Big Money v. No Money: VAWA and the Men’s Rights Movement

Posted on September 7, 2014


The previous post was a response to research conclusions published this year by Dr. Kelly Behre, director of the UC Davis Law School’s Family Protection and Legal Assistance Clinic.

In a paper titled, “Digging beneath the Equality Language: The Influence of the Fathers’ Rights Movement on Intimate Partner Violence Public Policy Debates and Family Law Reform,” Dr. Behre asserts there’s an absence of empirical evidence to support various arguments and statistical estimates published by men’s rights advocates respecting false restraining orders, false allegations of domestic violence, and judicial bias against men in family courts.

Ironic is that Dr. Behre’s denial of men’s groups’ position that men aren’t treated fairly is itself unfair.

When Dr. Behre says there’s no “empirical support” for estimates like 60 to 80% of restraining orders are unnecessary or based on falsehood, she means there are no formal audits of the process to back them up. She further examines studies that have been pointed to and finds those studies “problematic.”

Dr. Behre may well be right that empirical support for the claims of men’s groups is scant, shaky, or at best anecdotal. It’s disturbing, though, that Dr. Behre doesn’t find the dearth of studies that could be cited as empirical support a source of concern.

Clearly she has interests in both justice and human welfare.

A truism in law is that those with no money have no voice. Men’s rights groups are not lavishly funded teams of crack Ph.D.’s (they may in fact represent ragtag groups of man-on-the-street volunteers), and many if not most of those represented by such groups are themselves on the outside of the system looking in.

In contrast, consider these facts from the chart “Comparison of VAWA 1994, VAWA 2000, and VAWA 2005 Reauthorization Bill” compiled by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) eight years ago.

  • Grand total of [federal] money allocated [under the Violence Against Women Act] from 1994 to 2011: $9.43 billion, including:
  • STOP (Services and Training for Officers and Prosecutors) Grants: $2.85 billion
  • Grants to Encourage Arrest Policies: $886 million
  • Rural Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Enforcement Grants: $555 million
  • Civil Legal Assistance for Victims of Violence: $588 million
  • Sexual Assault Services: $250 million
  • Education and Training for Judges and Court Personnel: $35 million

If battered women’s advocates like Dr. Behre find little empirical support for the plaints of men’s groups, they might at least find ample motive in these figures for systemic prejudice against men—and by extension all defendants who find themselves the targets of allegations of abuse (male and female).

While it’s noteworthy that comparatively little federal money has been approved for allocation to research studies, the magnitude of investment toward countering domestic violence is a clear pronouncement of priority, and this investment alone should suggest to a mind as trained and astute as Dr. Behre’s that allegations like “family courts discriminate against men and…mothers frequently and successfully make false allegations against men to obtain custody of children” entirely plausible.

Dr. Behre would call this observation a “commonsense argument” (“implying that the truth…is intuitively evident”).

Fair enough.

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