On Monday, February 4, 2013, “The Senate voted overwhelmingly” to reintroduce “the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA)” after the act died on the floor the without re-authorization at the end of the last session.
As lead author, U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy stated during the presentation of this bill to the US Senate:
“There is a pressing need to update the Violence Against Women Act. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that one in four women has been the victim of severe physical domestic violence, and one in five women has been raped in her lifetime. More than half of the homicides in my home state of Vermont are related to domestic violence. This is simply unacceptable.”
Domestic Violence rates in the US are high by all standards, though there is also agreement it’s extremely hard to measure and likely very under-reported. Domestic violence is never something to be taken lightly, and often impacts children as well, as exposure to domestic violence causes increased risk of both direct and indirect damage to children. As an ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) Issue brief states, “The long-term impact of domestic violence cannot be overstated.” This type of trauma has a negative influence on a developing person well beyond childhood.
While I support any law that furthers protection for vulnerable people, it must also be recognized that sexual crimes and domestic violence are not strictly a male perpetrator, female victim scenario. Men are also victims of domestic violence, and men get raped, yet they are often too embarrassed to report, not believed or taken seriously, and our society seems to choose to not openly see this as a real and valid issue as man are seen as being able to defend against or prevent such occurrences.
All victims of domestic violence deserve legal protections and supports, as do all victims of exploitation and sexual assault. When thinking of unintended consequences of this type of policy, I cannot help thinking such a gender specific bill further divides, polarizes, and inadvertently furthers institutionalized biases and gender inequality due to the phrasing and the images it evokes. Though the body of the text is more gender neutral and recognizes that abuse is not strictly male perpetrator and female victim, the title itself reinforces the notion of a gender divide and many people rely on the headline to tell the story, especially in our rushed, over worked, over stimulated, shrinking attention span society.
A vote is expected Monday, February 11, 2013, by 5 PM. If it’s an issue you feel strongly about, take action by contacting your state legislator.
Written by Michelle Sicignano, SJS Staff Writer