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Violence Against Women Act

November 16, 1993 — US Senate Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights, Washington DC


I’m Ellie Smeal, and I’m speaking on behalf of the Fund for the Feminist Majority. We want to speak in favor of both the act and most particularly the civil rights provision.

For some five years, we have had a domestic violence project. I won’t go through all the statistics that have been presented by the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, but we have been working particularly with bias in the police forces, and with domestic violence. Our work has shown that because of the underrepresentation of women in the police force, we have less response to domestic violence and violence against women than would be if we were more adequately represented.

In fact, the studies show repeatedly that there is pervasive bias against women by local law enforcement and State enforcement. In fact, one of the most important parts of this bill is that it provides a Federal civil remedy. Too frequently, the police force themselves are unsympathetic to a woman’s charges. In fact, most recently, the studies that resulted as a result of the police brutality situation in Los Angeles show that in fact women themselves can become a target of police brutality. Not only do the police not respond sympathetically, but when they do respond, it can be extremely hostile.

So to me it’s very, very important that this provides a right for women themselves to enter Federal court when there is no real remedy being offered to them at the local level. The data is pervasive. It shows not just this police department but departments all over this country where there is massive discrimination and hostility toward women.

In addition, our study of 911 numbers shows the massive need for dealing with domestic violence. In major cities of this country, we’re talking about domestic violence being the number one reason why you call a 911 number. Basically, we are looking at reports such as the Senate Judiciary report of October 1992, that shows that 1.1 million women a year file police reports, and we believe that is 25 percent of what is really out there, something like 3 million incidents occur.

So the need for dealing with domestic violence and all forms of sexual harassment and dealing with hatred toward women is overwhelming. The police themselves, because the bias permeates our society, are frequently people who have the bias themselves.

We believe that with what has happened in the past, the leaving out of gender, for example, in the hate crimes statistics laws, that this could help correct that error, and say to the country once and for all the hate against women in the form of violence is something our country will not tolerate. In fact, we sent out the wrong signal in the past by excluding women from other civil rights protections, and I think this is an opportunity to correct it.

I would like to submit to the committee our formal testimony, and also our study on the response at the local level by police on violence towards women.

Thank you.


On behalf of the Fund for the Feminist Majority, I wish to speak in favor of the Violence Against Women Act. The Feminist Majority has worked nationally to end violence against women for over five years. The Feminist Majority has educated the public and law enforcement officials on the relationship between gender representation in the police force and police brutality and response to domestic violence and other violent crimes toward women. Through the efforts of our Los Angeles office and the feminist community, the Los Angeles City Council has passed a resolution directing the Los Angeles Police Department to achieve the goal of 44% women in the police department corresponding with the percentage of women in the workforce.

The Violence Against Women Act provides important civil action remedies for women who have been survivors of gender-based violence and crucial funding for a variety of programs to curb violence against women.

The civil rights provision in this bill is a critical recognition that women–as a class of persons who have been historically discriminated against and have been treated as inferior throughout time–are at risk of violence because they are women. This bill will not open the floodgates to litigation. However, by giving women the ability to bring gender-hate cases to federal court, the bill recognizes that gender-based violence exists and that perpetrators of this violence should face federal civil as well as criminal penalties.

Violent crimes against women are of an epidemic proportion. We will not recite all of the well-known and well-documented statistics which already have been presented to this subcommittee by the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund. But I do want to share with you the results of a study that the Feminist Majority has just complete of 911 domestic violence calls. Incidents of domestic violence against women are typically the number one reason that 911 is called. Our study found that New York City received 158,094 domestic violence calls to 911 in 1991. Houston, Texas reported an average of 168,000 domestic violence calls annually. Columbus, Ohio received 65,000 domestic violence calls in 1992. These figures are tip of the iceberg — many municipalities do not even keep count of domestic violence calls. The October 1992 Senate Judiciary Committee Report, Violence Against Women: A Week in the Life of America, showed that more than 1.1 million women filed police reports because of domestic violence annually. According to most experts, as many as 3 million violent domestic crimes go unreported every year.

The Violence Against Women Act is legislation that is desperately needed to help curb the violence that forces women to live in constant fear of their physical well-being and indeed their lives. Title III of the Act is necessary both to officially acknowledge that crimes against women because they are women are occurring and to provide women federal civil remedies to compensate in part for the inefficient, ineffective, and often unsympathetic police response at state and local levels. I am submitting for the Subcommittee our Gender Balance In The Police Force fact sheet which documents the frequent lack of response of local police forces to domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, and other violent crimes against women.

We urge the immediate passage of the Violence Against Women Act, including the Civil Rights Provision of Title III.



Source: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights of the Committee on the Judiciary, US House of Representatives, 103rd Cong., 1st sess, November 16, 1993 (Washington DC: US Government Printing Office), 1994, pp. 114-117,