Inflammatory rhetoric may be common in today’s political discourse, but many Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) supporters have stooped to new lows in their effort to discredit and silence their opponents. Following adjournment of the 112th Congress last week, proponents of VAWA ruthlessly attacked House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor for failing to schedule a vote on the Senate passed reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Terry O’Neill, President of NOW, accused Cantor of believing “it’s okay for some women to get beaten and raped,” and another feminist commentator referred to Cantor as “the patron saint of rapes.”
Such reprehensible attempts to demonize opponents trivialize the serious nature of sexual crimes and prevent needed debate of policy solutions. As Hadley Heath pointed out last week, there are legitimate reasons for opposing the law and opposition “has nothing to do with violence against women.”
Furthermore, those making incendiary claims that the GOP has failed women and that more women will be raped, murdered, and abused because of the House’s failure to act could face similar allegations. If passage of VAWA reauthorization is truly a life and death matter, as many proponents proclaim, then why shouldn’t the Senate face the same pressure to pass the House backed version of the bill that would essentially reauthorize VAWA in its current form with only slight changes?
In fact, opposition to the House version has stemmed from differences that have been largely misrepresented. For example, while the Senate version explicitly singles out lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals for protection, the version passed by the House recognizes the importance of all victims by prohibiting discrimination against any group in the application of the law or in the distribution of grants.
Additionally, although the House version does not expand tribal court jurisdiction over non-Indian abusers, it certainly does not leave Indian women high and dry as supporters of the Senate version have insinuated. Instead, it authorizes the Attorney General to appoint tribal liaisons to encourage and assist in arrests and to improve the legal response to domestic violence, sexual violence, and stalking that occur in Indian county.
Furthermore, the House version also improves upon the Senate version by making a more serious effort to prevent documented financial waste and abuse and to discourage immigration fraud, which was revealed as a legitimate threat during Senate hearings over reauthorization.
While the House version of VAWA is not perfect, and re-evaluation of the law is necessary, it seems that uncompromising support for the Senate version is based more on political goals than on a real desire to help victims of violence.