ArticlesVolume 3, Number 2 (1993)

A Troubled Inheritance: An Examination of Title III of the Violence Against Women Act In Light of Current Critiques of Civil Rights Law


The United States Congress is currently considering the Violence Against Women Act (the VAWA or the Act). The VAWA would set up a series of programs and initiatives to decrease violent crime against women. The Third Title of the Act would create a civil rights cause of action for women who, through violence, “are reduced to symbols of group hatred.” Title III was created to establish a cause of action for female victims of violence analogous to civil rights causes of action for injury motivated by race. Accordingly, Title III will provide a remedy for women victims of violent crime “motivated by gender.”

Title III has the potential to become an innovative and powerful weapon against gender subordination, and it appropriately makes a problem of immense proportions a national priority. In its current form, however, Title III will be hampered by some of the same limitations that have undermined the effectiveness of existing civil rights laws.

In this article, I will examine the Third Title of the Violence Against Women Act and the problem that it seeks to address. I will argue that a single-axis, conscious-intentionality requirement, like the gender motivation requirement, is likely to be underinclusive and will particularly disadvantage minority women. I will then suggest an alternative framework for a civil rights cause of action that I believe would be more responsive to the real issues in the lives of women subjugated by violence.