Violence Against Women Act, Round 3
June 9, 2012 by Edee Lemonier
The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.
The Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization, with Republicans threatening to kill it in the House. Then the House passed the VAWA reauthorization with Democrats in an uproar. President Obama has threatened to veto the bill as passed by the House. Confused? The problem is there are two different versions of the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Bill. The Senate’s version, S. 1925, includes new language that extends protection to Native American women who are assaulted by non-Native men, includes services for members of the LGBT community, and raises the number of U Visas that can be granted to immigrants in abusive relationships. The House’s version, H.R. 4970, not only removes the new language, it adds provisions of its own.
75% of immigrant women say their husbands never filed their immigration applications for them, even though they came here legally and were eligible for legal status. On average, abusers waited up to four years to file, and it isn’t unusual for them to confiscate passports or papers the minute they set foot on American soil. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that 14,500 – 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States per year. The U.S. State Department estimates that 80% of those who are trafficked into this country are women, and 70% of the women trafficked for the sex trade. Women trafficked for sex are often beaten and violently raped repeatedly as a way to exert control over them. Immigrant women working in fields, trafficked or not, face sexual harassment and sexual violence at astounding rates.
As part of the effort to prevent women from making false reports in order to bypass the regular channels to legal residency, H.R. 4970 grants authority for Immigration Services to inform an abuser that a woman has made an accusation against him, which can endanger her life. For a woman who has been repeatedly beaten or raped as a means to prevent her reporting her situation, the most terrifying aspect of escaping is the thought of her abuser discovering she has gone to the authorities. She doesn’t want to be beaten or raped again, and may fear for her life or the lives of her children and family either here or in her home country. Some women are so afraid of retaliation they will recant or omit a part of their story. Under H.R. 4970 she would immediately be sent to a detention center to await deportation, where she faces the possibility of further sexual assault and/or rape.
Right now “illegal immigration” gets politicians talking about crime in border towns and deserts between the U.S. and Mexico. But not every person from Mexico is here illegally, nor did every person illegally here come from Mexico. The United States is the number one importer of women from the Philippines. Traffickers are often paid up to $47,000 for women from China, and up to $37,000 for women from Korea. Mexican women brought in against their will are worth $2000 to $3000.
The United States is also the number one importer of mail-order brides. After several high-profile cases of men abusing and murdering their mail-order brides, legislation was introduced to require marriage brokers to conduct background checks on men seeking foreign wives. Traffickers use marriage brokers quite often because they are legal businesses and it is much easier to openly recruit women. It is also more difficult for the women to prove they were forced into any relationship, since they willingly agreed to be purchased in the first place.
Regarding inclusion of protections for LGBT victims of domestic violence, Senator Charles Grassley said in his February 12, 2012 letter
For instance, there is no (data) showing that discrimination is occurring by VAWA recipients against individuals based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Adding language on this subject is a solution in search of a problem. It is a political statement only.
If we have too many programs directed at supposedly underserved groups, we risk spreading services too thin and losing the focus on victims that VAWA was created to do. My substitute amendment authorizes a study to determine the reasons why domestic violence services aren’t provided to the individuals who don’t receive them. We need real data on this subject.
Okay, Senator, here’s your data: 25% to 33% of the LGBT community are victims of domestic violence, mirroring the statistics for heterosexual victims. 45% of victims surveyed in 2010 were turned away by shelters, and almost 55% of LGBT victims were denied orders of protection. It is common for the abusive partner in a same-sex relationship to threaten to “out” the partner to family or employers. This is an especially effective control method if the victim fears losing a career or a family that he or she already knows is vehemently opposed to homosexuality and will be unsupportive. Showing up at a shelter can force the victim to out himself or herself, as well. There is also a false assumption that men cannot be victims of domestic violence and women cannot be perpetrators of it. S. 1925 calls for more culturally competent training to address the specific needs of the LGBT community. Clearly, this is not a “side issue” that will require Congress to “change federal laws relating to same-sex couples.” When a politician comes as close to having his state’s definition of domestic violence changed to exclude same-sex couples as South Dakota’s Mark Venner did, language protecting LGBT victims of domestic and sexual violence must be included with VAWA.
Over half of Native American women living on reservations are married to non-Native men. Nearly 3 out of 5 of Native American women are assaulted by their spouses or intimate partners each year, and 1 in 3 will be raped in their lifetimes. They are murdered by their spouses or intimate partners at a rate that is 10 times higher than the national average. In Alaska, the rates of rape in rural villages is a staggering 12 times the national rates. A woman interviewed for a story in the New York Times said the expectation of being raped has become the norm, with women asking for help preparing their daughters for the eventuality. One of the major problems in prosecuting these cases is that tribes cannot prosecute a non-Indian, even though he is living on the reservation; states cannot prosecute when the accuser is a Native American living on a reservation. Right now it is left up to federal prosecutors, but the rate of prosecution is extremely low. In 2011 65% of rape cases were not prosecuted by the Justice Department. S.1925 would close that gap.
Other provisions have been cut or seriously impacted, as well.
The Campus SaVE Act was included with the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Bill S. 1925. Among other things, it would expand the twenty-year-old Clery Act to include domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. It will require any institutions of higher learning that receive federal aid to publicly disclose incidents of sexual violence. It would also mandate better sexual assault/rape prevention and awareness training. The Department of Justice found that 1 in 5 college women will be raped or sexually assaulted, and that 95% of those assaults/rapes will go unreported. They found that there is more emphasis on making women responsible for preventing their own rapes than there is on making men responsible for not committing them, and the Campus SaVE Act will provide better training for promoting awareness and prevention. Correcting this imbalance is crucial in the fight to end dating and sexual violence against college aged women, considering that college men and women (mostly men) surveyed in 2002 believe that “about half of all reported rapes were invented by women.”
H.R. 4970 also makes adoption of emergency transfer plans optional for owners, managers, and public housing agencies. It rolls back culturally competent provisions for communities of color. It includes harsh mandatory minimum sentencing requirements that may make victims reluctant to come forward if their abuser is a spouse or intimate partner. Auditing requirements actually divert funds from services to bureaucracies.
Now that two different versions of the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization have passed, a committee will be formed with members of both the Senate and the House to come up with a compromise. Hopefully, they will stop arguing over who the “real” victims of abuse are and actually help them.