“I would remind Leader Cantor and his Republican colleagues of the seriousness of delay. Every minute House Republicans wait to act, another 24 Americans will become victims of domestic violence. Every day House Republicans stall, another three women will die at the hands of their abusers. Every year House Republicans put off action in order to please extremists within their own party more than 200,000 women will be sexually assaulted, more than 2 million women will be stalked and more than 1.3 million women will be abused by their partners.”
–Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
Sen. Reid drenches his recent official statement on the Violence Against Women Act in a fallacy of false causation.
Then-senator Joe Biden (D-Del.) sponsored the original Violence Against Women Act in 1994. The bill was renewed in 2000 and 2006, each time adding a few new provisions. The latest version proposed by Democrats also adds new provisions, and that’s where the sticking point occurs.
Jacey Fortin noted in the International Business Times:
The last version, signed in 2006 under George W. Bush, added still more programs to the bill, including Culturally and Linguistically Specific Services. And in 2010, the Justice Department ruled that criminal provisions in the bill could be applied in cases of same-sex partnerships.
So there is a clear history of expansion and liberalization of the Violence Against Women Act. But this time, some Republicans think it’s gone too far.
The “Violence Against Women Act” changes over time. The current difficulty in re-authorizing the act stems from the latest set of proposed changes.
Analyzing the Rhetoric
We find two major problems with Sen. Reid’s rhetoric.
The First Problem
Reid emphasizes that he is listing reasons why a delay in renewing the Violence Against Women Act is serious. That emphasis lays a groundwork for an implied cause-and-effect relationship. Each minute 244 million pounds of carbon pour into the atmosphere. Reid chose to mention the number of American victims of domestic violence per minute. Every day the planet loses over 80,000 acres of rainforest. Reid chose to mention the number of women who die at the hands of their abusers. Whalers harvest about 1500 whales per year. Reid chose to mention the number of women sexually abused, stalked and abused by their partners annually.
Superficially, Reid’s rhetoric makes sense. The Violence Against Women Act is not meant to address carbon dioxide emissions, deforestation or whaling. The logical connection drives the illogical conclusion Reid encourages.
We could attempt to verify the number of domestic violence cases per minute, the murders by abusers per day, etc. But that pursuit feeds the illegitimacy of Reid’s point. The numbers apparently come from the CDC’s 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, for what it’s worth.
The violence against women act will likely have a negligible effect on each of the numbers Reid cites. Clearly the Act will not eradicate murders of women by their abusers. Reid obtains the numbers from years during which the Act was in effect. The delay in renewing the Act has approximately the same effect on deforestation as it does on the murder of women by their abusers. Literally measuring the effect of the Act would prove very difficult. Reid sidesteps that problem by simply calling the Act “effective” and listing his set of statistics that do not measure the effectiveness of the Act.
Is The Violence Against Women Act effective?
A 2005 report advocating renewal of the Act lauded its effectiveness. But the report cited no evidence in the numbers of decreasing domestic violence. The updated version of that report claimed that the VAWA was effective:
VAWA has contributed to a significant reduction in domestic violence. Between 1994 and 2010, the rate decreased by 64 percent.
A 64 percent reduction in domestic violence sounds pretty good. But what part of that decrease should we credit to the VAWA? Following the source of the claim to a U.S. Department of Justice report did little to answer the question.
As the report shows, total violent crime statistics were trending down. The decrease in domestic violence appears to closely match the time frame for the most dramatic decrease in overall violent crime.
On what basis, then, do we conclude that the VAWA had any effect at all?
The DOJ report, in fact, makes no attempt at all to link the decrease in intimate partner violence to the VAWA.
All we appear to have is an incidental correlation in support of the measure’s efficacy.
The Second Problem
Reid’s attack on the GOP is hypocritical.
If a delay in passing the VAWA resulting in, for example, an increased number of dead women because of domestic violence, then congressional Democrats bear that blame in about equal measure to the Republicans, since the Democrats changed the existing version of the VAWA that Republicans supported in the past to a new version that Republicans have yet to support.
Democrats share responsibility for delaying the legislation, though one could certainly argue one side or the other could better justify its position.
Everyone deserves charitable interpretation. Unfortunately for Sen. Reid, we cannot reasonably take his list of reasons to avoid delaying passage of the new version of the VAWA seriously without some sort of evidence in support. Without some evidence Reid’s examples of the gravity of delaying the legislation occur because of the delay, Reid could with nearly equal relevance refer to unsanctioned whale hunting or the loss of rainforest acreage.
Taking his list of damages to women as something other than an implied result of delay is a bridge too far. We’ll grant Reid a true rating with maximal charitable interpretation solely under the assumption that the VAWA helps decrease violence against women at some unknown and unproven level. Whether the VAWA decreases violence or not, Reid’s statement strongly encourages the fallacy of the false cause. Reid’s fallacious argument draws additional strength from its emotional appeal. We’re supposed to feel outrage that Republicans will allow women to die in order to appease the extremists among them.
Since the data from 2010 cannot measure what happens in the absence of the Violence Against Women Act, Reid ends up constructing a false cause argument. Delaying passage of a new version of the Act does not have the effects that Reid cites. It may have some fractional effect or perhaps no effect at all.
Reid, Harry. “Reid Floor Remarks On The Violence Against Women Act.” Senate Democrats. United States Senate Democrats, 7 Feb. 2013. Web. 12 Feb. 2013.
Staff, CNN, Dan Merica, and Matt Smith. “Backers Hope to Revive Violence Against Women Act.” CNN. Cable News Network, 04 Jan. 2013. Web. 12 Feb. 2013.
Fortin, Jacey. “Violence Against Women Act: History Of Reauthorization, And Why Democrats Win No Matter What.” International Business Times. The International Business Times Inc., 16 Mar. 2012. Web. 12 Feb. 2013.
“The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28 Jan. 2013. Web. 12 Feb. 2013.
“VAWA Makes a Difference!” National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women. Reauthorize VAWA, n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2013.
“The Facts Supporting VAWA – S.47.” National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2013.
U.S.A. Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2010. By Shannon Catalano, Ph.D. Department of Justice, Nov. 2012. Web. 12 Feb. 2013.
Day, Tanis, Ph.D., Katherine McKenna, Ph.D., and Audra Bowlus, Ph.D. The Economic Costs of Violence Against Women: An Evaluation of the Literature. Rep. United Nations, 2005. Web. 12 Feb. 2013.