The Role of the State

When working for Legal Momentum this summer, I had it drilled into my brain that fostering social change through the implementation of new policies was the chosen method because of the universality of laws and the respect they command. I didn’t ask myself until recently how things like implicit bias—something I also learned about through my internship—created “unintended consequences” based on years upon years of socially ingrained opinions that were often formed as a result of policies—like the Jim Crow Laws.

One of the major critiques against VAWA is the part it plays in a much larger crime bill that unfairly targets racial minorities and places too much emphasis on the role of the state. Despite the fact that moving onto “state terrain” often paves the way for getting more resources and funding, it often ties the influence and direction of bills to “traditional moral values” or the “patriarchal structure of society” promoted by the state. As evidenced in Bumiller’s book In An Abusive State, the battered women’s movement core philosophy was anti-state—“part of the core beliefs of the grassroots movement was that the shelter was both a physical and symbolic boundary between women’s space and the violence of the male world.” Another critique is that VAWA is “a limited remedy that fails to protect women or to discharge the United States’ obligations under international law,” due to its non specific language, lack of funding, and inadequate protection for victims of domestic violence. Because of the aforementioned critiques of VAWA, would it make sense to refocus the direction of the Violence Against Women movement, away from the criminal justice system and towards policies that favor community-based responses and dispute resolution? More importantly, is it even possible for this to happen?

I don’t claim to be an expert on the violence against women movement, I’ve never proposed a policy nor do I even know how to go about making that happen, but I have a grasp on what works and what doesn’t. Economic power is social power. Putting less emphasis on what happens to perpetrators and more emphasis on rebuilding the lives of their victims is what will create empowered women instead of perpetuating the creation of the broken family. People underestimate how powerful communities really are—in advancing movements, pushing activism, but most importantly, in helping their own members. If the Violence Against Women movement is to get past the restrictions of bureaucratic red tape and truly help women, perhaps they should look to the individual communities to foster these principles.

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