VAWA @ 20: Roll Back “Prison Nation”

Roll Back “Prison Nation”*

Donna Coke

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The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) represents an unprecedented federal focus on violence against women, both in terms of money allocated and in terms of changes in federal law.   VAWA dollars have increased services for victims including civil legal representation, shelters, and youth prevention programs.   The substantive law changes in VAWA include relief for some immigrant victims, expanded tribal court jurisdiction over certain instances of gender violence that occur on Native American land, and the provision that protection orders in one state are enforceable in another state. While VAWA has made these important positive changes in civil law and remedies, the most significant changes and the most significant dollars have been in the area of law enforcement. More than 50% of the current VAWA allocation is directed to training and support of police and prosecutors.

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VAWA @ 20: RAISING THE VISIBILITY OF THE MARGINS AND THE RESPONSIBILITY OF MAINSTREAM

Marcia Olivo, Sisterhood of Survivors/Miami Workers Center, and Kelly Miller, Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence

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Introduction

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) originated over twenty years ago from a movement lead by predominately white, middle class, educated women in a strong capitalist economy, who were outraged at the lack of response to violence against women and who looked to the criminal justice system as the solution. The federal legislation has been the foundation for addressing gender based violence in our country. In recent years, there is a growing understanding that the criminal justice system as the primary mechanism to end gender based violence is a false solution. Decades of mass incarceration of African American men and men in other communities of color have resulted in the “New Jim Crow” and the school to prison pipeline. Instead of helping youth get their lives back on track, incarceration in a juvenile facility is the greatest predictor of adult incarceration and adult criminality. The criminal justice response assumes that violence against women is an individual aberration and ignores the complexity of violence and the structural oppressions that sustain it. It also heightens the potential for state control of marginalized communities through police surveillance and interventions utilizing the criminal justice system.

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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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