Step Aside Komen, How Republicans Are Making Domestic Violence A Political Issue

It’s widely recognized that domestic violence is a serious human rights violation that affects women, children and families worldwide. Violence against women* impacts the stability of families, increases the burden on our bursting-at-the-seams healthcare system, and negatively impacts our economy. Violence against women can result in the loss of one’s home, job, and dignity or, in some cases, life. So you would assume that most people are all for ending violence against women, right? If by most people you’re including Republican leaders in Congress, you’d be wrong. With the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) up for reauthorization, there are forces within the GOP who would oppose this legislation simply because it contains provisions to protect LGBT and immigrant victims and recognizes tribal authority to prosecute domestic violence crimes against Native Americans.

Vice President Joe Biden introduced VAWA in 1994 back when he was a Delaware senator. The measure was signed into law by President Clinton and subsequently reauthorized in 2000 and 2005 under Democratic and Republican leadership in the White House. According to the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, VAWA:

“recognizes the insidious and pervasive nature of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking and supports comprehensive, effective and cost saving responses to these crimes.  VAWA programs, administered by the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services, give law enforcement, prosecutors and judges the tools they need to hold offenders accountable and keep communities safe while supporting victims.”

VAWA enjoyed bipartisan support in the past, presumably because lawmakers realized that domestic violence is not a political issue. This year is different, however, with zero Republicans voting to support the reauthorization of VAWA last month when the measure was introduced in the Senate Judiciary Committee. I think what we’re seeing here is more of the GOP’s inability to move beyond a very narrow anti-gay, anti-immigrant agenda to do what’s in the best interest of Americans as a whole. Here’s a snapshot of the “controversial” provisions called for in the reauthorization:

  • Ensure the availability of services to LGBTQ individuals: All victims of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and stalking are eligible for protection under the law and services no matter if the perpetrator is of the same sex/gender, especially since nearly half of LGBTQ victims are turned away from domestic violence shelters, more than 55% were denied orders of protection, and 96% of victim services and law enforcement agencies said that they did not have specific services for LGBTQ victims (NTF).
  • Expand provisions allowing immigrant victims to overcome barriers in accessing protection and services: Immigrant women face particular challenges when faced with an abusive partner, including cultural and language barriers, limited access to housing, legal status, isolation, and economic insecurity. Often, these factors intersect to isolate immigrant women and prevent them from accessing services. Immigrant women’s access to services for domestic violence is further hindered when service providers are unable to adequately respond to immigrant women’s unique needs and barriers (VAWnet). The reauthorization would add dating violence and stalking to list of crimes covered by the U visa, an immigration tool that encourages victims and witnesses to assist with investigating or prosecuting crime without threat to their status in this country.
  • Allow tribal authorities to better prosecute crimes against Native women: Under current law the federal government has exclusive responsibility to investigate and prosecute on-reservation crimes committed by non-Native Americans. Despite this responsibility, the majority of domestic violence and sexual assault crimes against Native women by non-Natives go unprosecuted. Reauthorization will recognize and affirm tribal authority to prosecute misdemeanor cases of domestic violence by all offenders, regardless of race (NTF).

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking Republican in the Senate Judiciary Committee and leader of reauthorization opponents, addressed these and other parts of the legislation he deemed unnecessary or undesirable in his statement before the Committee. It’s long, but if you read the statement you’ll see that yes, there are people willing to negatively impact the human rights imperative of ending violence against women because they’re against eliminating domestic violence services discrimination based on sexual orientation, allowing tribes jurisdiction over non-Natives on Native land, and expanding existing protections for abused immigrants. Then again, I applaud Grassley for protecting the U.S. from those scheming immigrant lesbians living on reservations using domestic violence as a pathway to citizenship. Bravo, Chuck.

The scales of justice must tip in favor of VAWA reauthorization. No matter your personal feelings about LGBTQ people, immigrants, or tribal sovereignty, the safety of women and families takes priority. Now that the bill has passed out of committee, it must go up for a full Senate vote. It will be interesting to see what happens, now that it will take 60 votes in order to pass and make it to the House. Add this to the growing list of battles in the GOP’s war against women that we’ve seen unfold with increasing vehemence over the past couple of years.

*Domestic violence (DV) affects us all, women, children and men. I recognize that there are indeed male vicitms of DV who require recogniztion, services, and protection. However, I discuss DV primarily as violence against women because the reality is that 85% of DV victims are female with a male batterer, 1 in 4 women will be the victim of DV at some point in her lifetime, and women are 95% more likely to suffer DV than men (NNEDV).

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