San Francisco – On Tuesday (February 12, 2013) afternoon even as the nations’ attention was tied up with gun control, the State of the Union speech and the drama of capturing the disgruntled (now late) Christopher Dorner from the cabin where he barricaded himself, an important development occurred in Washington DC, the Senate approved the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization by a vote of 78 to 22. All 22 sadly though predictably were Republican men. Not surprisingly, every woman Senator supported the bill.

Among the eminent ‘Nayers’ were Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).  Presumably, some of them objected on the grounds that the Constitution precludes federal protection for victims of domestic violence. (One wonders if and how far even major accomplishments such as property owning/voting rights for African Americans and women would have met their esteemed criterion!)

Violence in America is so rampant and entirely disproportionate to its own population and to the crime rates in all other western countries that this by itself should qualify America for its claim to exceptionalism. The country can justly and proudly claim we are better than all in killing our own.

But it is women and girls who bear the brunt of the type of violence that occurs domestically – within the home and in intimate relationships.  An estimated 1.3 million women reportedly are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. 85% of domestic violence victims are women.

One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime (Domestic Violence Facts). Domestic violence does not end immediately with separation. Over 70 percent of the women injured in domestic violence cases are injured after separation.

Battering tends to increase and become more violent over time, and importantly, it occurs among people of all races, ages, socioeconomic classes, religious affiliations, occupations, and educational backgrounds. It is also trans-generational in that children who witness abuse or are abused tend to turn into abusive spouses and partners.

Drafted by the office of then Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), with support from advocacy groups, the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) passed through Congress with bipartisan support and was signed by President Bill Clinton on September 13, 1994. The Act provides for investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, imposes automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and establishes the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice. Male victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking are also covered.

According to a Government fact sheet, VAWA has ensured that victims and their families have access to the services they need to achieve safety and rebuild their lives by establishing the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which has answered over 3 million calls and receives over 22,000 calls every month; 92 percent of callers report that it’s their first call for help. More victims are reporting domestic and sexual violence to police, and reports to police are resulting in more arrests.

Among its compelling positive effects have been a 67 percent decline in rate of intimate partner violence (between 1993 and 2010), a 35 percent decrease in the rate of intimate partner homicides of females and even more (46 percent decline in intimate partner homicides of males).

The federal law has had a tremendous catalytic effect. States now take violence against women more seriously: All states have reformed laws that previously treated date or spousal rape as a lesser crime than stranger rape; all of them have passed laws making stalking a crime; they have additionally authorized arrests without warrants in misdemeanor domestic violence cases where the responding officer determines that probable cause exists; and all states provide for criminal sanctions for the violation of a civil protection order. Stalking and other manifestations of violence in the workplace are also being addressed.

It is (or should be) a winning situation. Right? Not if you are following Republican party’s recent about turn on the law. VAWA was reauthorized by Congress in 2000, and again in December 2005. But the Act’s 2012 renewal was opposed by conservative Republicans, who objected to extending the Act’s protections to same-sex couples and to provisions allowing battered undocumented immigrants to claim temporary visas.

In April 2012, the Senate voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, and the House subsequently passed its own measure (omitting provisions of the Senate bill that would protect gay men, lesbians, American Indians living in reservations, and undocumented people who were victims of domestic violence). Reconciliation of the two bills was blocked by procedural tactics. On January 2, 2013, the Senate’s 2012 reauthorization of VAWA was not brought up for a vote in the House.

On February 13, 2013, the Senate has once again approved its reauthorization but its clearance in the House is expected to be obstructed unless some of the Republican members’ objections to extending protections to same-sex couples and allowing American Indian authorities to prosecute non-American Indians in tribal courts are addressed.

Domestic abuse reportedly is particularly prevalent on reservations, and the abuse is largely by non-tribal partners. “American Indian women are more than twice as likely to be raped as white women, and many are left in limbo between tribal authorities who are powerless to act against non-tribal aggressors and local officials who are unable to exert much control on tribal lands. The new Senate bill recognizes tribal authority to prosecute non-American Indians who abuse their partners.”

On February 14, a global Valentine’s Day event has invited 1 billion women across the globe to oppose violence against women through dancing. A billion women are expecting to rise together and dance in the streets to re-claim their courage and to stand up to violence against women everywhere.

It is a sad commentary on those of our political representatives whose intellectual staleness and emotional disconnect disables them to repeatedly sense the power in the frailty of women.


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