Fighting For VAWA

When the Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994, it was the federal government’s way of saying, “Hey, we take rape and domestic violence seriously, especially for women in vulnerable communities.” This wonderful legislation not only made abuse against women more prosecutable, but also generated federal support for outreach programs and domestic violence shelters nationally.  The Act underwent some revisions over the years to tailor it more specifically to the community of immigrant women, including undocumented immigrants, who were the least likely to report crime out of that omnipresent fear of being deported. The Act was renewed every time.

Since 1996, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has answered over 2 million calls, 90 percent of them being from first-time callers. Between 1993 and 2010, domestic violence dropped by 67 percent. The number of women reporting violence by their partner rose by over 10 percent. The accessibility of resources granted by VAWA these past two decades has by and large enabled women to end their silent suffering and actively seek help. So what, then, was so revolting about the provisions added to the bill this year that warranted the termination of VAWA altogether? Apparently, to the House GOP — the faction responsible for this abomination — everything. The fact that it now proposed federal protections for the LGBT community, increased the quantity of visas granted to victimized immigrant women and granted Native American tribes prosecutorial rights to defend their women, was blatantly unmerited and appalling. But for the average, reasonable person, it’d be more appalling to see VAWA be reauthorized without having made amendments that help it better serve the communities for which it was designed. The whole idea behind the added provisions is to emphasize the message that any woman, regardless of her sexual orientation, ethnic background or citizenship status, deserves protections under federal law. It’s a beautifully simple concept, but there’s no hope of feeding it to the ruthless Republican House leadership.

Try to look at it from their point of view: it’s more fun for them to make everything a partisan issue and assert their own political agenda wherever they can, at whatever cost. Granting 5,000 additional visas a year to protect undocumented immigrant women from domestic violence might be morally correct, but ultimately they are still undocumented immigrants and their issues shouldn’t burden U.S. lawmakers because they shouldn’t be in this country in the first place. Lesbians? They’re always getting special treatment. In some places, their immoral marriage to each other has even become allowed; now they deserve to be protected from bodily harm as well? And Native American victims already receive grants, so including them in the bill is simply not worth the investment. None of our government leaders desire for any woman residing in the U.S. suffer at the hands of another; however, tending to these three particular groups — the ones who are subjected to more violence than any other groups, mind you — is simply not in their best political interests, and therefore we can conclude that neither are women.

Despite the statistics that show that the Violence Against Women Act has met remarkable success and empowered thousands of women nationally, what’s a bigger priority to House Republicans than defending this powerful legislation is making sure that we have 5,000 less undocumented immigrants inside our borders. They can sleep OK at night knowing that one in three Native American women will be raped at least once in her lifetime, knowing that everyday, three women die because of domestic violence. Because of them, the Violence Against Women Act no longer exists, so we know they’re OK with it. The so-called “war on women” is very much real.

We are now entering a new era where our government might insist to women that they weren’t raped if it resulted in pregnancy, that they must be forced to go through unnecessary procedures like “transvaginal ultrasounds” to abort an unwanted fetus that they are carrying in their own bodies, and now women face the possibility of having no outlet from abuse once rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters are shut down. It’s hard to believe that the U.S. government can criticize Delhi authorities for hosing down protesters of a single gang rape when that kind of oppression is occurring in our own backyard.

 

Seema Wadwani is a third-year biological sciences major. She can be reached at wadwanas@uci.edu.