How Vice President Joe Biden Changed The Conversation Around Gender Violence In The US


He’s not just President Obama’s VP, he is a guy who has spent the majority of his political career fighting some very important battles. You may have recently watched HBO’s ‘Confirmation’, the story of the Anita Hill trials in 1992 where a young law professor sat before the US Senate Judiciary Committee and explained in detail the ways in which she was sexually harassed by then-incoming Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

In the movie, while we learn about the way sexual assault has evolved since those controversial hearings, we also learn that Vice Prez Biden was the committee chairman. A couple of the female characters behind the scenes discuss the ways in which the then-Senator needed to speak up more to advocate for Anita, but sadly, she never ended up getting the vindication during the hearing.

While Joe Biden has been criticized for the way he wasn’t more forthcoming to protect Anita, it seems he too learned more about sexual assault along with the nation as the issue evolved and become more of a talking point. Two years later, he would go on to become the chief architect in the landmark Violence Against Women Act which completely changed the way assault toward women was reported, dealt with and prevented.

He also wrote the 1994 Biden Crime Bill which prevented domestic violence abusers from buying or possessing a gun. More than 50% of women murdered with guns are killed by intimate partners or family members, so this law was a major step forward in preventing a deadly weapon from getting in the hands of the wrong purpose with the intent to murder a woman.

As the Vice President, he has become a spokesperson for the Obama Administration’s super important ‘It’s On Us’ campaign which flips the script on many of the common victim-blaming narratives that still exist in society. This initiative calls on men to speak up when the witness violence and not just be a bystander, and pushes the message that we can all be responsible to ensure violence is stopped. He recently toured the country talking about ‘It’s On Us’ to college students (at times alongside Lady Gaga), and he explained to Huffpost why he is so passionate about this cause.

He described domestic violence as “America’s dirty little secret” that he helped expose and to a large extent, deal with through the law. The idea of it being a public health epidemic rather than just a “woman’s issue” or any other phrase that could diminish the seriousness of the problem is a wake up call for all of us to help change the statistics.

“When I started to work on this issue more than 20 years ago, violence against women was not taken as seriously, and survivors were not given the recourse they deserved. Too often, they were blamed. Too often, perpetrators were not prosecuted. I was convinced we needed to change our culture. And in order to change the culture, we had to pull the mask off of this dirty little secret. The turning point came when we heard from survivors themselves — they turned the spotlight on a violence that too often was in the shadows,” he explained.

His own impetus for created the VAWA was because he was raised by a father who instilled into his children that abusing your power, and raising your hand to physically assault a woman or a child, is the “greatest sin”. That stayed with him throughout his life and helped him become the advocate he is today. And let’s not forget, that was a very progressive perspective during a time when domestic violence was normal, not spoken about, or not considered an important social issue.


Part of that advocacy is helping shift the narrative away from it being just a private issue that women face, and implore more men to step up to the plate to prevent violence.

“I have a simple message for all Americans: Don’t look to your left, don’t look to your right. Look in the mirror. It’s on you. It’s about you. And, guys, it’s particularly about you. You should be the ultimate agents of change. It’s time for all of you to step up,” he said.

One of the most awful aspects of this issue is victim-blaming, which VP Biden says needs to be replaced with more empathy for victims and more accountability for abusers.

“Think about a culture that exists when a woman who’s been abused or raped is asked all the wrong questions: Why were you there? What were you wearing? What did you say? Why did you say it? What were you drinking? Those are all the wrong questions. It’s never the victim’s fault,” he explained.

“The right questions are: What made him think that he had a right to touch me?  Why on Earth did no one step up when they had the chance? Or for you men:  Why didn’t I have the courage to speak up — to intervene, to act? I ask men to ask themselves: What would I have done if she was my sister?”

Part of his responsibility as a man and a politician has been using his legislative powers to create and pass tougher laws. He says one of his accomplishments was seeing the VAWA get reauthorized three times and the impact it has had on women’s lives. Women are reporting abuse at higher rates and because of harsher penalties, fewer women are abused.


“Twenty years ago, there was no domestic violence hotline — now 3.4 million women and men have called the National Domestic Violence Hotline and gotten support and help. The yearly domestic violence rates dropped 64% between 1993 and 2010. Twenty years ago, there were no special victims units — now, police departments across the country have specially trained personnel to treat domestic abuse as crime rather than a private matter,” he said.

Silence is one of the aspects the It’s On Us campaign wants to get to the heart of – both allowing women to have the confidence to speak about their experience without fear of shame, isolation or judgement, and for more bystanders and men to take action and step in wherever possible.

“The culture is beginning to change. It’s no longer acceptable for a man to denigrate a woman in public. Sexism is no longer tolerated. We no longer remain silent when a woman is being abused in front of us. What will really change the mindset is when abusers face the same moral disapprobation of society,” he believes.

An interesting part of the interview, and certainly an important one, was when the Huffpost discussed the rate of women being killed by gun violence in the US. Women are 11 times more likely to be killed with a gun than any other industrialized nation in the world, and many of those incidents happen at the hand of a partner. With the topic of gun violence being a big one in this presidential election, as well as a major talking point over the past few years with the high amount of mass shootings to the point of embarrassment, VP Biden says there is a “deadly relationship” between gun violence and violence against women.

“More than 50% of women murdered with guns are killed by intimate partners or family members. The 1994 Biden Crime Bill prohibits convicted domestic violence abusers from buying a gun or even possessing one,” he said, going on to explain why background checks are an important tool in prevention.


“Many states do not require a background check to see if a purchaser is legally allowed to possess a gun. Because of this, many convicted domestic violence abusers can buy a gun without a background check — they can drive across the state line and buy a gun where background checks are not required, or from a gun show or an unlicensed dealer,” he explained.

Common sense background checks are still highly controversial, despite the insinuation of the label itself. While it has its own complexities, there are still ways each of us, especially men, can play a huge role in tackling domestic violence head on in order to give victims the support they need.

At the end of the day, it starts with us being willing to speak out and not turn a blind eye, says the VP. We have to say it is pretty awesome to see a man in power leave the White House, come January 2017, leaving behind a legacy that includes fighting for women’s rights. He told recently that he has to thank President Obama for allowing him to continue the advocacy work he began in the early 90s.

“He’s one of the most decent, honorable men I’ve ever worked with. He shares my passion for ending violence against women, and I’m grateful he’s let me lead this effort. When I accepted his offer to be Vice President, he asked if there was anything I wanted, and I said I wanted to bring the Violence Against Women Office inside the White House. He said yes. He didn’t hesitate,” he shared.

We have many reasons to say “Thank you, Mr. President” but we should also take a moment to thank Mr. Vice President for his important advocacy in this area.



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  1. Pingback: Why College Women Are More Powerful Than We Give Them Credit For - GirlTalkHQ

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