Well ladies (and gentlemen), the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has reached another hurdle in our ever gridlocked congress. Our 112th Congress, in all their glory, did not even bring VAWA up for a vote. This was in part because Senate Democrats extended the benefits to Native Americans, people who identify as LGBT and undocumented immigrants.
Signed into law in 1994, VAWA provided government funding to agencies that specialize in helping battered women and women who have been sexually assaulted. VAWA allowed these organizations to expand their services, enabling them to help more women. VAWA has usually been reauthorized without any trouble or controversy. It has been around for 19 years and was drafted by America’s favorite uncle, Vice President Joe Biden.
The fact that the VAWA was not brought up for a vote would not be entirely surprising if this happened before the election—you know, the election in which former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney lost the women vote by 10% and several Republican candidates who should have won their campaign bid lost because they made insulting proclamations about women’s anatomy. That election.
However, this happened after the election, when Republicans are supposedly going to engage in some soul searching and figure out how to appeal to a new electorate. If they really were interested in rebranding themselves, then they should have brought VAWA up to a vote and allowed it to be reauthorized.
What they chose to fixate on was on the provisions that extended protections to people who desperately need it. Particularly Native American women because every three native women one will experience sexual assault. VAWA would provide funding to the scant resources that reservation hospitals have. Rapists and domestic abusers are rarely prosecuted because the officers on the reservation have little to no resources and they have to prioritize the crimes. Hospitals run out of rape kits, so evidence is not saved and there is no chance to test for sexually transmitted infections or for possible pregnancies.
If that weren’t itself a good enough reason to renew the law, the Violence Against Women Act also offers a number of protections to college women, who also are more likely to be sexually assaulted than the non-college population. For example, if the woman who has been sexually assaulted decides to press charges against her perpetrator and the case goes to court, with the VAWA, the defense can only ask the victim a limited amount of questions regarding the victims’ prior sexual history.
Why does this matter? The rationale for this “rape shield” law is that defense attorneys often try to cast doubt on the victims accusations by trying to link their past sexual history of consensual sex to the case. The slang term for this technique is slut-shaming. Many women do not press charges against their perpetrators because of this “slut-shaming,” and the rape shield law tries to rectify this.
Furthermore, VAWA funds rape crisis centers on or near college campuses to better provide women with the resources that they need after being raped.
Recently, 60 senators co-sponsored the new Violence against Women Act and received strong bipartisan support. However, on the day that they were supposed to bring it up for debate, eight senators voted to block it.
Among this group are popular Tea-Partiers Ted Cruz (pictured), Tim Scott, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio. Rubio is regarded as a favorite for the 2016 election and a leader in leading the effort for Republican rebranding.
Blocking a debate on the Violence against Women Act is undoubtedly not going to help in their efforts. These senators should join the bipartisan group of senators who have co-sponsored the bill in order to prove that their interest in moving the Republican Party back to the center.
Their continued attack on legislation which makes it easier for women to walk away from abusive relationships, makes it easier to seek help after being sexually assaulted and makes it easier for prosecutors stick charges to rapists, certainly does not help their case for 2016.