Health and Fitness

Why it Might Be Premature to Celebrate the Re-Authorization of the Violence Against Women Act

Just a few weeks ago, Congress laid the foundation to re-authorize the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The Senate version of the bill, passing with provisions to protect LGBTQ, Alaskan Native and American Indian women on reservations, faced some initial rebuke from House Republicans. Why? Because conservatives in the House deemed it unnecessary to protect ALL classes of women in the bill itself. The uber-Conservatives in the House faced off against the more moderate Reps but eventually, the Senate version was passed then signed into law on Thursday. Though this seems like a celebratory moment, it really signifies a continued lack of compromise on even the most logical and sound issues facing our country.

Put simply, VAWA protects rape victims from their accused rapists during trial or at any other time. Under the law, women will not be forced to pay for their own medical expenses or to face trial alongside their alleged aggressors. In addition, it mandates that accused rapists be held responsible for their actions in the eyes of the law regardless of whether that law is native or non-native. So, logically, it just makes sense to extend these protections to every woman on American soil.

Why Are These New Provisions So Important?

In the case of Native women, rape and sexual abuse is a major issue which goes unrecognized by many in the general population.

“Although Native American and Alaska Native women experience sexual violence at a much higher rate than other women in the United States—two and a half times higher—and although Department of Justice studies show that 86 percent of perpetrators are non-Native men, tribal authorities had had no jurisdiction to prosecute and mete out justice.”

Given these facts, House Republicans’ actions to strip protections for these women out of the Senate bill sent a very disheartening message to those impacted directly and women in general. Why make the blatant effort to remove rights as opposed to reinforce them? Well, it’s likely because Republicans in the House are vehemently opposed to supporting anything even remotely coordinated with President Obama or Senate Democrats. So much so, they are willing to compromise the invaluable protections women in this country depend on to protect them in the case of physical or sexual abuse or rape.

Here is the bigger issue with this poor showing from our Congress: these people are elected to represent ALL of us – every single person on American soil. In my opinion, Native women are not impervious to rape from American-born men so why would they be impervious to protections? If an American commits a crime in another country, they are held responsible by said country’s government. Why should Native American and Alaska Native governments be treated any differently?

Women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, or queer are no less American so why exactly would they need to be stripped from the bill? House Republicans seem to be saying that they have very specific, isolated groups of citizens they are willing to represent. Everyone else, it appears, should be left to their own guises.

What happened to the days when we all agreed that rape was bad? And, not only was it bad but it was something worth punishing no matter the cost? It is almost bewildering that a bill like VAWA would come up against any push back in Congress given its extremely sensitive and universally accepted purpose. Yet, our Congress struggled to work together on a rape bill?

And, in an embarrassing turn of events, these same Republicans who voted against the bill have been coming out in droves to pretend as though they actually supported the bill in its passed form. So, not only are they shameless in their lack of support for women, they are shamelessly taking credit for the final product which they had no actual role in fulfilling.

There isn’t much else to say here. But, I just do not see this as a celebratory moment. When violence against women is seen as a point of negotiation, we should all – especially those of the female persuasion – be extremely concerned. This is not a fluke. It will likely continue. Let’s just hope that the next batch of negotiations doesn’t turn out like the sequester did.

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