Is VAWA As Successful As Biden Says It Is?

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Former Vice President Joe Biden’s behavior has been called into question after a number of women have spoken out about his handsy, out-of-touch nature. In his lengthy résumé, one item that Biden and his supporters tout as a nearly unimpeachable feminist success is the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Biden calls the 1994 bill his proudest legislative achievement. VAWA’s goal was to improve how police and prosecutors responded to the insidious problem of domestic violence, moving it out of the realm of private family matter and into the criminal justice system. It did, Biden boasts, reports the Huffington Post.

Annual rates of domestic violence have dropped by 63 percent since VAWA’s enactment, although experts say it’s unclear if the law is responsible for the decrease. Some 25 years after its passage, some advocates and scholars question whether VAWA’s steadfast emphasis on law enforcement to solve domestic abuse was the right call. They point to how the law resulted in some battered women being sent to prison, alongside their abusers. Years before the passing of VAWA, arrests were rarely made in cases of domestic violence. “The laws at the time, which should have sought to protect the most vulnerable, were furthering the horrific abuse women were experiencing,” Biden told HuffPost. VAWA incentivized collaboration between victim services organizations and criminal justice agencies, offering them grants if they partnered up. Cops weren’t making necessary arrests, and advocates complained criminal justice enforcers didn’t understand domestic violence. VAWA brought both sides together, creating an uneasy and sometimes uncomfortable alliance. Leigh Goodmark, a law professor at the University of Maryland, notes that the reduction in domestic violence rates from 1994 to 2000 simply mirrored the overall crime rate decrease. Between 2000 and 2010, domestic violence rates dropped even less than the overall crime rate did.

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