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NANCE: When high-sounding legislation becomes a war against women

Good law is more than just a misleading title

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The Violence Against Women Act headed to the president's desk lulls Americans into believing that actual violence was addressed Thursday when, in reality, Congress pushed through a bad bill that hurts sex-trafficking victims, seeks to legalize prostitution for minors and fails to protect the consciences of organizations, such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, that oppose abortion but want to protect trafficking victims.

Within the Senate version of the act is an amendment by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, that decimates the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, seeks to change the Model State Law to promote the decriminalization of prostitution for minors, and assaults the conscience protections of groups that have a history of hands-on help for these victims.

Mr. Leahy's amendment would cut funding for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons by 64 percent -- from $5.5 million a year to $2 million a year -- and dramatically reduce staffing. The office leads the United States' global engagement in the fight against human trafficking. It is an injustice to victims to strip them of the assistance they so desperately need.

In addition to drastically reducing the office, the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act eliminates shelters for adult victims of sex trafficking in the United States. Why does Section 1241 seek to take the $8 million a year currently authorized to fund shelters for U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who are victims of sex trafficking, regardless of age (42 U.S.C. 14044a), and change it to "assistance for domestic minor sex-trafficking victims," when there is already an authorization of $5 million a year for a residential treatment facilities pilot program for minors (42 U.S.C. 14044b)? The funding to help adult victims of sex trafficking will be replaced with more funding for domestic minor sex-trafficking victims. This fund will go from $5 million to $13 million a year. What will happen to funding for adult victims? Also, the $8 million a year would be for only four entities in the form of block grants of $2 million each.

The Violence Against Women Act also promotes the decriminalization of prostitution of minors for states, which is also dangerous for trafficking victims. Decriminalization provides a perfect opportunity for pimps, traffickers and gangs to exploit minors in the sex industry by telling the minors that it is not illegal and that they will not get arrested. In Germany, Australia and the Netherlands, child prostitution increased after prostitution was legalized. Why would the outcome be any different here if states decriminalize prostitution for minors? Section 1243 seeks to change the Model State Law to promote the decriminalization of prostitution for minors:

It prohibits the charging of a minor for a prostitution offense. This removes all judicial discretion from the process.

The FBI's Uniform Crime Report shows that there were only 895 arrests of minors for prostitution in 2010. In 2011, the number of arrests dropped to 763. Over the past seven years, arrests of minors for prostitution have averaged 1,067 annually.

Decriminalization provides a great recruiting tool for gangs, pimps and traffickers, who can say, "Don't worry; it's not illegal."

The Violence Against Women Act is, in large part, a rigid series of ineffective law enforcement programs that continue to waste approximately $400 million each year, which could be redirected to the states to reach real victims of domestic violence. Even Angela Moore Parmley from the Department of Justice wrote in "Violence Against Women," (Vol. 10, No. 12, 2004, p. 1,424), that this bill masquerades as helpful to women, but "shows no evidence to date that it has ever led to a decrease in the overall levels of violence against women."

Like most criminal law, domestic-violence laws are state laws and are prosecuted in state courts. That is why we urged the allocation of funds to the states with the Violence Against Women Act. States have the power to prosecute and penalize this behavior and should have the leverage and ability to do so. Doing the wrong thing -- funding programs that are ineffective and make the problem worse -- is a grave injustice to vulnerable girls and women whom we are charged with protecting.

The lesson Congress has learned from the "war on women" apparently is that as long as the title of the legislation sounds good, you must vote for it -- even if it is bad policy.

Penny Young Nance is CEO of Concerned Women for America.

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