By: Carson Aft
The storied dome of Capitol Hill is notorious for the way in which hyperbole flows like water. It is not uncommon for “moral outrage” to stem from a matter as trivial as whether grape subsidies are set to pass our high chambers. It is from this place of dramatics that a siren of legitimate outrage has come.
The Violence Against Women Act, passed nearly twenty years ago, has found itself dead in the political water. This bill stood strongly against harassment, domestic violence, and rape. Funds for abuse shelters, rape prosecution, and women’s protection were tied to the act authored by Joe Biden eighteen years ago. Such an indisputable societal good should never have incurred a single vote of “nay” from a government of the people and by the people, but the political dustbin engulfed the act when it failed to be renewed before January 1, 2013. It is only through political strife and partisanship that such a needed bill was not perpetuated as law.
The justification for the untimely death of the act came from several additions passed in the 2012 Senate version. Democrats aimed to modernize the bill by updating it to catch some violent acts not previously covered.
The funds for addressing domestic abuse were altered from being available to heterosexual women only to include all abused women, regardless of sexuality or transgender status. Prior to this change, the bill only went to aiding women abused by men, instead of all abused women.
Another disputed change was closing the legal oversight that did not allow Native American tribes jurisdiction over non-tribesmen that commit sex crimes on reservations. Currently, as the bill was not renewed, Native American women raped on tribal lands by an outsider have no legal way to seek justice.
The final challenged change is decidedly more controversial: an increase in the number of temporary visas provided to undocumented female residents that are the victims of domestic abuse. This would mean that the undocumented would not face legal repercussions for reporting their rapist. Formerly, coming forward as a victim would jeopardize remaining in the country. With this new aspect, the bill would have ensured that even non-citizens could have protection under our laws.
Senators Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., and Michael D. Crapo, R-Idaho, drafted this newest incarnation of the bill, which passed in the Senate with bipartisan support in a 68-31 vote. The Violence Against Women Act also passed the House soon after, though entirely stripped of the new provisions that sought to give the bill greater equality. The discrepancy between the two rival bills ultimately led to the disgraceful grave in which the act now resides.
Oppositional House Republicans were ready to defend the decision to strip the provisions with arguments like these:
The protection of homosexual and transgender women could be seen as another step down the road towards offering gay couples all of the same federal rights as straight ones. Some have charged the politicizing of this bill is the only reason that such a controversial aspect would be included.
The protection of Native American women could be seen as a violation of American sovereignty, as it would permit tribes to have jurisdiction over Americans that are protected by the Constitution.
The protection of undocumented residents could be seen as a circuitous way to offer visas. The implication is that if this avenue is opened, it will be exploited.
The ideas contained in the bill are controversial, but not for the reasons given. The effort to protect lesbian women from abuse stems not from a “homosexual agenda,” but from a compassionate, humanist one.
If the law would be unconstitutional when protecting Native Americans, that does not mean some sort of action
should not be taken to prevent sexual abuse. Undocumented residents should not have to fear coming forward to report their attacker simply because of the status of their citizenship. Rape is illegal because of its inherent immorality and harm, not because of the identity of the victim. These provisions would not be controversial if they were not associated as a Democrat or Republican battle.
Partisan issues are frequently the breaking point that sinks many reforms and laws. This is understandable, as differing convictions can be defended and respected. What is not defendable, however, is depriving women of legal protection based on race, citizenship, or sexuality. Dividing lines have been drawn as to who deserves equal treatment under the law, and who does not. The lines dividing Republicans and Democrats have become so deep that politicians would revoke legal protection away from even those that were formerly the beneficiaries. By allowing this bill to expire, Congress has broken and deprived women of the a two decades long legacy of security.