VAWA is landmark legislation that provides a host of much-needed services to abuse victims, including legal protections and funding for domestic violence shelters, resources, and education. When it was originally passed in 1994, many abuse victims and survivors breathed a sigh of relief. Since then, it has been the subject of little controversy in Congress and has been reauthorized several times. Unfortunately, times have changed, and if I din’t know any better I might say that I’d stepped into what I imagine the makings of the Republic of Gilead looked like in the events prior to The Handmaid’s Tale. A good number of Senate Republicans, led by Chuck Grassley of Iowa, are objecting to the renewal of the bill. Last month, VAWA narrowly made it through committee, with all eight committee Republicans voting against it. It is expected to be on the Senate floor in the next week or so, and it looks as if passing the bill might take more effort than it logically should. While the bill faces a ridiculous amount of opposition, it is nevertheless backed by a small number of Republicans who still have souls.
Senate Republicans are objecting to the bill, to put it nicely, based on language. Because, you know, language means something, and here it means that we might have to recognize that queer people are, well, people. Oh, and also immigrants. And Native Americans! But let’s start with that first one. The reauthorization of VAWA includes protections for LGBTQ people, meaning that domestic violence shelters and organizations would not be able to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity if the bill was passed. But since the entire LGBTQ population is out to destroy families or whatever, this portion of the bill is opposed by Republicans. Apparently, VAWA only works in heterosexual relationships.
Another provision of the bill would extend visas to abused immigrants looking to escape domestic violence. The visas would allow them to attain legal status and work in the United States, which would enable them to provide for themselves and end reliance on an abuser. The current VAWA allows for some visas, but the reauthorization would extend the number of visas modestly. However, many abused immigrants are currently able to stay in the United States as candidates for such visas, but not allowed to work. Aren’t conservatives always complaining about how immigrants don’t work! Great job at making sure they can’t!
The new VAWA would also extend the authority of tribal law in Native American communities. It is no secret that Native women are at a much higher risk for domestic violence, but what many do not realize is that not all Native women are beaten by Native men, but by non-Natives over whom tribal law has no standing. Yup, Natives being abused by White people (and other races, of course)! Shocking, isn’t it? With the reauthorization of VAWA, tribal courts would be given the right to prosecute non-Natives for domestic violence matters in their own courts. Currently, only federal courts may do this, and they seem to have neither the time nor the interest in prosecuting such cases. Therefore, they go largely unpunished. Grassley and his colleagues oppose this provision because they believe that it would open a can of worms by extending tribal laws over non-members.
Basically what we’re looking at here is a refusal by Republicans to acknowledge, once again, that women are people deserving of rights and protections. We have officially moved from the more insidious political actions opposing a woman’s right to choose, which has the advantage of hiding behind concern for “unborn children”, to an outright denial of protection based on gender. Moreover, they’ve taken the additional steps of adding in their other three most-hated groups: LGBTQ people, people of color, and immigrants. This has moved from the “we’re just protecting you/someone else” to “we do not care about you.” By failing to reauthorize VAWA, the message we as women are getting is that not only do conservatives not care about us, they place the rights of others to stalk us, beat us, and torture us without legal reprieve above our right to be safe. They do not want the abused to seek help, to get help, to have somewhere to escape to.
I urge you to speak up for this, to stand up for your rights and the rights of those who have been abused. If you are able, please contact your representatives and/or sign the National Organization for Women’s petition here. This legislation means so much to so many. Please don’t let it disappear.