Reconceptualizing VAWA's "Animus" for Rape in States' Emerging Post-VAWA Civil Rights Legislation

Article excerpt

If a man rapes a woman while telling her he loves her, that's a far cry from saying he hates her. A lust factor does not spring from animus.

--U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), VAWA cosponsor (1)

Theoretically, I guess, a rape could take place that was not driven by gender animus.... But I can't think of what it would be.

--U.S. Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-Del.), VAWA chief sponsor (2)


On September 13, 1994, President Clinton signed into law a major crime bill that included a powerful new federal weapon to combat civil rights abuses against women. This crime bill contained the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), (3) a historic measure taken by Congress to address the national problem of violence against women. (4)

The Act (5) created the first civil rights remedy aimed at violent gender-based discrimination against female citizens. (6) The provision permitted victims of gender-motivated violence to bring a civil rights suit in federal court for compensatory or punitive damages, declaratory or injunctive relief, and legal costs: Its aim was to replace a patchwork of inconsistent, inadequate, and underenforced state civil and criminal laws with a consistent and uniform national standard under which to evaluate and prosecute such civil rights violations. (7) Equally important was the symbolic value of recognizing the political aspects of gender-based crimes of violence: More than random violence, this type of bias crime served to reinforce discriminatory social hierarchies, thereby harming targeted citizens' civil rights. For the first time in our nation's history, victims of these crimes would not have to rely on local criminal prosecutions for relief; instead, they could sue and seek significant damages in federal court on their own behalf. (8)

The VAWA civil rights remedy defined a "crime of violence motivated by gender" as a felony-grade "crime of violence committed because of gender or on the basis of gender, and due, at least in part, to an animus based on the victim's gender." (9) The key animus requirement was added to satisfy early opponents of the bill, who feared that [section] 13981 might impinge on traditional areas of state legislative authority and might be used to provide relief in federal court for women who had been victims of mere "random acts of violence unrelated to gender" that did not manifest invidiously discriminatory intent. (10)

In May 2000, the Supreme Court reviewed a challenge to VAWA's constitutional legitimacy and, in United States v. Morrison, struck down [section] 13981 as violative of the Constitution's federalism principles. (11) Yet soon after the Supreme Court's initial grant of certiorari in Morrison in 1999, a handful of individual states anticipated the Court's final decision and responded with the introduction of their own versions of VAWA civil rights legislation, closely tracking the language of the doomed federal VAWA. (12) After the grant of certiorari, the New York State Senate's Committee on Rules marked up a new civil rights law. (13) Current versions of this bill establish a cause of action covering acts committed "because of gender, or on the basis of gender, or on the basis of gender and due at least in part to an animus based on the victim's gender." (14) On February 4, 2000, the Illinois state legislature introduced the Gender Violence Act, which would provide a civil remedy for those who have suffered from "sex discrimination" in the form of gender-related violence. (15) On January 29, 2001, the Arizona state legislature introduced a bill creating a private cause of action for victims of "act[s] of violence motivated by gender" that were "due in whole or in any part to an animus based on the victim's gender." (16) Now that the federal VAWA civil rights remedy has been declared unconstitutional, it is likely that other states will join Arizona, Illinois, and New York in introducing similar legislation creating a state-based civil right to be free from gender-motivated violence. …