VAWA, first passed in 1994, has strengthen victim services and provided funding for investigation and prosecution of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. VAWA provides grants for law enforcement, victim services, and violence prevention initiatives, among many other programs, making it an invaluable anti-violence boon.
The 2013 reauthorization of VAWA is remarkable because it includes several new provisions related to underserved communities. First, it allows tribal courts to prosecute non-Natives who perpetrate domestic violence or sexual assault on Indian lands. By doing so, VAWA helps overcome previous jurisdictional barriers that left Native American victims vulnerable. The new VAWA is also LGBTQ-inclusive, prohibiting denial of victim services based on sexual orientation. Finally, the new VAWA authorization will assist undocumented immigrant victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. All three provisions proved controversial with some Republican lawmakers, who tried and failed to have them removed from VAWA.
Right-wing figures have long expressed their contempt for VAWA (see here, here, and here), and they show no signs of simmering down now. First, in a March 4th statement at the Concerned Women for America website, Penny Young Nance alleged that the full version of VAWA supposedly "sold sex trafficking victims, and the groups that want to help them, down the river." Nance alleged that Senator Patrick Leahy's amendment to VAWA would supposedly decriminalize prostitution of minors and eviscerate "conscience protections" of religious groups such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Nance not only fails to provide evidence for these claims, but ignores VAWA's many provisions for serving sex trafficking victims, combating trafficking, and punishing traffickers. Did she not read VAWA's Title XII, the whole freaking section devoted to trafficking victim protections? (See www[dot]cwalac[dot]org/article_1262.shtml)
Even before the House vote, right-wing organizations were voicing their displeasure with the full version of VAWA. For example, the Family Research Council encouraged supporters to pray over the Senate vote on VAWA, demonizing the bill as "a liberal public relations campaign, loaded with measures that conservatives could never vote for, so that liberals can carry on their charge that conservatives are conducting a "war against women." The FRC lobbed the usual attacks at VAWA, claiming that it does little to combat violence against women, ignoring evidence of VAWA's efficacy and its many provisions for tackling gender-based violence. (See www[dot]frc[dot]org/prayerteam/prayer-targets-general-booth-children-boy-scouts-hhs-mandate-vawa-hagel)
Moreover, in a February 25th commentary at the Independent Women's Forum website, Charlotte Hays claimed that some of VAWA's provisions "are so far removed from protecting women as to belong in some other piece of legislations." She criticized "ideology-driven" training programs funded by VAWA, as well as the alleged "power-grab for tribal courts" in the full version of VAWA. She defended the McMorris Rogers bill as "a failure to pander" to the LGBTQ community, rather than a failure to protect LGBTQ persons from victimization. Hays complained that Republicans who criticized VAWA provisions would allegedly be branded as misogynists. (See www[dot]iwf[dot]org/blog/2790640/Whither-VAWA-)
"But Republicans know that, if they put forward a serious critique the legislation, they will be hailed as sexists who don't care about the welfare of women, a ridiculous but nevertheless potent charge in the wake of the Obama campaign’s successful “War on Women” strategy."Other right-wing voices were condemning VAWA even before the Senate vote. In a February 9th commentary at Freedom Works, Julie Borowski mocked VAWA as "unconstitutional" and claimed that it has failed to reduce violence against women despite allegedly wasting money. (She ignores evidence that VAWA grants have not only reduced rape and assault rates, but have also saved money in net averted social costs.) Borowski outrageously claims that the true purpose of VAWA is to "shell out taxpayer dollars to liberal organizations that help elect Democrats". (see www[dot]freedomworks[dot]org/blog/jborowski/reasons-to-oppose-the-so-called-violence-against-w)
Borowski's commentary suggests that she has done little, if any research on what VAWA actually does. For example, she insists that VAWA allegedly reinforces stereotypes of men as "natural predators" who aren't victimized. She ignores the actual language of VAWA, which says no such thing. At several points, VAWA specifically legislates funding for programs that serve men, women, and minors.
Also, Borowski claims that VAWA is unnecessary because domestic violence is already prosecuted on the state level. If she had researched VAWA more in depth, she would have learned that it funds numerous domestic violence and sexual assault victim services programs, rape prevention and education (RPE) programs, law enforcement initiatives to encourage arrest policies and protection order enforcement, sex offender management programs, anti-trafficking initiatives, and housing protections for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. VAWA funds countless important services and initiatives, not just prosecution.
Every time VAWA advances, right-wing voices lob the same false, anemic criticisms at it. To all the right-wingers out there who are demonizing this important legislation, I ask that you ACTUALLY BOTHER TO READ WHAT VAWA SAYS BEFORE ATTACKING IT.
And to everyone who advocated for the full version of VAWA, and the service providers who use its funds to create a safer and more just world, I send out my warmest thanks. Victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking are counting on the assistance that VAWA will continue to provide.
For additional commentary, visit the following links.
Alternet: The Nine Republican Men Who Refuse to Even Consider VAWA
Slate: Congress Finally Passes the Violence Against Women Act
Los Angeles Times: Voting for women, and against violence