Joe Biden’s Legacy for Battered Women

Aug 25, 2015 | Elections - Presidential (2016), Vice President Biden

Published: The Good Men Project (August 25, 2015)

I have a guilty conscience. Although I respect Vice President Biden quite a bit, I recently wrote an op-ed arguing that it would be a bad idea for him to run for president. My concern (then and now) is that Biden, despite being a qualified statesman, simply doesn’t have the political chops or base of support to mount a viable campaign against either the Hillary Clinton juggernaut or the Bernie Sanders insurgency. If anything, a Biden campaign would only weaken the Democratic ticket in November by dredging up all kinds of mud against his opponents – one of whom, of course, will eventually be the party’s nominee.

None of this means that Biden is a bad guy, though. Indeed, now that it seems increasingly likely he will throw his hat into the ring, I think it’s appropriate to do penance by looking at one of the best aspects of his legacy: The Violence Against Women Act

Passed in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA for short) was drafted by then-Senator Biden as a way to protect women who were victimized by domestic abuse and sexual assault. Its achievements include establishing an Office of Violence Against Women in the Justice Department, creating a rape shield law that prevents accused offenders of using a woman’s past sexual conduct against her during a rape trial, mandating that victims should not be required to cover the cost of their own rape exams or protection orders, and subsidizing community violence prevention programs, victim assistance services like rape crisis centers and hotlines.

When VAWA celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, Vice President Biden wrote an op-ed for Time Magazine observing how before the bill’s passage “few people understood and our culture failed to recognize” that women had a right “to be free from violence and free from fear.” He went on to explain:

“Kicking a wife in the stomach or pushing her down the stairs was repugnant, but it wasn’t taken seriously as a crime. It was considered a ‘family affair.’ State authorities assumed if a woman was beaten or raped by her husband or someone she knew, she must have deserved it. It was a ‘lesser crime’ to rape a woman if she was a ‘voluntary companion.’ Many state murder laws still held on to the notion that if your wife left you and you killed her, she had provoked it and you had committed manslaughter.”

Biden’s article makes for powerful reading, but since I can’t quote it all here, I’ll leave with an observation he included near the end:

“Abuse is violent and ugly and today there is rightful public outrage over it. It matters that the American people have sent a clear message: you’re a coward for raising a hand to a woman or child—and you’re complicit if you fail to condemn it.

That’s a monumental change from twenty years ago, and it’s why the Violence Against Women Act is my proudest legislative accomplishment. But we know there’s more to do. One in five women in America has experienced rape or attempted rape. Sex bias still plagues our criminal justice system with stereotypes like ‘she deserved it’ or ‘she wore a short skirt’ tainting the prosecution of rape and assault.”

This, if anything, is why Biden’s work on VAWA still redounds to his credit. It’s one thing for a politician to rest on his laurels, but instead of insisting that the fight against domestic and sexual violence ended when his own contribution was in the books, Biden acknowledges that there is still more work to be done. At a time when Men’s Rights Activism is exploding in popularity and right-wing demagogues like Donald Trump spike in the polls despite making openly misogynistic statements, it’s refreshing to know that there are still politicians like Biden who won’t back down from doing the right thing.

I still don’t think you should run in next year’s election, Biden, but I definitely believe that if elected, you’d make a very compassionate – and quite likely very good – President of the United States.