No Person Should Live in Fear

13 Sep

Today is the 18th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  On this day in 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the bill drafted by our vice president, Joe Biden, then Senator from Delaware, that has made it possible for millions of women and families to escape violence.

Unfortunately, VAWA expired in 2011.  Why is its reauthorization a year overdue?  You can thank the House Republicans for that.

This hurts women. This hurts families.

VAWA makes sure that rape by a partner is recognized as rape, just like rape by a stranger.

VAWA established the National Domestic Violence Hotline, so that women and families in trouble with nowhere else to turn can get out of dangerous home situations.  It helps over 22,000 victims a month, and has assisted more than three million in total since it was founded.

VAWA makes stalking illegal, so that people who are living in constant fear of being watched or attacked have recourse.

VAWA trains law enforcement so that officers know how to work with abuse victims.

VAWA helps fund the organizations, like rape crisis and abuse centers, where victims can go to feel safe and get help.

VAWA provides specific assistance to get victims with disabilities the resources they need so that they move on with their lives after violence.

VAWA provides legal aid for victims.  The new law gives victims a chance at justice, but without this aid, many will not be able to afford it.

VAWA provides transitional housing to women and families who have been kicked out of their homes because they refuse to be beaten anymore.

VAWA created the “rape shield” law, making it illegal on a federal level for a rape defense to include a victim’s past sexual experiences as an excuse for raping her.

As I said, refusing to reauthorize VAWA hurts women, and it hurts families.

Now, if this bill is so important, why hasn’t it been reauthorized?  Why would the Republicans block this?

The Senate version expanded the original bill. Now, the bill guarantees protections for same-sex partners (currently, organizations that receive funds under VAWA can legally discriminate against LGBTQ people, and this version is rectifying this problem), and expands protections for undocumented immigrants and Native Americans.  The bill would grant more visas to undocumented women and children escaping violent family members, because right now, the limit is set too low; people who are in danger are being turned down and are unable to escape their families.  Also, considering domestic violence is particularly present in the Native American population — 1 in 3 Native American women are raped, and 2 in 5 are victims of domestic violence — it is incredibly important to adopt the Senate version of the bill.  As it stands, tribal jurisdiction does not cover violence upon Native American women if their partners are not Native American themselves.  This is a huge problem because 58% of married Native American women’s husbands are not themselves Native American.

While state and federal prosecutors have jurisdiction on reservations when it comes to domestic violence cases, it is rarely exercised.  See, local jurisdictions tend to handle domestic violence cases, but they do not have the authority to prosecute on reservations: that would be the job of the federal government or the state.  However, since domestic violence is a misdemeanor as opposed to a felony in most jurisdictions, and because federal and state offices are swamped with so many felonies to prosecute, they tend to ignore cases of Native American domestic violence; these cases are not simply unfamiliar, but also less “important” than the others.   The Senate version of the reauthorization allows tribal courts to prosecute any domestic violence case that takes place on reservation ground, regardless of who the perpetrator is.  Without this new provision, it will remain difficult for many battered Native American women to get the help they need and justice they deserve.

Regardless of how you feel about gay marriage or illegal immigration, people’s right to their own bodily safety should be unquestioned. By refusing to accept this version of the bill, the House Republicans are saying that they would rather women be beaten and raped by their partners, often with no ability to escape, and no legal recourse, than allow lesbians, gay men, Native Americans, and undocumented immigrants to live without fear of their partners.  Apparently, it doesn’t matter if people who are LGBT, Native American or undocumented immigrants are raped, beaten or killed by the people who claim to love them.  Considering the Republican-backed House bill actually weakens existing measures to help undocumented victims, it almost seems like House Republicans think these people and their families deserve to be hurt and terrified; it’s one thing to prefer to keep the level of VAWA’s protection where it is, but quite another to actively attempt to reduce the ability of the US to help immigrant victims and potentially save their lives.  At the very least, the Republicans are denying their humanity: they care so little about whether these women are raped, or that their families are beaten or murdered, that they see no problem with making it even more difficult for them to escape violent situations. Also, they want to turn away — or at least retain the right to refuse to help — LGBTQ people, Native Americans and immigrants so much that they’re willing to let VAWA expire, hurting all women and families who are domestic violence survivors.  Of course, it could also be that these congressmen care so little about women who have been beaten and/or raped in general that they’re okay with VAWA expiring.  Something tells me both may be true.

No one deserves to be raped — by a stranger or a partner. No one deserves to be beaten, stalked or killed by a loved one. It doesn’t matter who you are, who you love, or how you got here. No one deserves this. This is why we need to reauthorize VAWA with its new protections: everyone has the basic human right to feel bodily secure in her person. It’s astounding that the House Republicans don’t agree.

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