subsequent Congressional reauthorizations represent efforts to protect women from gender-based violence in the realm of domestic politics. But with the introduction of a new bill, VAWA International (I-VAWA), Congress has signaled its intent to expand U.S. influence in the realm of violence against women as a matter of foreign policy. First introduced in 2007, and subsequently re-introduced in each succeeding session of Congress, I-VAWA seeks to “prevent and respond to violence against women and girls around the world, as a matter of basic human rights as well as to promote gender equality, economic growth, and improved public health.”[1] It proposes to “systematically integrate and coordinate” foreign policy and foreign aid programs in order to mitigate the harm caused by violence against women in the world at large.[2] I-VAWA creates a new office of Global Women’s Issues within the Department of State and establishes the position of Ambassador-at-Large within the U.S. Agency for International Aid (USAID) responsible for global assistance programs. It derives much of its programmatic initiatives from a 2012 document created by USAID entitled “United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally” (hereinafter 2012 Strategy) which articulates U.S. interests in assuming leadership in efforts to end violence against women: promoting global market economies, strengthening national security and defense, and assuring that such form of violence is recognized as a criminal and not cultural act.[3]

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VAWA @ 20: BUILDING THE KNOWLEDGE BASE: RESEARCH FUNDING THROUGH VAWA

Claire M. Renzetti,* University of Kentucky; Rebecca M. Campbell, Michigan State University; and Allison Adair, University of Kentucky

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The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has been credited with facilitating the growth in research on all forms of violence against women. In the first few years following passage of VAWA, funding for this research was provided by the Violence Against Women Grants Office (VAWGO), which today is known as the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW). In fiscal year 1998, however, dedicated funding for violence against women research and evaluation was legislatively appropriated to the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), which resulted in a substantial increase in empirical studies of the causes and consequences of violence against women as well as research on responses to both victims and perpetrators.[1] In an analysis of NIJ’s Compendium of Research on Violence Against Women, we identified 328 research projects that had been funded between 1993 and 2013, with a significant uptick after 1995.[2] This has undoubtedly improved the knowledge base on violence against women. As Auchter and Moore state, “We know a lot more about VAW today than we did when VAWA was originally passed because of the dedicated funds provided by the NIJ VAW program of research.”[3]

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Stalled at 20: VAWA, the Criminal Justice System, and the Possibilities of Restorative Justice

Leigh Goodmark*

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Since its passage in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has promoted a criminal justice approach to addressing intimate partner abuse. But VAWA has done little to provide people subjected to abuse with alternative avenues for seeking justice. VAWA could and should do more. Restorative justice is one option that future versions of VAWA might explore.

Since its inception, VAWA has required states receiving funding through its grant programs to adopt either mandatory or pro-arrest policies, sending the clear message that criminal justice intervention was the preferred method of addressing intimate partner abuse.[1] VAWA has also funded the implementation of no-drop prosecution policies, which encourage prosecution regardless of the victim’s willingness to participate.[2] As a result of these policies, in some jurisdictions women subjected to abuse are forced to testify against their partners, an outcome achieved through pressure, subpoenas, and in extreme cases, arrest and incarceration of the women who the system was meant to protect until their cooperation is secured.[3]

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VAWA @ 20: GENDER VIOLENCE AND CIVIL RIGHTS

Julie Goldscheid *

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The civil rights remedy enacted as part of the 1994 Violence against Women Act (VAWA) was widely touted as holding the promise to transform views about gender violence, to fill gaps in existing laws, and to help meet the constitution’s promise of guaranteeing equal protection of the laws. Although the law, which allowed survivors of gender violence to sue the perpetrator for money damages in federal court, had some critics, and although it did not reach as far as its drafters had hoped, many expressed outrage and disappointment when it was struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional in U.S. v. Morrison.[1] Recent statements by Vice President Biden announcing his plan to convene a Summit on Civil Rights and Equal Protection for Women and calling for a new look at a civil rights remedy,[2] remind us that the decision striking the remedy need not end efforts to consider how new and existing civil rights laws and initiatives might advance survivors’ options and shift cultural understandings of abuse.[3]

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VAWA @ 20: A DISAPPEARING ACT: THE DWINDLING ANALYSIS OF THE ANTI-VIOLENCE MOVEMENT

Kerry Toner

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I’m struggling to work in a world of domestic violence (DV)[1] services defined by the criminalization of DV. This is largely due to remedies created or strengthened by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), first passed by Congress in 1994. Want the violence to stop? Get an order of protection. Housing based on your status as a DV survivor? Produce police reports naming you as a crime victim. VAWA has been successful in its two central goals, at least on the surface: increased remedies within and improved access to the criminal legal system, and increased public awareness. However, its widespread impact has also been to reduce the extremely complex social phenomenon of DV to specific acts that can be easily absorbed into our existing legal structures. As sociologist Beth E. Richie has said, when we won the mainstream, we lost the movement.[2]

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VAWA @ 20: THE MAINSTREAMING OF THE CRIMINALIZATION CRITIQUE: REFLECTIONS ON VAWA 20 YEARS LATER

Mimi E. Kim*

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In 1991, Kimberlé Crenshaw drew sharp attention to the shortcomings of the feminist anti-violence movement, coining the term “intersectionality” to chart those vast regions occupied by racially marginalized women.[1]After the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) passed three years later in 1994, Mari Matsuda responded in a Ms. Magazine article featuring a haunting photograph of an electric chair.[2] At that time, she was among the few to raise public concern about the feminist alliance with the criminal justice system represented by VAWA’s attachment to the Crime Bill of 1994. Matsuda expressed not only her dismay over the carceral implications of the bill but, perhaps more so, the eerie silence from feminists seemingly willing to muffle any misgivings about collaboration with the criminal legal system under the thunder of self-congratulatory applause.[3]

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VAWA @ 20: VAWA IN THE LIVES OF BATTERED SOUTH ASIAN WOMEN IN THE UNITED STATES

Shamita Das Dasgupta, Ph.D., DVS

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The slapping, pinching my skin until bruises appeared, and twisting my arms behind my back began three days after my wedding. I thought this was the strain of the wedding and will pass when we start living together. But it never stopped. In a new country who would I talk to, who would listen to me? He kept saying no one would believe me, I don’t even speak English! He kept saying he will kick me out of the home in this country. My parents don’t want me back, they will be ashamed. They gave me a big wedding and expect me to be with my husband forever. My relatives will say ‘she hasn’t been able to satisfy her husband; she must have done something . . . My husband says, “You have nowhere to go, you are my naukrani,[1] and that’s how you will stay.” I have no choice.

As an advocate, I have heard some variation of the above lament in numerous South Asian languages since 1985, when I was fortunate enough to be a part of a six women team to co-found Manavi[2] in New Jersey. Organizing around intimate partner violence against women in a community that took overt pride in being a ‘model minority’ was difficult to say the least.[3] While the South Asian community denied the existence of all social ills, the mainstream[4] anti-domestic violence agencies of the time disregarded South Asian women’s distinct needs under the argument, ‘you are in this country now, therefore…’ Yet, South Asian women’s experiences of abuse in the home were palpable enough to warrant an organized community based response that was linguistically appropriate and sensitive to cultural nuances. Manavi’s birth was based on this premise.

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VAWA @ 20: THE GENDER JUSTICE MOVEMENT: THE FULLEST EXPRESSION OF THE FORMER BATTERED WOMEN’S MOVEMENT AND THE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE MOVEMENT

Tiloma Jayasinghe, J.D., Executive Director, Sakhi for South Asian Women

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How long are we going to push our movement to move, before it actually does? In academia, in activism, in front-line service work, and back-office messaging, the emerging mainstream of America is clamoring for a movement to end gender violence that embraces their identity and their needs. Historically marginalized communities may still be vulnerable because of structural oppressions that pose barriers to the fullest expression of their strength, but we are growing in size. How many times does Beth Richie have to note that feminists “won the mainstream but lost the movement” before we (and by we I mean all those with an anti-oppressive, intersectional lens to ending gender violence) capitalize upon that loss and form a more perfect movement?[1] “Challenges to the traditional feminist framing of intimate partner violence demand a “more nuanced framing that attends to the intersections of race, gender, class, and disability combined with our more robust understanding of abuse.”[2]

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