The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) embodies a political trend that cripples human rights in the guise of crusading for them. This trend is the balkanization, or fragmentation, of rights. Recently passed by the House, VAWA has moved to the Senate, where the trend it represents may well be translated into more law.
Identity politics and its activist branch, social justice, claim to champion oppressed groups. Yet both reverse the process by which oppressed groups have historically claimed their freedom: the universalization of rights. The term “universal rights” means that every human being, simply by being human, possesses the same rights and to the same degree as everyone else. Freedom means every person has an identical and enforceable claim to his or her own body and to peacefully acquired property. Justice occurs whenever this claim is enforced.
The progress of freedom and justice can be charted by scanning history for how rights gradually expanded to include an ever-widening circle of groups until every single human being enjoyed their protection. The Magna Carta (1215) extended basic rights to English nobles in order to protect them from the king. This is how universal rights typically begin; powerful elites force authorities to expand their legal protections through state privilege and, then, more and more groups claim human rights until they come down to a matter of birth. A hard-fought extension of rights occurs: they spread from landowners to men who have other specific “qualifications” like being white, then to women with the same qualifications, and, finally, to all human beings without qualification. The end point is when no one’s rights are based on secondary characteristics such as race, gender, or status. Every person has a vested interest in respecting the rights of others because his own rights depend on it.
Identity politics heads in the opposite direction. It claims special rights for allegedly oppressed groups—most notably women and blacks or other minorities. Rights are no longer based on a shared humanity but on secondary characteristics. Rights are balkanized rights, with the “rights” of one group differing from and in conflict with those of other groups: women versus men, minorities versus whites. Every group has a vested interest in having their “rights” triumph over those of others, because benefits will flow to them from the vanquished group; the claimed “rights” are more accurately called privileges or entitlements.
To understand how the balkanization of rights manufactures conflict, it is useful to examine the dynamic up close in microcosm. VAWA was recently reauthorized by the House and has moved to the Senate for approval. The purpose of the Act is to provide grants to programs that prevent sexual violence against women or assist its victims. In short, the “oppressed” group it allegedly champions receives entitlements at the expense of another group—men—who are either dismissed as victims or blamed as perpetrators.
Consider just one section of VAWA: Title IX, Safety for Indian Women. Except one mention in passing, the section does not acknowledge the alarming abuse of Indian boys and men, let alone advocate for them.
Those who drafted the new VAWA must be aware of current statistics and data on the abuse of Indians. One example: a state bill in Nebraska, LB 154, mandated that the Nebraska State Patrol produce “a report on missing Native American women in Nebraska” to be submitted in June 2020. The twenty-one-line bill mentions “Native American women” six times—boys and men not at all. Ordinarily, being left out of a government action is a good thing, but such bills are a vital part of creating a twisted narrative that sets society at war with itself.
Fortunately, the researchers went beyond the mandate of “missing women” to provide a more accurate picture. A May 23, 2020, article entitled “Nebraska State Patrol Study: Boys Make Up Majority of Missing Native Americans” appeared in the Omaha World Herald. A surprising statistic was presented. “The greatest percentage of Native American missing persons are boys age 17 or younger, accounting for 73.3% of all Native American missing persons in Nebraska.” Native American boys account for 59.6 percent of all missing people in the entire state.
The reaction of bureaucrats, politicians, and the media was appalling but typical. In the conclusion of the study, Judi M. Gaiashkibos, executive director, Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, addressed only “women and children.” She lamented “actions and policies” that “have displaced women from their traditional roles in communities and governance and diminished their status … leaving them vulnerable to violence.” State senator Tom Brewer, who cosponsored LB 154, stated, “We need all law enforcement to communicate and work together to address the exploitation and victimization of Native women.” A Lincoln Journal Star article on LB 154 was entitled “Senators want to step up investigations of missing or abused Native women.” Men and boys are nowhere.
VAWA conspicuously ignores inconvenient studies and cherry-picks the ones it deems to cite. The section on Native American women’s safety opens, “More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women, or 84.3 percent, have experienced violence in their lifetime.” This statistic is drawn from a National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NIPSVS), “Violence against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men.” In citing the disturbing statistic, VAWA makes a curious omission. Immediately after the 84.3 percent figure, the NIPSVS reads, “More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native men (81.6 percent) have experienced violence in their lifetime.” In other words, Native American men experience only 2.7 percent less violence than women. Why does this data not make it into VAWA?
For one reason alone: it shows that women and men tend to be victimized by violence at similar rates. Those who twist the statistics are not indifferent to suffering of boys and men; they are afraid of it. In an honest discussion of sexual violence, including domestic abuse, their preferred group would not “win” the oppression game and be awarded the oppression prize.
Instead, the identitarians present a parody of human rights in which only approved groups are recognized as victims. Unapproved individuals are lost in the balkanization despite the fact that, in the final analysis, only individuals suffer and cry out for help. Individual human beings do not count, however. Only those who share the secondary characteristic of approved genitalia receive compassion. This means it is not compassion at all. It is politics, as cynical as it comes.
With so much debate about wokeness, perhaps the violence aimed at Native American males will be the point at which society says “no more,” no more institutionalized misandry. The balkanization of rights must stop.