Friday, February 08, 2013

On The Reauthorization of VAWA

For some reason reading about the Republican resistance towards reauthorizing VAWA (the Violence Against Women Act) makes me think about fairy tales.  The Big Bad Wolf and Goldilocks and The Three Bears.  

I can't decide if this is one of those truly weird things specific to me where I write a serious and sad poem and then must (just must) add "duh" to it or something equally inane, or if my mind is trying to tell me something important here.  Let's assume that it is the latter and let's ask what that something might be.

The Republicans blocking VAWA consist of a group of Big Bad Wolves, including Tim Scott:

  • He helped block its renewal last year while in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Tim Scott has tried it again yesterday from his new spot in the U.S. Senate.
  • As a result, not only is the Violence Against Women Act expired, but without funding options, too, and it could take even longer to be reinstated.
  • Although a bipartisan panel of 85 senators openly supported it, Scott and seven other Republican senators blocked the 2013 edition of the bill from coming to the floor for debate, Huffington Post reports.
  • VAWA’s provisions, which include legal aid for abused females and funding of rape crisis centers, are now halted.
  • ...
  • Domestic violence is a prominent topic is Scott’s state of South Carolina, unfortunately. Over 36,000 women in the state are victims every year, according to the state Attorney General.
  • South Carolina ranks highest in homicide committed against women by men, and one of out every eight women in the state are victims of physical abuse at least once in their lifetimes.
  • The Republican senators who joined Scott in blocking VAWA from debate prior to vote were Rand Paul (Ky.), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Mike Lee (Utah), James Risch (Idaho), Mike Johanns (Neb.) and Ted Cruz (Texas).

Is calling these men the  Big Bad Wolves unfair?  Perhaps.  But I think the link in my brain comes from the Little Red Riding-Hood who was sent out into the woods all alone,  even though her parents knew that a wolf was roaming about.  Yet it was a little girl they sent, with food and drink, to take care of the aged grandmother.

In modern terms that looks like child endangerment.  How it fits into this story is perhaps the idea that the traditional roles of women are not completely different from the role of the little Red Riding-Hood.  They are based on the view that one doesn't wash the family's dirty linen in public, that intimate partner abuse is almost a private thing and not something the society should try to change.  They are based on the view that the family is a private sphere where the law is in the hands of the head of the family.  If there's a wolf in the family, well, that's the family's business.

And yes, I know that the explicit criticisms of VAWA from those conservatives are about something different.   Hence the second fairy tale in my head, the one about  Goldilock and the three bears.    That story is all about looking and looking to find something exactly right.  There's also another  big bad wolf story having to do with pigs which conveys a related message.

In a similar vein, the conservatives are looking and looking and finding the VAWA wrong.  If it's not one thing (LGBT or Native American women shouldn't be covered)  it's something else.  For instance, one must prove that VAWA has reduced domestic violence.  Otherwise it cannot be reauthorized.  But we don't use that yardstick in determining if other laws about crime should be upheld or not.

My personal opinion is that the name of the law was probably a mistake, because VAWA covers particular kinds of crimes (domestic violence, sexual assaults, dating violence and stalking) which in the past did not get the societal attention they deserved and which also happen to affect more women than men.  Thus, it's not about all violence that women might be victimized by,  and men, too, can benefit from VAWA if they suffer from the consequences of the type of violence VAWA describes.

But the law itself is needed.  Consider this:

  • Native American women living on Indian reservations are highly susceptible to violence by non-Native men because tribal courts lack jurisdiction over them, even when these crimes are committed on tribal lands. Today, federal and state law enforcement has jurisdiction over domestic violence committed on the reservation, but they often lack the means or incentive to pursue such cases, and state's attorneys repeatedly decline to take legal action. This means that under our current system, non-Native men who prey upon Native women are pretty much immune from prosecution.
 That should be unacceptable.