Unless the parties involved held celebrity status, domestic abuse used to be one of those secrets, like abortions and unwed pregnancies, that families tried to keep hush-hush. To be sure, there were cracker-barrel discussions and busybodies spreading hometown dirt. If progressives and Malthusians have their way, shotgun weddings will be classified as domestic violence, too.
That is the stage being set for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose comments earlier this week made victims of abusers, may be right, statistically speaking. Maybe domestic violence at the hands of men does rise during economically depressing times such as these - when double-digit jobless rates make such cultural TV icons as Chester A. Riley, Ward Cleaver and Bill Cosby unimaginable.
But the way Mr. Reid talks, husbands who beat their wives ought to be forgiven if they are down during economically hard times. (Hmm. Does Whitney Houston's former husband pass muster?)
During the debate on the jobs bill on Monday, Mr. Reid, who is down in the polls in his home state of Nevada, proclaimed on the Senate floor that men are more abusive when they are jobless. Here's what The Hill first reported:
"I met with some people, while I was home, dealing with domestic abuse. It has gotten out of hand," Mr. Reid said. "Why? Men don't have jobs."
Women, he surmised, not so much.
"Women don't have jobs, either, but women aren't abusive, most of the time," he said.
"Men, when they're out of work, tend to become abusive," the senior senator from Nevada said.
Empirical evidence rests with the 1997 study "Assaults by Women On Their Spouses Or Male Partners," which said that "211 empirical studies and 60 reviews and/or analyses ... demonstrate that women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners. The aggregate sample size in the reviewed studies exceeds 365,000."
No one in her right frame of mind would support violence against men.
What's afoot here is the Violence Against Women Act and its international counterpart, nicknamed I-VAWA, which was introduced this week in the Senate by members of both sexes and both parties.
Thanks to Suzanne Venker of David Horowitz's newsrealblog.com for exposing the truth in her Feb. 9 post.
"Under the VAWA, domestic acts don't have to be violent to be punished under the definition of domestic violence. Name-calling, put-downs, shouting, negative looks or gestures, ignoring opinions, or constant criticizing can all be legally labeled domestic violence. ... VAWA also asserts that domestic violence is a crime, yet family courts often adjudicate domestic violence as a civil, rather than a criminal, matter. This means the accused is not innocent until proven guilty, but is presumed guilty. Due process rights, such as trial by jury and the right of free counsel to poor defendants, are regularly denied, and false accusations are not covered by perjury law. VAWA provides funding for legal representation for accusers but not for defendants. Evidence is irrelevant; hearsay is admissible; defendants have no right to confront their accusers; and forced confessions are a common feature."
VAWA is a pet project of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who drafted the initial legislation that President Clinton signed into law in 1994. Last reauthorized in 2005, it is set for reauthorization in 2011.
Gender-conscious groups are gazing into their crystal balls. There's Mr. Biden, who said last year, "My proudest legislative achievement in the Senate was passing the Violence Against Women Act." There's scaredy-cat Mr. Reid, who excuses men behaving badly. And there's the neutered version of abuse called "intimate partner violence."
Look at it this way. Miss Houston's ex, Bobby Brown, was a wealthy singer-songwriter when he married the pop songbird in July 1992. Eight months after her father escorted her down the aisle (sans shotgun), Miss Houston gave birth to the couple's only child. Since then, Mr. Brown has been imprisoned, faced arrest warrants and charges of battery and failure to pay child support. Mr. Brown's financial slide led to another warrant issued last year, before the economy showed signs of better days.
Should Mr. Reid cut him some slack?
• Deborah Simmons can be reached at email@example.com.