Op-Ed: If You Oppose Violence Against Women, You Should Be Ashamed of Your Congress

Allowing the Violence Against Women Act to lapse says something about America’s highest elected officials, and it is bad.

violence against women battered women's shelter

A pregnant victim of domestic violence and her eight-month-old baby rest in her room at Mutual Ground’s shelter in Aurora, Illinois. (Photo: John Gress/Reuters)

Here’s the deal: 22 Republican men in the U.S. Senate and an as yet to be determined number in the House of Representatives believe that there are some people who do not deserve protection from abuse in our country. 

These legislators believe this with so much passion and vigor that they have put the lives of millions of women across this country in great risk and blocked the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

Who are these people who don't deserve protection from abuse? They are Native American women, LGBT couples and women who have come to the United States from another country. 

Each time VAWA has been reauthorized, for decades, it has been expanded. This broadening, of course, makes perfect sense. The goal of the law is to prevent abuse. Where legislation can be helpful, members of Congress have long agreed that they should do what they can to protect all people in our country from abuse. 

But not this time.

Duncan’s single, offensive and ignorant statement encapsulates the lower house’s opposition to VAWA: Some people do not need protection from abuse, while others do.

Earlier this year, 78 U.S. Senators voted to extend protections against sexual violence and domestic abuse to some of America’s most vulnerable communities—including Native American women, LGBT couples and immigrant women.

However, a number of House Republicans, and 22 male Senators, have balked. Included in their ranks is the so-called GOP Savior, Florida’s Marco Rubio, who voted against VAWA outright.

House Republicans, under the direction of Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Speaker of the House John Boehner, have indicated they will join Rubio and block the VAWA’s extensions. That’s just embarrassing.

Right now, for the first time in VAWA’s history, it is actually expired.

With Congressmen like Rep. Jimmy Duncan (R-TN) telling reporters “most men can handle [violence or abuse] a little better than a lot of women can,” don’t expect a core understanding of the issues.

Duncan’s single, offensive and ignorant statement encapsulates the lower house’s opposition to VAWA: Some people do not need protection from abuse, while others do.

It should be a self-evident truth that members of all communities, regardless of skin color or sexual orientation, require protection from high rates of abuse. But just to be crystal clear, here are the facts:

  • Why do Native American women need protection from abuse? Because three out of five Native American women will be abused by their partners during their lifetime. Because, of Native American women who are raped, 86 percent are raped by non-Native American men. 
  • Why do LGBT couples need to be covered under VAWA? Because one in three LGBT relationships experiences domestic violence—similar to the rate of domestic abuse in heterosexual couples, but LGBT survivors have greater difficulty accessing services and getting out of abusive relationships. 
  • Why do immigrants need protection from abuse? Because 48 percent of Latinas reported that partner violence against them increased after they immigrated to the United States. 

In its history, VAWA has been a powerful tool in curtailing domestic violence. Because of VAWA, 500,000 law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges have been trained every year to ensure they understand the realities of domestic and sexual violence.

What is happening on Capitol Hill with respect to the Violence Against Women Act should be a source of deep shame for the American people. But it's hardly being noticed.

The VAWA also established the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which has answered more than 3 million calls and receives more than 22,000 calls every month; 92 percent of callers report that it’s their first call for help.

The results have been clear: Between 1993 to 2010, the rate of intimate partner violence declined 67 percent. VAWA was part of that impact.

Every day at UltraViolet we hear from survivors of abuse who are outraged by the House of Representative’s refusal to help native and immigrant women and LGBT victims of violence. That's why 67,000 of our members have signed a petition calling on Congress to pass VAWA right away. It's why we released a powerful ad urging Congress to act  and it's why tens of thousands of our members have reached out to Congress on this issue. 

Here are just a few of the stories we receive:

Lisa, from California wrote:

I am of both Mexican and Native American ancestry born to first generation American born parents. During my 14-year marriage to my ex-husband I was not allowed to leave my home, had all phone calls monitored and was even told what to wear and how. I did not see my family for nearly 12 years. No one could help because I was told emotional abuse was hard to prove. Women need resources and safe access to those resources. Restraining orders should cover more than a 100-foot radius. I required a police escort to walk away from the father of my children.

Peter in Tennessee wrote:

I am a retired judge from Kentucky. Ft. Campbell was in my jurisdiction. I had entered an Emergency Protective Order against a soldier on behalf of his girlfriend/mother of his daughter. Before the final hearing, he crossed the KY-TN border and shot and killed her while she held their daughter. He was prosecuted in fed. ct. for several of the fed. crimes associated with VAWA and is still in prison. If he had been prosecuted in state court and it is very likely that he would be out.

Domestic violence kills three women every day. What is happening on Capitol Hill with respect to the Violence Against Women Act should be a source of deep shame for the American people. But it's hardly being noticed. Members of Congress need to be naming those who are blocking passage of this legislation, the media needs to expose those members of Congress, advocacy groups like ours need to continue to shame those same members of Congress, and people everywhere need to let Congress know they are watching.

To join UltraViolet, a community fighting to combat sexism everywhere—from politics to pop culture—sign this petition asking Congress to pass VAWA now.

If someone tells you they are too busy to tell their congress person to pass the Violence Against Women Act, what do you tell them? Say it in COMMENTS.

These are solely the authors opinions and do not represent those of TakePart, LLC or its affiliates.

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