The Violence Against Women Act (first passed in 1994), was recently up for reauthorization and thanks to the HeMan-Women-Haters-Club in the US House of Representatives, it is now expired.
I’m going to say, before I go any further, that I will struggle throughout this piece to avoid an excessive use of expletives and textual symbols which denote actions like arm-waving, fist-pounding and head-desking. It makes me so angry, so despondent that I hardly know how to write logically and instead, I feel overwhelmingly compelled to sit down and cry whilst repeatedly stabbing a pencil into cardboard or bubble wrap. Now that that’s out of the way, here’s the deal.
VAWA has been reauthorized as law twice since its creation. Originally a bipartisan bill, VAWA appealed to both Republicans and Democrats because it was ‘both tough on crime and oriented toward women's rights’. As Mother Jones explains, VAWA’s previous record of smooth sailing through Congress has come to a halt owing to disagreements over new provisions.
In a nutshell, ‘Republicans' biggest qualms are about provisions that make federal grants to domestic violence organizations contingent on nondiscrimination against gay, lesbian, and transgender victims; rules extending the authority of tribal courts over domestic violence matters; and a section that would provide more visas for abused undocumented women who agree to cooperate with law enforcement.
I feel confident that you, like me, feel no need for further explanation. These ‘qualms’ already seem indefensible at best and horrifically bigoted
in reality at worst. Nevertheless, let me further illuminate the depravity of this situation, just in case you were in a really good mood and needed some help coming down.
Nondiscrimination Against LGBT
Again, turning to the sage reporting of Mother Jones, we find that certain Republican representatives feel squeamish about provisions that necessitate nondiscrimination by organizations that cater to victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse because they feel that this kind of language does not belong in law. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) concurs that organizations and shelters that help victims of violence should not discriminate based on gender or sexual orientation, but really, who needs that in their laws? According to Grassley, nondiscrimination provisions are ‘a political statement that shouldn't be made on a bill that is designed to address actual needs of victims’. OK, Sen. Grassley, according to the Human Rights Campaign (just one organizational study amongst many), the LGBT community have actual needs in protecting themselves against, and seeking justice for sexual abuse and domestic violence. What precisely is your problem?
The new VAWA provisions also seek to offer greater protection for women who have been sexually assaulted or abused who do not have full US citizenship. Previous versions of VAWA already contained provisions which made it possible for unregistered immigrants to appeal to local authorities. The new bill ‘would have increased the number of special U-visas, which give temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants who are victims of sexual assault or domestic violence, and who are willing to cooperate with an investigation’. Not only did Republican objections prevent the rollover of previously unused U-visas for new victims, it also cut back on the possible visas available for women going forward.
According to ‘a 2010 survey by Irma Morales Waugh of the University of California, Santa Cruz… 80 percent of [undocumented] female farmworkers interviewed had been subject to sexual assault or harassment’. And according to the Republican members of the House, this 80 percent is invisible to US justice. Apparently, human rights only belong to recognized citizens of the United States.
The Tribal Provision
Finally, new provisions in VAWA would grant Native American tribal courts limited power to prosecute non-Native American perpetrators of sexual assault and violence. As it stands, violent crimes committed on tribal lands by non-Native Americans cannot be tried in tribal courts. Further, ‘federal prosecutors declined to take action on 52 percent of violent crimes committed on tribal lands’ which were outside the jurisdiction of the tribal courts themselves.
If that statistic isn’t enough to make you do the Hulk, think about the fact that ‘34 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped in their lifetimes’ and ‘39 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women will be subject to domestic violence’. And yet, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor found the possibility of ‘wresting’ some jurisdiction to tribal courts so untenable and unwarranted, that he prevented VAWA (in any form) from being reauthorized.
What logical reaction is there but to ask—to scream—WHY?! Why is it even remotely problematic to ensure that someone has the authority and the concern to prosecute the perpetrators of violent crimes within notably neglected parts of the US? What are you afraid of? What do you stand to lose? Nothing, is the answer. Eric Cantor stands to lose absolutely nothing and he demonstrably cares very little for the losses of Native American women.
I won’t pretend that Obama’s reelection made me believe that the War on Women was over but I would also be lying if I said that the forced expiration of VAWA did not take my breath away. How could anyone who gives a shit about human beings stand there and intimate that certain types of sexual violence simply do not matter? How could these men suggest that the personal is not political and that the political is not personal?
Maybe I should have used more expletives. Maybe I should have ripped my virtual page to shreds with enraged words and misandry but I can’t muster the explosion. I can no longer summon the Hulk in these situations because when it comes to US government attitudes towards women, ‘my secret is, I’m always angry’.
Image (of Eric Cantor) via Flickr of Gage Skidmore