Friday, February 22, 2013

VAWA: What's the Hold Up?

When House members oppose the Violence Against Women Act, what are they really against?

One Billion Rising (VDAY in WeHo) Flash Mob by Rebecca Dru
Stalking wasn't always a crime. But thanks to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), this creepy behavior is now a punishable offense in every state.

And raping someone you knew used to be a lesser offense than raping someone you didn't know. But thanks to the VAWA, sexual assault is sexual assault, whether you're acquainted or not.

But that's not all the VAWA has done since it was first enacted in 1994.

Thanks to this legislation, "police respond to crisis calls and judges understand the realities of domestic and sexual violence." Funding for the VAWA trains over 500,000 law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, and other personnel every year.

Because the VAWA insisted people should be taught how to deal with a crisis before they actually encounter one, survivors are finally getting the help they need. And the proof is in the data.

Between 1993 and 2010, the rate of intimate partner violence declined 67%. Any legislation reducing a problem by more than half in less than 10 years would be viewed as successful, right? Not necessarily.

According to GOP members of the House, the VAWA isn't helping women. It's victimizing them, and men, as well as threatening the sanctity of marriage, and family values.

There are many ways to report the frustrations felt when obstinate legislators inexplicably hold up progress. Alternet decided to focus on Sheila Thomas. In an effort to urge House members to reauthorize the VAWA, the grandmother from Dayton, Ohio started a petition and shared her own story:
In 1983, I was a victim of rape at gunpoint. My rapist had already raped four women in my community, I was his fifth victim. He has never been captured. At the time, I was a single mother of a five-year old daughter and attending a local community college. The Violence Against Women Act initially strengthened federal penalties for repeat sex offenders, mandated that women don't have to pay for their own rape exams, and helped communities develop law enforcement units dedicated to violence against women. 
Alarmed her lawmakers were moving backwards, Thomas refused to stay quiet. She spoke up and found several others willing to do the same. Over 200,000 people have signed the online petition.

Apparently prosecuting serial rapists is important to people.

Another benefit, besides safer communities, is more accessible assistance. According to the White House VAWA "Fact Sheet," the National Domestic Violence Hotline receives over 22,000 calls every month and 92% of callers report that it’s their first call for help. The implications of the legislation are all too familiar for those answering the phones:
The passage of VAWA in 1994, and its reauthorization in 2000 and 2005, has changed the landscape for victims who once suffered in silence. Victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking have been able to access services, and a new generation of families and justice system professionals has come to understand that domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking are crimes that our society will not tolerate.
Help is literally just a phone call away. But speaking up is the first step many still won't take.

Reauthorizing the VAWA is about shattering the stigma surrounding intimate partner violence and empowering those who feel powerless. If the House stays silent, or continues to ignore the issue, they are telling women to do the same.

But , as Jezebel pointed out, some House members are vocalizing their reservations in the media. For instance, John "Jimmy" Duncan Jr., a Representative from Tennessee, believes the VAWA is just another bill with a "motherhood-and-apple-pie-title." 

Despite overwhelming support in the Senate, Duncan feels he will have to look past the pie and give this (seemingly obvious) vote more careful consideration. Not one to quit while he's ahead, Duncan explained he is more opposed to violence against women than violence against men, because men handle it a little better. 

Sexism and essentialism aside, if the VAWA isn't actually about violence against women, then what is it about?

Rachel Maddow found one conservative opinion leader insisting the VAWA was more ammunition for the Democrats fictitious "war on women," and part of an elaborate plot to hold the Senate majority, maybe even take the House next year. But Maddow responded:
Nearly two decades ago, Democrats and Republicans easily approved the Violence Against Women Act. It's been reauthorized since with overwhelming, bipartisan support. (As recently as 2005, there was a GOP majority in the House, and VAWA was reauthorized on a vote of 415 to 4).
So what is it, really?

As the National Network to End Domestic Violence points out, this is a year of expansionThe reauthorized VAWA would extend protection and services to Native American women, LGBT individuals, and immigrant survivors. It would also guarantee safe housing for low-income persons experiencing violence and offer campus resources for college students. 

Perhaps the Republican party's resistance to this year's VAWA is just another reflection of their their distaste for all the not rich, not straight, and not white people. 

Turns out, they were right. The VAWA is no longer just about helping women. It's more inclusive. And the GOP is hesitant to assist anyone outside their narrow understanding of domestic violence; the image of a middle-class white woman with a black eye. That's why they're dragging their heels.

As Duncan said, the newest version most certainly is not "motherhood and apple pie." The VAWA now has a definition more fitting of 2013, including more of the sexualities and more of the cultures existing within the United States. Not just the ones Republicans prioritize

Always resistant to change, of course the GOP is holding up progress. But, as usual, not for the reasons they're claiming.

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