by Sarah Buel
They are run over by cars and buried alive. Their teeth are smashed out with hammers. They are raped with objects and strangled and dumped in remote areas to die. They are tied up and forced to watch the sexual molestation of their children. They are drugged and forced into prostitution.
Am I describing atrocities committed against women and children in foreign countries at war? No, these are American intimate-partner violence cases with which I’ve worked as a prosecutor, advocate and clinic director for the past 35 years.
As an abuse survivor, I am proud to have been part of the team that drafted the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), testified before Congress and, finally, saw its bipartisan passage in 1994 and its bipartisan reauthorization in 2000 and 2005.
First, the statistics are staggering.
The Department of Justice reports that about four American women are murdered each day by a current or former partner. If foreign terrorists were killing four Americans a day, we’d likely fire up the F-16s, reinstitute a mandatory draft and assign National Guard troops throughout the land. The American Medical Association asserts that American women are in more danger in their homes than on the street — a situation the VAWA can help change.
Second, the VAWA is highly effective, essential legislation funding critical programs that otherwise could not exist.
These services are the difference between life and death for many female and male victims of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, stalking and human trafficking. The VAWA will augment judicial and law-enforcement tools, improve housing and economic security for victims, strengthen America’s families by preventing violence, enhance the health-care system’s response, and increase safety for high-risk Native American women.
Third, the VAWA is a cost-effective mechanism to assist a broad array of survivors.
Violence against women is expensive — just medical care, lost work productivity and lost wages constitute more than $5.8 billion per year. San Diego economists report it costs about $2.5 million to bring a domestic-violence murder case from arrest through incarceration. Severe head injuries can cost upwards of $500,000 per year to treat, and because they are often debilitating, taxpayers may assume the bill when insurance ends. It is estimated that just during its first six years, the VAWA saved about $14.8 billion in prevented net social costs.
Fourth, the VAWA helps interrupt the intergenerational cycle of family violence by helping the non-violent parent flee and ensuring the children grow up in a stable, safe environment.
Children growing up in violent homes may learn that it is OK to be abusive to get what you want and thus have a higher likelihood of later involvement in the courts.
Fifth, the VAWA has been a fundamental part of this nation’s public-safety strategy since 1994, engendering coordinated community responses to domestic and sexual violence.
Finally, the concept of “homeland security” must include protection from domestic-partner terrorists as well as from strangers and political terrorists. Congress should immediately reauthorize and fully fund the Violence Against Women Act.
Sarah Buel is a clinical professor of law at the Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, senior adviser to the Halle Center for Family Justice and director of the Ruth V. McGregor Family Protection Clinic.