Republican Party failing to see the value of VAWA
February 5, 2013By Marta Rusek
The following is a work of opinion submitted by the author.
During the first month of 2013, two historic firsts occurred. On Jan. 24, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the end of the military's ban on women serving in combat positions. Female service members can now officially serve on the front lines for the first time in American armed forces history.
But as the nation celebrated the progress of women in the military, it barely noted a major setback for women all over the country. Days before Panetta's announcement, the 113th Congress failed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act for the first time since its passage in 1994.
The legislation, which was renewed in 2000 and 2005, is not completely defunct. VAWA will continue to exist in the form of its previous authorization. The crisis centers and counseling organizations that serve rape and domestic abuse survivors are still operating, but they are forced to cut back on resources and jobs due to reduced funding.
The version of VAWA up for reauthorization would have expanded funding and provided more protection and support for underserved groups of women in the LGBT, Native American, and undocumented immigrant communities.
Congress' failure to pass this revision comes on the heels of a year when the topic of rape became front-page news thanks to the poorly chosen words of several politicians. From Missouri congressional candidate Todd Akin's now-infamous catchphrase "legitimate rape" to Wisconsin lawmaker Roger Rivard's belief that "some girls rape easy," the media became saturated with even more messages that add insult to injury for the millions of rape and domestic abuse survivors in the United States. Both men belong to the Republican Party, the party that blocked VAWA's progression.
As a registered Republican, a woman, and a survivor of sexual assault, I am at a loss. How can my party claim to be the protector of family values and morality when it is the overwhelming force that halts efforts to protect women from further abuse?
Republicans in Congress fail to see the obvious — that women are a crucial part of the family structure. Women are the mothers of these elected officials and of the individuals harmed most by a weakened VAWA. Mothers in today's American family could be gay, Native American, or undocumented. For one group of women to be valued over another implies that laws are made to be observed for one group as a blind eye is turned toward others — that Congress favors discrimination on the basis of race, gender and sexual orientation.
The statistics are damning as well. According to the very first nationwide study on victimization by sexual orientation conducted by the CDC [see below], "Bisexual women had significantly higher lifetime prevalence of rape and sexual violence other than rape ... when compared to both lesbian and heterosexual women." Of the respondents in the study, 46 percent of women who had been raped during their lifetimes identified as bisexual, compared to 17 percent heterosexual women and 13 percent lesbian women.
Even worse, the incidence of sexual assault by an intimate partner for bisexuals and lesbians according to the report was 61 percent and 43 percent respectively. In other words, these women are being harmed by people they know and love. Without the amendments proposed by the 2012 version of VAWA, LGBT women will not receive the same protections as heterosexual survivors of rape or domestic abuse, including the ability to seek domestic abuse counseling or temporary housing reserved for women who have fled an abusive partner. Abusive same-sex partners are not viewed as a threat by the laws that protect a woman against an abusive heterosexual male partner.
The situation is equally bleak for survivors who are Native American or undocumented. Tribal courts lack the power to bring non-Native attackers to justice in federal courts, and illegal immigrant women fear deportation if they report their abuse to the police.
Rape and domestic abuse are devastating crimes that cause immeasurable trauma, whether the victim has family ties or not. Being gay or Native American or foreign-born does not endow a woman with better coping mechanisms when she is abused. Living on American soil and paying taxes to the American federal government should entitle them to the same laws and protections afforded to the women currently covered under the existing version of VAWA.
If that line of thinking doesn't move members of the Republican party, then they should imagine the millions of women who voted out Todd Akin and Roger Rivard coming to finish the job in the next election cycle.