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Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Should be rewritten to be gender neutral: "Violence Against Women Act"

This is a great point! VAWA should be renamed The Sexual And Domestic Violence Act and rewritten so that it is gender neutral.

Here's a great op-ed piece that was sent to Pelosi....

24 January 2013

Protect our vulnerable boys! Rename and rewrite VAWA so it is gender-neutral.
This is an open letter to Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi, who strongly supports reinstating the gender-biased Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). For the past 18 years, VAWA has been renewed without public debate. VAWA fails to support boys and men who are victims of sexual and domestic violence. It also fails to acknowledge that women perpetrate sexual and domestic violence against children and adults.

I mailed a hard copy of this letter to Nancy Pelosi, along with a list of studies and reports supporting my statements. I sent a similar letter to Governor Maggie Hassan of NH, who also supports VAWA. For this post, I included a partial listing of the resources. I also redacted my address and information personal to my family.

As a child advocate, I feel it is my duty as a professional to demand equality, compassion and fairness in laws that have the potential to help or harm children.

January 24, 2013
Office of the Democratic Leader
H-204, US Capitol
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Honorable Leader Nancy Pelosi,

I am a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, a children’s rights advocate and former social worker. I have worked with children of all ages and families in various roles for 20 years. I am a registered Democrat, a strong humanitarian and community activist. I am requesting that VAWA be renamed The Sexual And Domestic Violence Act and rewritten so that it is gender neutral.

I am writing to express my dismay at how politics have infected the fields of human services in the past several years, to the point where I am seeing a chronic lack of compassion and a dangerous apathy towards the suffering of male victims of sexual and domestic violence. I have worked hard over the years to protect all people from suffering. Sexual and domestic violence are the tragic consequences of people who grew up with severe childhood trauma, whose needs have not been met to such a degree that they act-out in violence as a means to cope. I have always worked to try to heal children and families to prevent the cycles of violence from spreading. However, in my work with youth and families, over and over I come across unspoken and unwritten rules that seem to suggest that it is politically incorrect and even profane for Democrats, humanitarians and social justice advocates to speak on behalf of the rights and needs of boys and men, or to bring attention to and hold women accountable for their violent and sexually aggressive behavior towards children and adults of both sexes.

I have worked with countless boys of all ages who have suffered rape and sexual assaults by perpetrators of both sexes. Far more boys than girls are severely abused by their parents. Many of the men in the families I have worked with are victims of domestic and sexual violence. The difference between these boys and men who are victims and their female peers who are victims, is how they are treated by society, the mental health system, community crisis centers, the child protective/social service system, the legal system, the justice system and the media: While the girls and women I work with have been focused on, protected, believed, supported and empowered by these systems, the boys and men I have worked with, as a whole, have suffered systematic discrimination, sexism, mockery, disbelief and neglect by these systems. Despite the already over-abundant outreach efforts, programs, policies and services for women, there are still no serious outreach attempts to educate, protect, empower, focus on and support boys and men who suffer date rape, rape, sexual assault, genital mutilation, child abuse, domestic violence and psychological battery in their families, relationships and in society.

I don’t know where to turn with these concerns. As an author and writer, I have reached out to progressive magazines, human rights organizations, feminist organizations and other politicians. I have either received no response or an angry, dismissive response. However, what I have witnessed in my own work as a humanitarian is not isolated. I have been researching this gender bias against male victims of sexual and domestic violence and the ignoring of female perpetration of violence for several years and my findings have been shocking. There have been almost 300 quantitative random sample research studies since the 70′s that have consistently shown that men and women both report that men are the victims in 51% of domestic violence incidents involving male-female couples. There have been decades of studies showing the high incidents of rape and sexual violence against boys and men and of female-perpetrated sexual assaults. Murray Straus at the Family Research Lab in NH has an unpublished study showing that boys under 18 in the US suffer slightly more sexual abuse than girls. Also, in several studies of college-age youth, young men report being the victim of coerced sex (date rape) more often than or equal to young women! News reports of male victims of both sexes, but especially boys and men tortured by women, boys raped by mothers, boys raped by teachers, especially teenage boys raped by grown women, are kept under the radar and receive little attention other than mockery.

Yet, quantitative, random sample studies and news reports are ignored in favor of compiling crime statistics, or stats from social service/crisis centers, which only tally who actually reports abuse and crimes to law enforcement and social service agencies. It is common knowledge in the human services that boys and men are unlikely to report sexual and domestic violence to law enforcement or to the mental health system (especially when they are victimized by a woman), therefore they are grossly under-represented in crime stats. Additionally, the FBI didn’t even count male victims of rape until 2012, so boys and men were not ever factored into rape statistics compiled by the FBI. I have witnessed many times that reports to Child Protective Services of boys being sexually abused by women are not referred to the DA or to law enforcement. When women are actually caught and prosecuted for sexual and domestic violence, they receive light sentences or none at all.
Another issue I want to briefly mention is genital mutilation. Most humanitarians agree that Female Genital Mutilation is an egregious crime against girls. However, in our country, millions of boys have suffered the sexual violation and trauma of genital mutilation without any interest or concern from human rights groups. Research and victim reports are clear that Male Genital Mutilation (circumcision) causes trauma, mother-son attachment disruption and sexual and mental health problems, yet it continues without any outcry.

As a democrat, a humanitarian, a mental health counselor, a children’s rights activist, an aunt and a mother, I do not understand why there is such an outpouring of support and protection for girls and women but an indifferent, silent apathy which ignores boys and men. It is an egregious violation of human rights in my ethical opinion.

As my Leader, I am asking you to only support legislation that is gender neutral, that protects ALL victims of sexual and domestic violence and that holds ALL perpetrators equally accountable for sexual and domestic violence. I know that VAWA has been a hot button for politicians; I am asking that you only endorse VAWA if the name and the language in the act are gender-neutral. The act should be renamed, The Sexual and Domestic Violence Act, and should have equal provision for all victims, holding all perpetrators equally accountable. Law enforcement must stop targeting men for punishment, and understand that men are half of the victims and women are half of the perpetrators. It is factually incorrect and even a public safety threat to have an act like VAWA that is named to only protect half the population and target half the perpetrators.

I saw your Tweet on 1/23/13 that “No woman should be forced to suffer abuse in silence”. I don’t believe ANY person should suffer abuse in silence, including men and children. I would like your thoughts and your suggestions of how I can bring more public awareness to this problem in order to protect my clients and the people I serve. I hope that you will consider supporting ALL victims who suffer the trauma and pain of sexual and domestic violence in our country.

Laurie A. Couture
Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Author of Instead of Medicating and Punishing
Parenting Coach and Speaker

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