**Trigger Warning – this is not a sugar-coated post**
Earlier this month I posted that the Violence Against Women Act had failed to be reauthorized. I know that this is “old news” in the internet world but I have been taking the time to come up with more concise thoughts on the matter. My first post was a gut reaction coming off of a grave shift. Considering the circumstances I did a fairly good job at expressing my feelings.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was first enacted in 1994. The then Senator, now Vice President Joe Biden was one of the main players. Since 1994 it has been reauthorized with support from both parties. It really is a ground breaking piece of legislation that not only provides services for survivors but has tough consequences for perpetrators as well. The combination makes this an incredibly holistic piece of legislation. Each time it has been reauthorized new provisions and protections have been added. Here are some things that VAWA has done:
- Created a federal “rape shield law” – this means that a survivors past sexual history and behaviors cannot be used against her in a rape case. To some this may not seem necessary but considering the amount of victims blaming that goes on when a woman is raped it is absolutely necessary. I’ve said it before and I will continue to say it. Rape is not about sex. It is about power. The only person responsible for rape is the rapist. Period. It does not matter what the woman is wearing or what she behaves like, whether it is the day that she is raped, three weeks before, or three years ago. It does not matter how many people she has had sex with, if she flirts at parties, or drinks alcohol.
- Strengthened federal penalties for repeat offenders.
- Survivors do not have to pay for the expense of an exam, after care, or getting a protection order. Any survivor, no matter her income level or class, can go to the hospital and does not have to pay for a rape kit to be done. This is so important. Can you imagine if after a woman is raped she also has the additional financial burden of being able to take care of her body? This includes wellness exams also. A rape kit is looking for evidence should the case go to trial where as a wellness exam is just taking care of the woman’s body. This often includes some sort of morning after pill.
- Training law enforcement and people who work within the legal system with the realities of domestic violence and sexual assault. When the police are called to a home for domestic violence it can often times be the woman, the survivor, who is arrested. Sometimes this is because she chose to fight back and therefore left visible marks, like scratches, on her abuser. Bruises that she may have will not show up right away. Another reason for this is that when the police show up often times the survivor is the distraught one and the abuser is calm. He gains trust by calmly explaining his version of what happened; he is clear, concise, and in control. This is why a survivor can have domestic violence charges on her record. Trainings are specifically designed to help law enforcement identify who is the abuser and who is the survivor.
- Training for advocates to understand the complexities of domestic violence and sexual assault.
- Expanded access to services for survivors and establishing the National Domestic Violence Hotline which receives over 22,000 calls per month. For many callers it is their first time reaching out for help.
- Bringing together different types of groups and organizations to provide holistic support to survivors whether it is medical, legal, mental health (counseling/therapy), victim advocacy, etc.
- Focusing attention on underserved communities such as immigrants, and supporting tribal governments in their work to support survivors by strengthening their capacity to protect Native Americans and Alaska Native Women.
- Encouraging women to report abuse. Since its enactment more women than ever have reported domestic violence and sexual assault.
- States are taking violence against women more seriously. Marital rape is not a myth or seen as lesser than stranger rape. Stalking is a crime. States have authorized warrantless arrests were the officer determines there is probable cause. Criminal sanctions for violation of a civic order. Many states have started addressing violence in the workplace. For example to protect survivors against discrimination due to the violence they experience and unemployment insurance if they have to leave their job due to it.
These are just some of the provisions and changes that have come about because of VAWA. The newest version included protections for women in the LGBTQ community, Native Americans, and Immigrants. This once again was going to be ground breaking.
Abuse in the LGBTQ community is just starting to be widely recognized. This partly stems from age-old gender stereotypes. Man equals strong, big, proud, able to take care of himself. Woman equals weak, emotional, caring, and in need of protection. When a man is being abused by another man it can often be a difficult thing to admit. He not only has to fight against his own sense of pride and shame but the shaming and disbelief of others. When a woman is being abused by another woman it is not taken seriously. Outsiders generally assume that women are not abusive and if they are it is not physical. Physical abuse is thought of as the worst type of abuse, especially by people who have never experienced it. I have talked to several women who have a hard time taking their abuse seriously because their abuser did not hit them. Instead he hurt her in ways that were less visible. Financial, sexual, emotional, mental, and spiritual abuse are very real, and in my opinion can be worse than physical. When someone hits you, you have a provable mark on your body. There is evidence that can be shown to another person. Other types of abuse are not visible and therefore hard to prove. I am not trying to say that women are not physically abusive. Abuse, like rape, like sexual assault is about power. It is about controlling another human being, not matter their age, gender, or sex.
Protection for immigrants is another very important piece. Abusers will use a survivors legal status as way to prevent them from seeking services. This added protection says that it does not matter if a person is here illegally. Abuse is abuse. Rape is rape. Abusers will tell the person being abused that if they go to the police they will be arrested and/or deported. This prevents that. It takes away a part of the abusers power. Can you imagine coming to this county only to be stuck in an abusive relationship or to be raped with no way to come forward, no way to seek protection or resources, and no way to seek legal recourse?
Protections for Native Americans is also important. At this point in time if a non-native commits an act of violence, such as rape on native land he gets away with it. The US government cannot prosecute because it was on native land and the tribal government cannot do anything as the person is not a member of the tribe. 1 in 3 Native women will be raped in their life time. 1 in 3. Most will be raped by a non-native person. The most recent version of VAWA would have given tribal governments the ability to prosecute these men. As it stand there is nothing, nothing that can be done. Pardon me for being crass but a non-native man could walk onto tribal land and repeatedly rape every woman there and walk away scott free. How is this okay? How is this something that we are okay with?
These last three points are the ones that House Republicans have a problem with. They decided that illegal immigrants, lesbians, and Native Americans (that’s the kicker) are not people. At least not people deserving of the rights and protections provided other women in this county. I firmly believe that it is our job as people of this country to protect each other, and especially to protect the most vulnerable amongst us. I do not care who you sleep with, or where you are from, violence against women is wrong. It is unacceptable that this was not reauthorized. Not only did they not want to authorize it with the additional protections they wanted to take away provisions already in place. I cannot even fully express to you how angry this makes me. Seriously Congress get your act together.