Violence Against Women's Act is a true product of Washington's swamp
The "deep state" is commonly defined as “a body of people, typically influential members of government agencies or the military, believed to be involved in the secret manipulation or control of government policy.” The grassroots is commonly defined as an organization in which ordinary people are the main body of membership. Throughout America, the deep state and the grassroots are in conflict. The current push to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) illustrates the standard deep state tactic of blocking grassroots voices from hearings and the other preliminaries that define law. The tactic also omits the grassroots concerns, such as due process for those accused of sexual violence.
On March 20, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on reauthorizing VAWA, which expires in September; the act must be reauthorized every five years. Given the lovefest tone of the meeting, VAWA will be renewed. Another indication of renewal was the list of non-Congressional speakers invited to address the Committee. They included: Amanda Nguyen, the main force behind the 2016 Bill of Rights for Victims of Sexual Assault; Tracy Prior, chief of the Family Protection Division of the San Diego County, California and a prosecutor for 20 years; and, Katharine Sullivan, a principal deputy director for the Office on Violence Against Women of the Department of Justice. All strongly advocate VAWA. They are veterans at lobbying legislatures.
Grassroots critics were absent. The Coalition to End Domestic Violence (CEDV) was excluded, for example, despite repeated attempts to contact committee members, including Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). CEDV is a network of families and organizations working to reform VAWA so that “the values of family preservation, limited government, and constitutional protections, will no longer be under assault.” The conservative Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) joined the call for more diverse discussion and for “common sense reform over ideology.”
What are some “common sense” reforms that are not being heard? IWF’s policy statement on the 2013 VAWA, which is the one being reauthorized, observed, “Although there is little credible evidence that VAWA programs are reducing the effects and occurrence of domestic and sexual violence, there is evidence that several of the policies ... may actually be backfiring. Although approximately $25 million in VAWA funds go to support mandatory arrest policies, intimate partner homicides have substantially increased in states that have implemented such policies.”
The policy analysis also alleged that VAWA had inadequate “safeguards to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse. Several VAWA grant programs, IWF claimed, duplicated each other or those in other agencies.
Moreover, the “Department of Justice Inspector General has also found that a significant amount of funds are not being spent on servicing victims. Nearly all of the grantees audited by the Inspector General between 1998 and 2010 had violated grant requirements. Last year, the Department of Justice also uncovered several cases of outright fraud and embezzlement.”
Proof of VAWA’s effectiveness and accounting for funds are reasonable requests that should not occasion controversy. They do. Objections and questions about the act are met with a backlash that demonizes the source as anti-victim or rape apologists. The accusations silence some critics and marginalize those who continue to speak out. They do not speak at official procedures, however.
No wonder more substantial issues were not raised at the Senate hearing. A CEDV observer lamented, "[T]here was no mention, even in passing, of the fundamental concepts of due process, constitutional protections, or the presumption of innocence, on campus or beyond." If misuse of funds cannot be raised, truly controversial issue, like due process for those accused, do not stand a chance.
There is an irony. Even if VAWA is reauthorized, the act may never be effectively implemented. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that President Trump’s new budget fully funds VAWA, but the president notoriously shifts position. And funds within federal agencies can be easily directed away from VAWA by Trump, who has a poor history in dealing with violence against women as an issue. After a year as president, he still has not nominated a candidate as director of the Office on Violence Against Women.
Trump may view VAWA as a Democrat, liberal cause. Passed under President Clinton, it was written by Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) and championed by Hillary Clinton. In 2013, Obama reauthorized it with a flourish. Perhaps Trump views VAWA as primarily an expression of the deep state, which he loathes.
Whether Trump is an “establishment elite” or a grassroots president, he packages himself as a man of the people. Blunting VAWA might well be seen as a victory for the grassroots by his base. Certainly, the Democratic outrage will not bother him.