When Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama announced his selection of Senator Joe Biden (D–Del) as his vice–presidential candidate, one of the two pieces of Biden legislation he saluted was the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. Biden, who has long been the principle architect of federal domestic violence policy, spearheaded VAWA’s two subsequent re–authorizations and calls VAWA “What I’m most proud of in my entire career.”
Biden means well, but he has consistently misunderstood the domestic violence issue and his legislation has harmed many innocent men. Given recent legislation Biden has proposed, as well as the promises made in the Democratic National Committee’s platform, Biden’s policies would be bad news for American fathers.
Biden says one of his main achievements has been “training police and prosecutors to arrest and convict abusive husbands instead of telling them to take a walk around the block.” While it is true that in past decades police sometimes didn’t take DV seriously enough, under Biden’s leadership, arrest and prosecution policies have lurched sharply in the other direction. The modern trilogy of mandatory arrest, the primary aggressor doctrine, and “no drop” prosecution policies has trampled the rights of the accused.
Greg Schmidt, who created the Seattle Police Department’s domestic violence investigation unit in 1994, says that mandatory/presumptive arrest laws force police officers to make arrests “in petty incidents, often where the abuse is mutual or it is unclear who the aggressor was.”
When mandatory arrest laws were first passed, they led to a sharp increase in the number of women arrested. This reflects what DV research has long showed: women are as likely to initiate and engage in DV against their male partners as vice versa, and women use weapons and the element of surprise to partially balance the scales. In response, the VAWA–funded DV establishment promoted the primary aggressor doctrine.
Under this doctrine, when police officers respond to a domestic disturbance call, they are instructed not to focus on who attacked whom and who inflicted the injuries. Instead, they are compelled to employ factors such as comparable size and strength, which will almost always weigh against men.
Under “no drop” prosecution policies, many cases of mutual, trivial, or nonexistent “violence” are prosecuted as if they are serious crimes—even when the alleged victim recants or asks that the charges be dropped.
VAWA has helped provide an easy avenue for disgruntled women to kick decent, loving fathers out of their homes and exclude them from their children’s lives via restraining (aka “protection”) orders. In the wake of VAWA, there has been an explosion of such orders.
When a restraining order is issued, the man is booted out of his own home and can be jailed if he tries to contact his own children, even though he has never been afforded the opportunity to defend himself in court. The hearings held two weeks later to make the orders permanent are often just a formality for which no more than 15 minutes are generally allotted.
Many prominent family law professionals, including leading members of the State Bar of California Family Law Section, are cautioning that restraining orders are too easy to obtain, are often used as child custody maneuvers, and that there are scant protections for the falsely accused.
Biden’s latest DV bill, the National Domestic Violence Volunteer Attorney Network Act, would create an extensive network of attorneys to provide allegedly abused women free lawyers to win child custody. Yet the bill has no mechanism to adjudicate whether the abuse claims made against the fathers are true.
Biden’s website says his family policies “help women take charge.” However, domestic violence policies which have put women “in charge” have led to abuses just as when men were in charge. What the DV system needs is balance, not prerogatives for either gender.
Biden was a single father who successfully raised his two sons after his wife and infant daughter were killed in a car accident in 1972. Yet, paradoxically, Biden says in family policy, “Moms and kids come first.” For nearly two decades Biden has put fathers last. VAWA has greatly weakened the institution of fatherhood, and has harmed fathers and the children who love them and need them.
- New York Daily News8/27/08
- San Jose Mercury-News9/3/08