By James El-Mallakh–
In another humiliating and despicable decision by the Republican-controlled House leadership, Congress failed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, in 2013.
VAWA primarily increased funding for law enforcement agencies to help them prosecute rape and abuse cases. It also improved support for victims and provided funding to increase education about sexual violence laws. The bill first passed in 1994 and has passed in 2000 and 2005 without dissent.
The best part of all is the bill actually worked. A 2012 report from the US Department of Justice said, “From 1994 to 2010 the overall rate of intimate partner violence in the United States declined by 64 percent.”
The reason that some House Republicans opposed the bill, primarily Eric Cantor (R-V.A.), was because it sought to expand protection to the LGBT community; immigrants, both legal and illegal; and Native American women living in reservations.
You would think that after such a bruising election year, House Republicans would at least try to appear as though they cared about their minority constituencies. After all, women and immigrants were among the most sought-after voting blocks in the 2012 election and Mitt Romney didn’t get the majority of either, which helped Obama win the election.
If those in the House think it is justifiable to deny extending human rights to anyone, even if they are in the country illegally, they are fooling themselves, as well as further damaging the party’s poor image. Furthermore, being opposed to the law due to its inclusion of the LGBT community is simply bigotry.
The reason that House Republicans would say they opposed the bill is because it would have given Native-American reservations the ability to prosecute rape and abuse cases. According to NPR’s Carrie Johnson, “tribal courts in Indian country currently are not empowered to hear (rape and abuse) cases, which involve offenders from non-Native American communities.”
This is a legitimate concern. The issue of jurisdiction does need to be considered when creating law. However, it’s the only shred of legitimacy that the GOP can claim for stonewalling the bill. This weak excuse comes nowhere close to justifying their blocking of a bill that has done so much to reduce violence against women in America since its creation.
I suppose basic freedoms and human dignity were not enough to spur the do-nothing Congress to vote on the bill. The timid House leadership didn’t even vote the bill down; they simply didn’t take it up for a vote and let it fade away. This is a political strategy, because voting against the bill would have generated a larger backlash and exposed them for what they truly are: anti-women, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-Native and anti-justice.
Fortunately, this isn’t over. There is still the likelihood that the VAWA will be re-introduced in the future or that a new bill offering the same services will arrive. Let’s just hope that when a similar bill comes around again, House Republicans will have come to their senses.