On the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization

Testimony Marriage and Family

On the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization

September 29, 1999 6 min read
Patrick Fagan
Former William H.G. Fitzgerald fellow
Former William H.G. Fitzgerald fellow in family and cultural issues at The Heritage Foundation.

Testimony before the Subcommittee on Crime / Judiciary Committee United States House of Representatives

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 culture?

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 far.

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 families.

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 long term?

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.


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Patrick Fagan

Former William H.G. Fitzgerald fellow