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Predominant Aggressor Policies are Blatant Gender-Profiling
Just Arrest the Man
In 2001 the U.S. Department of Justice instituted a little-noticed change in its funding requirements for grants awarded under the Violence Against Women Act. As a result, the federal government awards millions of dollars each year to states that have instituted so-called “predominant aggressor” policies.
These policies represent a shameful end-run on hard-won civil rights and 14th amendment guarantees of equal protection under the law.
These 19 states currently have gender-biased predominant aggressor policies: Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Mandatory Arrest: Good Intentions Gone Terribly Wrong
The 1994 and 2000 versions of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) encouraged states to enact mandatory arrest laws, and paid them millions of dollars to enforce these laws.
But a Harvard University study found mandatory arrest increases subsequent partner homicides by nearly 60%.
Mandatory arrest has turned out to be a law enforcement disaster for other reasons:
1. Mandatory arrest discourages persons in need from calling the police for help.
2. Mandatory arrest silences the voices of victims who want their abuser to be restrained, not arrested.
3. Mandatory arrest has a disproportionate impact on African-American communities.
4. Mandatory arrest places police officers at greater risk of injury, according to a 2005 survey.
5. Mandatory arrest brings hundreds of thousands of trivial cases into the criminal justice system, diverting resources away from those who need our help the most.
These problems became apparent several years ago, and the 2005 reauthorization of VAWA went from a mandatory to a “pro-“ arrest stance. Unfortunately, VAWA did not incentivize states to repeal these harmful policies. As a result, not a single state has repealed its mandatory arrest laws since 2005.
“Criminalization of social problems has led to mass incarceration of men, especially young men of color, decimating marginalized communities.” — Ms. Foundation for Women
Band-aid Approach Goes from Bad to Worse
The easiest and most effective solution to harmful mandatory arrest laws would have been for the Department of Justice to stop funding such programs. But instead, the DoJ Office of Violence against Women made a critical change to its funding requirements.
Beginning in 2001, grant recipients would need to “demonstrate that their laws, policies, or practice and their training programs discourage dual arrest of the offender and the victim.”
And how did states go about discouraging dual arrest? By instituting a controversial Band-aid solution: predominant aggressor policies.
Open Invitation to Gender Bias
Many predominant aggressor policies are blatant examples of gender-profiling:
• In Roanoke, Va., one criterion is “Height/weight of parties.” Translation: Arrest the man!
• In Montana, the “apparent strength of each person” is a determining factor. Handcuff the male!
• In New Hampshire, Ohio, and Wisconsin, the officer is instructed to identify which party appears more fearful. Take him away!
Nice in Theory, Vexatious in Practice
In many states, vague and confusing predominant aggressor policies represent a law-enforcement nightmare:
• 3 states require the police officer to possess clairvoyant powers in order to predict the “risk of future injury.”
• 14 states rely on “prior complaints of domestic violence,” ignoring the fact that many of those complaints were minor or even false.
• 13 states tell the officer to assess the severity of the injuries of each party, ignoring the effect this could have on true victims.
Research shows “women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners,” according to Martin Fiebert, PhD of California State University.
Even though women are equally likely to abuse, 81% of dating violence arrests target men and 35% are against African-Americans — revealing a disproportionate impact on Black men.
“Domestic violence touches the lives of Americans of all ages, leaving a devastating impact on women, men, and children of every background and circumstance.” — President Barack Obama, October 1, 2009
Each year the federal government awards $65 million to states to promote domestic violence arrests and enforce predominant aggressor policies. This money is awarded under Section 102 of the Violence Against Women Act.
Congress needs to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. But first, Congress needs to investigate the scandal of Abusegate: Why is so much money going for programs that are placing victims at risk and trampling on persons’ fundamental civil rights?
“The real tragedy of Abusegate is that victims of genuine partner abuse are still left without hope and support.” — Columnist Trudy Schuet
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