FOR MORE than twenty years, anti-violence advocates shaped the discourse on violence against women. Rooted in the contemporary women’s movement, their perspectives and activism influenced our understanding of both the cause and the nature of violence against women. Whether they either argued that violence against women stems from the workings of patriarchy or offered a more structural explanation for the role that violence plays in women’s subordination and oppression, the advocates’ seemingly different ideological and political stances ultimately ended up in the same place: Fingers were pointed at what men do as a way of imposing their will on women’s lives.
The discussions, debates, and disagreements over male “power, control, and domination” as introduced by the anti-violence movement of the 1970s, established the foundation for the discourse on violence against women. This advocacy-led discourse emphasized strategies for women’s empowerment. Under its influence women-centered programs were developed over a broad spectrum of service delivery areas. Also, women from different cultural and social backgrounds—sometimes together but oftentimes not—held rallies, vigils, and marches and engaged in other forms of direct action that demanded women’s safety. And, this advocacy-led discourse called for an end to male violence by proposing important legislative and policy changes—at the local, state, federal levels of government—that would hold men accountable for their bad behavior toward women.
The persistent activism of the anti-violence movement paid off. In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, this landmark legislation is widely known as VAWA. Under VAWA statutory provisions a new discourse on violence against women emerged. We now have what I call the government-sponsored discourse on violence against women.