September 29, 1999
By Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.
Testimony before the Subcommittee on Crime / Judiciary
Committee United States House of
Mr. Chairman, I thank you for the honor of being asked to
testify on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. I
must stress, however, that the views I express are entirely my own,
and should not be construed as representing any official position
of The Heritage Foundation. The work of those who help battered
women and children is to be commended and to be supported, for it
is difficult work and few feel competent to venture into the world
of violence to rescue those caught within. While resources and
money will be needed to treat abused women and children (and abused
men) the real issue now confronting Congress is to discover how to
turn off the violence and anger before it grows so deep and
vicious. I must stress , however, that the views I express are
entirely my own, and should not be construed as representing any
official position of The Heritage Foundation.
In the United States, we have constructed for ourselves a
culture of rejection and alienation.
To understand the rise in domestic violence, it is
necessary to see the bigger picture, the change in our national
culture, the change in us as a people. Some cold hard facts are in
order, and all of us, either directly or through our extended
families are part of this picture.
This chart is the simple and sad story of the alienation
between the sexes in America. Of all those men and women who come
together most intimately to bring children into this nation, today
the vast majority of them cannot stand each other enough to stay
together to raise the child. In 1950, for every hundred children
born, 12 entered a broken family (4 through out-of-wedlock birth, 8
through divorce). By 1993 (our last year for accurate data from
HHS), for every 100 born, almost 60 entered a broken family: (33
out of wedlock and 25 from their parents divorcing). From1995 data
from the Federal Reserve Board Survey, we know that only 40 percent
of American children reach age 18 with their parents' first
marriage intact.Is this abuse of women the result of such a
Abuse is more likely when there is drug and alcohol abuse
in the home, by either male or female. The men who abuse will more
likely have been abused by the men in their mothers' lives as they
grew up, and often by their mothers, too. Also, IQ will likely be
lower for both man and woman, not in all cases but as a trend, as
we know from poverty research. In our increasingly complex world,
such lower IQ points to the growing urgency for caring tight-knit
communities. Without such communities, such men and women will just
grow in frustration, in anger or depression.
Neither the nation nor Congress has a clear picture of
what the family and community patterns of violence are. We need to
know accurately who is being abused, by whom, in what family
circumstances, with what other impinging problems-what income, what
family and religious worship backgrounds. Congress and the nation
need a full picture if we are to begin to grasp the problem and
look forward to reversing it. At present, we all are flying
blind.Congress and the Nation Are Flying Blind.
In the United States, we have no data, despite the
National Incidence Survey on Children , on the family structure
within which the abuse of women takes place. However, from Great
Britain, we know that the differentials by family structure are
dramatic for serious child abuse, and astounding for fatal child
abuse. (The Canadian data are even more dramatic).
In Great Britain, the rates of abuse are lowest in the
traditional married family, six times higher in the step family,
fourteen times higher in the single mother family, twenty times
higher in the single father family, twenty times higher also when
both biological parents cohabit rather than marry, and thirty three
times higher when the mother cohabits with a boyfriend. When
measuring fatal abuse of children, the rank order is almost the
same but the differences get exaggerated. It is very dangerous for
a child to be away from his father. Or putting it pointedly, the
traditional family is the safest place for the child-by
If Congress is serious about coming to grips with
domestic violence, if it is serious about educating itself and then
the nation, it first needs to know what is going on. Else Congress
can do nothing but react with the sad and helpless response of
giving more money for more needed programs: on the one hand,
compelled by the brutality involved to demonstrate some heart; on
the other hand, feeling frustrated that the future continues to
look so bleak. Congress should take what would be a rather small
percentage of the VAWA money and construct a National Incidence
Survey of Domestic Abuse and Neglect if it is to get to the heart
of this issue (and many others related to it).
The last National Incidence of Child Abuse and Neglect
study cost about $3 million to execute. Drawing on the experience
gained in the three waves of that survey and expanding upon it to
include the men, women and children involved and the extra
developmental costs involved, Congress should allocate $6 million
for the study.
The 106th Congress should require the Department of
Health and Human Services to develop and execute such a survey and
report back to the 107th Congress with a clear description of the
family and community patterns where abuse is most likely. Secondly,
Congress needs to know how to rebuild caring communities and
Congress, for the good of the nation, needs to find out
if it possible to turn communities around: if it is possible to set
changes in motion that will reduce violence, in the short and the
If Congress stays focused only on the treatment and
enforcement model, as is the case with WAVA, then the next
reauthorization will be a frustrating and disheartening
reauthorization because of the continued growth of communities of
alienation, rejection and violence. A social policy that is
composed only of a treatment and enforcement model is a
prescription for despair. It is unbalanced because it does not
point to where we should be heading to turn around our culture of
violence. Left as it is, the VAWA is a prescription for continued
abuse and a continued cycle of intergenerational violence. It could
be described as a codependent relationship between the helping
organizations and programs and the problem they work to overcome.
It is incomplete. However, with a strategy to rebuild families and
communities of care, the picture would be very different. To get
there, Congress has some serious work to do.
What the nation needs is a picture of where it wants to
go. With that and with a picture of where it is (from good survey
descriptions), it will be possible to plan the road out of this
nightmare. Without these two basics, Congress is lost, rudderless,-
a helpless repository of nothing but money.
Congress ought to take leadership in fostering the hope
that America can reverse its culture of rejection by encouraging
the community entrepreneurs who are doing significant good in their
own area to come together with a few small communities and see if
they can revitalize a whole community by working together.
Preventing domestic violence is about turning around families and
communities and transforming them from hostile, violent places to
caring, nurturing communities. Can it be done? Can we restore
virginity among teenagers and courtship among young, unmarried
adults? Assure decent basic housing among our poorer Americans,
especially those raising children? Make school attendance and
achievement of basic market skills the norm? And create communities
where most families regularly worship God?
There are people out there who are doing these different
tasks: Habitat for Humanity, Best Friends, AA, Big Brothers and Big
Sisters, Marriage Savers, Charles Ballard, Wade Horn, Bob Woodson
and John Dilulio, and others all are doing parts of this. Governor
Tommy Thompson has likely had a significant effect on domestic
violence in Wisconsin by having a huge effect on the culture of
poverty. He has learned how to harness disparate parts of the
community to get serious and make a difference.
Congress ought to encourage some communities to step
forward, and even bring a few such communities together with some
of these entrepreneurs. Our children need it if they are not to be
present victims and future victimizers.
The nation will not reduce crime and family violence by
only treating the wounded. It will reduce these evils only by
growing the good: by recreating communities and families of care.
If our social policy strategy stays locked into its present
treatment models, in crime, poverty, addiction, violence against
women and children, and the myriad other funding streams, then so
divided, both Congress and the nation will continue to be conquered
by this culture of alienation, rejection and violence.
Patrick F. Fagan
is William H.G. FitzGerald Fellow in Family and Culture is
Title of The Heritage Foundation,
To understand the rise in domestic violence, it is necessary to seethe bigger picture, the change in our national culture, the changein us as a people.
Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D.
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