This week in class we discussed the legal considerations of violence, with specific discussion of the prosecution of perpetrators of interpersonal violence (IPV). Dr. Kay Levine’s lecture and assigned readings looked at how few domestic violence crimes actually get prosecuted and sentenced in this country. There are multiple biases (or at least pre-conceived notions) that play into how (or whether) domestic violence crimes are prosecuted and sentenced, such as the belief that a violent crime between two intimate people is somehow less severe than the same crime between strangers; or that a crime between two people of the same socioeconomic class seems to be less “offensive” than an upwardly mobile crime; and that a sexual assault between two people who know each other does not fit the concept of a “real” rape (Grosso, Baldus, & Woodworth, 2010; Daly & Bouhours, 2010; .
The timing of this discussion was appropriate, after a year of bipartisan bickering in Congress over the reauthorization of The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The Act finally passed in February of this year, after being allowed to expire in 2012, for the first time since it’s initial passage in 1994. Despite GOP efforts, the law was expanded to include additional provisions to protect members of Native American tribes and those living in such territories (who were not receiving protection previously), and to specifically include people in the LGBT community (who have historically been marginalized with regards to protections from interpersonal violence). As well, the law includes protections for men and boys, and strengthens federal penalties and further enables prosecution of rape crimes. The Act funds training of law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges on the realities of domestic violence, and requires that protection orders be recognized in all states and tribal and territorial jurisdictions within the U.S.
Not surprisingly, here in Georgia, both Republican Senators, Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, voted against the VAWA, as did each of the nine Republican congressmen in the state. (One representative, Paul Broun, went so far as to vote, along with eight Republican Congressmen from other states, against a resolution to allow the House of Representatives to even consider re-authorization of the Act.) Only the five Democrats in the state voted in favor of the bill. Some rhetoric notwithstanding (regarding funding in the face of uncontrolled national debt, and the assertion that domestic violence is an issue to be managed by individual states), in general, Republican legislators have opposed VAWA because of the specific inclusion of Native American women and LGBT women. In fact, they introduced (but failed to get passed) a version of the bill that did not include such language.
Sadly, this knuckle dragging by Georgia legislators is reflected in the state’s handling of domestic violence. Georgia has consistently ranked poorly in its prevention of violence against women. In 2009, Georgia was the 10th highest in the nation in homicides of women by men, most of which were cases of IPV. There seems to be a culture of acceptance of violence against women, as being partly appropriate and partly unavoidable, as evidenced by the need to separate myth from fact by the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which refutes claims that victims have done something to bring the abuse on themselves, or that abusers tend to be somehow disadvantaged (and therefore excused?).
Why are some legislators so opposed to a law that would fund proven successful efforts at preventing violent crimes against vulnerable people? Unlike the limitless efforts by the NRA to prevent legislation to restrict availability of certain firearms, we can’t point the finger at an Anti-Female lobby spending huge sums of money to keep women in their place. It can only be that gender biases and biases against alternative lifestyles still exist in too many minds of the gender that continues to dominate every branch of our government. Which brings us back to our low rate of prosecution and sentencing of domestic violence crimes.
Curry, T. R. (2010). The conditional effects of victim and offender ethnicity and victim gender on sentences for non-capital cases. Punishment & Society, 12:4 (p. 438-462).
Daly, K.; & Bouhours, B. (2010). Rape and attrition in the legal process: a comparative analysis of five countries. Crime and Justice, 39:1 (2010) (pp. 565-650)
Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 2012. Myths and facts. http://gcadv.org/general-resources/common-myths-about-domestic-violence/
Grosso, C. M.; Baldus, D. C.; Woodworth, G. (2010). The role of intimacy in the prosecution and sentencing of capital murder cases in the U.S. Armed Forces, 1984 – 2005. New Mexico Law Review.
Israel, J. (2013). The nine Republican men who won’t consider the Violence Against Women Act. Thinkprogress. http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/02/27/1649381/nine-republican-men-against-vawa/
Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives (2013). http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2013/roll055.xml
Whitehouse.gov (2013). http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/vawa_factsheet.pdf