Now that is what I am talkin about. Today is a good day, my friends. A very good day. The House just passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and President Obama will soon sign it into law. In my post Let’s Get ‘Er Done: The Violence Against Women Act, I discussed the power issues at play here, and they were all about women and minorities.
The new law:
- Renews the original Violence Against Women Act, which was passed in 1994. This legislation has provided crucial resources to victims of domestic violence, and significantly reduced its occurrence. VAWA has made a huge difference in the lives of domestic violence victims.
- Extends protections to the LGBT community, who are often denied resources (according to a 2010 survey, 45 percent of LGBT victims were turned away when they sought help from a domestic violence shelter, and nearly 55 percent of those who sought protection orders were denied them).
- Extends protections to the Native American community by allowing non-Native men to stand trial on Native land. Thirty-four percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped in their lifetimes; 39% will be subjected to domestic violence in their lifetimes; and on some reservations, Native women are murdered at more than ten times the national average. Much of this violence is perpetrated by non-Native men who were not being held accountable for their actions.
- Speeds up DNA evidence analysis, to avoid the rape kit backlog.
This law is good in all kinds of ways for all kinds of people, including male victims of domestic violence: one in seven men have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner, and one in 71 men have been raped in their lifetime.
Here’s a quick look at how this legislation was passed:
- First, it passed the Senate—but 22 Republicans voted against it. And one of them, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, tried to remove the provision protecting Native American women.
- The House tried to pass its own version of the bill, removing protections for LGBT people and watering down the provision protecting Native Americans.
- Finally, the Senate version of VAWA passed the House, but without a majority of Republican votes. 138 Republicans voted against it, compared to 87 supporters. (See how your Representative voted.)
Most spoken argument against the law is about state and federal power, but it’s pretty clear that the opposition was actually rooted in deep prejudice and intolerance on the part of conservative ideologues. During the debate over this law, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) stated that Native American courts are incapable of providing a fair trial to non-Native Americans.
I’m grateful that this ideology of intolerance didn’t hold VAWA hostage. That means there is hope for tolerance of all kinds in this country. And it means, as President Obama has said, that we’ve taken an important step forward in making sure that no one in America has to live in fear.