The Senate’s recent passage of legislation reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act was a victory for demagoguery over open and honest discussion of problematic social issues.
Supporters of the current manifestation of the VAWA have attempted to portray those with reservations about various components of the law as unsympathetic to violence against women, Native Americans, immigrants, and homosexuals.
Such mischaracterizations have effectively silenced opposition to many of the troublesome aspects of the law. Who wants to confront charges of indifference to abused women and to others in need? Consequently, the Senate expended little time considering how the law might be redesigned or amended to serve victims of violence more effectively and efficiently.
Yet there is a real need for a re-evaluation of the law. The U.S. Department of Justice recently issued several reports exposing blatant instances of fraud and abuse in the use of the VAWA grant funds, but there was no discussion of how to address these problems and the need for greater accountability during the law’s reauthorization.
Additionally, the law creates duplicate programs for services already offered by other federal agencies and contains millions of dollars in grants that have not been adequately monitored by the Government Accountability Office to determine their effectiveness. Victims and Americans generally are shortchanged by such a lack of oversight.
Another problematic aspect of the law receiving inadequate attention is the unprecedented amount of legal authority granted to tribal courts over the prosecution of non-Native Americans. No hearings were held on the ultimate impact of this new provision in the law, and how it might affect the constitutional rights of the accused or set a precedent for the future expansion of tribal legal authority over non-Native Americans.
Furthermore, for all the talk about the need to provide assistance to female victims, little attention was given to Democrats’ rejection of Senator Cornyn’s Justice for Victims amendment. This amendment was designed to bring about justice for rape victims and reduce recidivism by addressing the enormous national backlog of DNA rape test kits that would help identify offenders.
Rather than forcing open debate over these problematic aspects of the reauthorization, many within the GOP have cowed to accusations that they are waging a “war against women.” Thus, following his announcement that Republicans would not filibuster the VAWA, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proclaimed “We’re all in favor of the Violence Against Women Act… there’s nothing to fight about.”
The Republicans who lent support to the reauthorization in its current form may have side-stepped a politically dangerous issue for now, but in succumbing to political pressure and demagoguery, they have only encouraged more of the same. Republicans would be foolish to think that the use of pejorative and inflammatory labels against them will end with the VAWA.
Furthermore, in granting unconditional support to fundamentally flawed legislation, Senators have failed to live up to their trust as representatives to promote the public good.
No bill should receive unconditional support just because the intentions behind it seem noble. If legislators truly care about protecting victims of violence–rather than just appearing to care about protecting victims of violence–they should be willing to openly and honestly deliberate over the most effective and efficient way of achieving this goal.
In so easily acquiescing to the climate of fear surrounding deliberation of gender-related issues, submissive Republicans share the blame for the negative consequences of the flawed legislation their capitulation helps to support.
If Senators fold so easily on an issue like the VAWA, how will they deal with the equally daunting challenges posed by out of control spending, an imploding debt, and safety net programs on the brink of insolvency? Just as with VAWA, those calling for bigger government will do so under the name of helping women and use the same demagoguery to tar their opponents.
America’s future wellbeing depends on leaders who will courageously and candidly address the difficult issues facing our country. Based on the Senate’s recent passage of the VAWA, it seems that such leadership is in short supply. Hopefully members of the House will be more courageous and prudent in making improvements to the law.