In 1994 President Clinton signed into law the Violence Against Women Act, a bill that provided federal funding for women’s shelters, anti-domestic abuse programs and other initiatives intended to protect women’s rights. Included in the law was a provision defining “a crime of violence motivated by gender” as “a crime of violence committed because of gender or on the basis of gender and due, at least in part, to an animus based on the victim’s gender.” However, the inclusion of criminal penalties for gender-based crimes was struck down by the Supreme Court May 15 in U.S. vs. Morrison.
Now activists and members of Congress are pushing to re-authorize the sections of the original law left in tact by the Court – mostly the provisions funding women’s groups. The new bill has more than 200 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and nearly 60 in the Senate, but it still has not come to a vote on the floor. The congressional term will end soon. The reauthorization must be passed now.
Violence against women is an American epidemic. Reports of vicious acts of domestic abuse, rape and sexual assault fill the nation’s newspapers, televisions and radios. These crimes must end, but not at the expense of others’ rights.
Providing federal funds to groups intent on ending violence against women deserves the strongest efforts of elected representatives. Government must act to protect its citizens. Education on the effects of violence, support for victims and strict enforcement of existing laws are the proper ways to accomplish this goal. Creating a new criminal statute for crimes against a specific group is improper and violates the principles of American government.
The 14th Amendment provides “equal protection of the laws.” No group or individual may be granted less protection than any other. But the converse should also hold true: no one deserves more protection.
Congress must act to fund programs that diminish the detrimental effects of violence against women. Police and prosecutors must use the tools already available to ensure that perpetrators are caught and punished. Everyone must work to end violence everywhere, against anyone.
This article appeared in the September 25, 2000 issue of the Hatchet.