Yesterday, the GOP-led House voted to approve the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), trending as #fakevawa on Twitter, almost exclusively along bipartisan lines with 222 members voting in favor and 205 against.
First passed in 1994 with broad bipartisan support, VAWA originally provided $1.6 billion in funding toward the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, extended victim’s rights for redress and established the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women.
Full disclosure: as a rape survivor, I have been a direct beneficiary of VAWA’s funding for I, like millions of women across the country, went to my local rape crisis center for help. Since then, through my work as a university professor and the co-founder of A Long Walk Home, a nonprofit that empowers college students to end campus sexual assault I have witnessed firsthand how VAWA’s Grants to Reduce Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence and Stalking on Campus Program have increased resources for victims and prevention programs on campuses all over the country.
This year, the bill’s reauthorization has become enmeshed in a series of political battle between Democrats and Republicans over the scope of its protections. Democrats have fought to expand its coverage to include protections for groups especially vulnerable to gender-based crimes, such as gay, lesbian and transgender victims, Native Americans and undocumented workers. Those provisions were part of the Senate bill that passed in April.
As a result, House Republicans risk advancing the perception that the GOP isn’t standing strong for women’s rights, which is more than just a perception—they are, after all, the aggressors in the War on Women. By denying the expanded protections—recommendations made by a victim’s rights advocates, law enforcement officials, and survivors themselves—Republicans are also legislating a hierarchy of victimhood, determining which groups deserve funding, resources and equal protection under the law.
This is especially appalling because Native Americans and undocumented immigrants experience disproportionately high rates of domestic and sexual violence, while bearing the even greater burden of social stigma and discrimination by law enforcement than other Americans.
The National Taskforce to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women also reports that while members of the LGBTQ community experience sexual and domestic violence at approximately the same rate as non-LGBTQ victims, they are more likely to be denied services than heterosexual victims. Forty-five percent of LGBT victims were turned away when they sought help from a domestic violence shelter, according to a 2010 survey, and nearly 55 percent of those who sought protection orders were denied them. Thirty-four percent of Native American women, on the other hand, will be raped in their lifetimes, and 39 percent will be subjected to domestic violence. Of special concern to House Democrats was the bill’s failure to protect abused immigrant women, nearly 75 percent of whom, need legal protections to prevent abusers and perpetrators from using immigration status as a tool of abuse, exploitation and control.
Republicans claim that the differences in the Senate and House bills are a result of Democrats’ politicizing a key issue for both parties. They’re wrong, and I can’t help but think about the thousands of victims who will continue to be underserved and vulnerable to future abuse and exploitation.
This ranking of victimhood, of whose experience with violence does and doesn’t count is not only profoundly undemocratic but a surefire guarantee that the real pandemic of domestic and sexualviolence is here to stay.