Public Comment

Ending Violence Against Women

Harry Brill
Saturday May 02, 2020 - 03:35:00 PM

Although the problem of gender inequality is on the minds of many Americans, among the worst manifestation, gender violence, does not receive the widespread attention that it deserves. The extent that women are severely assaulted is worrisome. Incredibly, one in four women are victims of physical violence committed by an intimate partner. Particularly terrifying, every year over 600 American women are shot to death by an intimate partner. In fact, 4.5 million women have reported being threatened by a gun.  

The economic and social impact are also serious. According to one estimate, women lose an aggregate of 8 million days of paid work that exceeds $8 billion per year. It is no surprise that victims of domestic violence are more likely to develop addictions to alcohol, tobacco, or drugs.  

The concern about women victims of violence did not escape Congress. Particularly important was the role of Joe Biden, who as a Democratic Party U,S. Senator in 1994 proposed and strongly advocated the very important Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). It is a landmark law that has changed the way our country responds to domestic violence.  

VAWA recognizes that domestic violence is a federal crime. The law has doubled penalties for repeat offenders. Also, VAWA has created a network of services for victims. The legislation provides funds to investigate and prosecute those who commit violence against women. As a result of the law intimate partner violence declined from 1994 to 2010 by 64 percent. 

Also, congressional support for the law has encouraged the adoption of similar legislation by many states. One of the states, California, also prohibits an abuser with a police record from owning a gun. A violation could carry a heavy prison sentence. 

Since VAWA has been enacted Biden has maintained his commitment to addressing the problem of gender violence. Twenty years later, in 2014, when Joe Biden served as Vice-President to Obama, he worked with the President to create a task force to protect students from sexual assault. 

Also, many states have enacted similar progressive legislation. But the National Rifle Association (NRA), which is the major lobbyist for the gun industry, is unhappy about any law that sets a limit on owning a gun. So it has developed ways to bypass progressive federal and state laws. One major alternative is conducting gun shows. At about 5,000 public venues a year guns are displayed on tables for those who want to purchase guns. Moreover. background checks of buyers are rarely required. So there is no legal mechanism to prevent an abuser in an intimate relationship from repeating his abusive behavior with a weapon in hand. 

Also, the same principle applies to those who sell guns privately, that is, from their own homes and even via the internet. And just like the gun shows, no background checks are required.  

But since committing physical violence against woman has been defined as a criminal act shouldn’t women call the police? Surprisingly, according to a national survey only 12 percent of women who did not call the police were fearful about doing so. Rather, most women complained that the police were not helpful. 

Nevertheless, despite the complaints, contacting the police does matter. Among married women who were assaulted, 41 percent who did not contact the police were assaulted again within six month. But only 15 percent who notified the police were victimized again. Although 15 percent is still too high, the gain in calling the police is substantial. So even though many women were unimpressed with the police, their presence apparently intimidated many men. 

So despite the problems, the police should not be ignored. Instead, it is immensely important that they be persuaded to do their job, which is to support the safety and well-being of abused women. For police are in a position to play a major role protecting women against assaults. Even the threat of arresting abusers could deter many men,  

It is important for communities to develop good relationships with their police departments. They can do so by supporting some of the concerns of the police, including for example, testifying on their behalf for an increase in the police budget. Cooperating with the police will encourage the police to cooperate with the community, 

Together, the police and the community can develop programs to educate the public on the issue of domestic violence. The role of the community is to make it clear to the police that complaints of abuse by women be taken very seriously. There are no exceptions to the legal and moral obligation of the police to defend the safety, dignity, and human rights of women. 


Women who would like to discuss confidentially at no cost their physical mistreatment by a male with a trained and experienced person should call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. The service is available 24 hours a day, and can provide a staff member to speak to you in any language.