The House Majority Leader was misquoted this morning as saying, “We blocked the Violence Against Women Act because the Senate forced it on us without our consent. I’m sure women understand.”
I, along with a number of people I trust, reposted the offensive quote with the expected outrage. Politically literate women have been a bit edgy about violent rape talk since April when the Senate passed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), only to find the previously unanimously supported and typically bipartisan legislation stalled in the House by GOP leadership who objected to new language protecting LGBT, immigrant and Native American women. The legislation has expired and will have to pass anew even in the Senate when the 2013 Congress hits Washington should it stall another three weeks.
The quote was a rape joke in reference to the obstruction Majority Leader Eric Cantor continues to show in negotiations with Vice President Biden (the author of the original VAWA legislation) on finding a way to pass VAWA before the end of the lame duck session. It was in poor taste and the apologies and retractions spread on social media as quickly as the quote initially had.
As my anger failed to wane, I began pondering why so many journalists and activists I trust had the same initial response I did, which was to repost the quote with commentary about the gender gap and protecting women – and on International Human Rights Day! The nerve! Does Cantor not understand irony, timing or politics?
Nobody thought it was a hoax. Amidst all the hand wringing, hair pulling, face palming, fist clenching and blood pressure raising responses we had – the impulse to simply believe it was universal.
That we believed it would itself be unbelievable just a year ago. We’re smart people, many of whom have been misquoted, misconstrued and misjudged in the past, making us sensitive to the harm blind retweeting and reposting can do.
So, what happened? Simple: the phrases “forced ultrasound” and “legitimate rape” entered the body politic.
The subtle misogynistic attacks on women’s access to equal pay, reproductive rights, basic civil rights and simple, dignified humanity transformed into a proud peacocking competition of which GOP candidate could proclaim the most outrageous inaccuracy. From women’s bodies “shutting that whole thing down” to prevent pregnancy through rape (Senate candidate Todd Akin) to rape being just being one “method of conception” (Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan), we’ve heard a lot of bullshit over the last twelve months. Frankly, it’s no wonder that the outrage wasn’t paired with shock this morning when someone started a hoax quote attributed to the man refusing to pull together the support to reinstate the most important legislative protection for women in the history of this country.
I’ll say it again. The Violence Against Women Act is the most important legislative protection for women in the history of this country. According to the Department of Justice, one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. One. In. Four. And before VAWA, resources were scarce. How effective has VAWA been? Here are the stats and facts on the first 15 years:
- The number of women being killed by partners dropped 43 percent; partner violence against women fell 53 percent.
- Stalking became illegal. Before VAWA, stalking was not a felony. Federalizing the crime has provided a wealth of new resources for law enforcement and made it easier to share information and track perpetrators while protecting victims.
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline was established and now fields over 22,000 calls each month, providing crisis intervention and referrals to women in all 50 states.
- Rape became a crime with no exceptions. Rape by a partner or a date became the same as rape by a stranger.
- VAWA funds train 500,000 law enforcement officials every year in assisting domestic abuse victims. Judges, police and prosecutors are educated on the signs of abuse and allocated necessary resources to help victims and punish offenders.
Last year, as the reauthorization collected dust in the House, Attorney General Eric Holder issued a statement commemorating VAWA’s 18th anniversary. From the office of this country’s chief law enforcement official (Sept 13, 2012):
“Since the landmark Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) became law 18 years ago today, VAWA has vastly improved our ability to address domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking and has helped countless victims of these crimes get access to needed services. It’s important to remember that none of this progress has been inevitable – it has been the result of the tireless work of advocates, law enforcement, prosecutors, and others. On the front lines of this effort, the Office on Violence Against Women administers VAWA programs, providing states, territories, local and tribal governments, and nonprofit organizations with critical resources to initiate and sustain efforts to reduce and stop violence against women. As Congress moves to consider reauthorizing this critical law, we urge lawmakers to come together on a bipartisan basis, as it has historically, to pass a VAWA reauthorization that expands rather than limits victim access to justice and strengthens law enforcement and prosecutorial tools to seek justice and hold violators accountable. VAWA has been strengthened each time it has been reauthorized, with bipartisan support, and this year after 18 years of progress, it should be no different.”
Except it is different.
Language matters. Attitude matters. Public discourse matters. All three have become pervasively abhorrent in the party which retains control of the House of Representatives. So, when that legislative body’s second in command has a hoax quote go viral as he “negotiates” the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, it is he – not I – who should be considering why it was so immediately widely believed.
UPDATED JAN 3: The 113th Congress is now in session. A new bill must be passed in both the House and the Senate. Call/email/tweet your representative and senators; tell them that the three women who will die today matter to you. Let them know that VAWA is important and that you’re paying attention. Find your representative and senators here.
UPDATED FEB 13: The Senate passed the new version of VAWA, despite 22 male senate votes in opposition. The House is up — again — putting 2013 on the same legislative timeline as 2012 which saw the House fail to act. The difference is that time has already run out on domestic violence survivors. Law enforcement agencies, hotlines and other resources are right NOW unfunded. Minnesota Senator Al Franken is laying the pressure on the House to fix this. Join him.
Find this piece cross-posted as well as more on VAWA at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.
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Categories: Finding My Voice