Today is the third day since 1994 that the United States doesn’t have a Violence Against Women Act in place. That’s right, after nearly two decades of bipartisan support, Congress has allowed VAWA to expire. (Here’s a .pdf of the bill, if you can stand to read it.)
When I say Congress, what I really mean is the House of Representatives. And when I say the House of Representatives, I really mean a small group of batshit crazy conservative Republicans — and specifically House Majority Leader, Republican Eric Cantor. I’m talking about this guy:
Don’t get me wrong. VAWA isn’t a perfect law. No law is without flaws. And, to be fair, one of Cantor’s complaints about VAWA has some merit. Not much, but some. Cantor and his fellow Republicans complain about a provision of the law that allows immigrant women married to abusive US citizens to gain a temporary (up to four years) residency status while their case is resolved.
Right now you’re probably saying to yourself, Dude, giving abused immigrant women temporary US residency sounds like a good thing. And you’re right, it is — under most circumstances. The physical, emotional, and sexual violence committed against mail-order brides and other immigrant spouses often goes unreported in part because the victims are also threatened with being sent back to their native countries. This provision of the law protects them. However, there have been a small number of immigrant women who have falsely claimed abuse in order to gain a green card. Indeed, this seems to have become a tactic used by some Russian organized crime gangs. There are maybe two or three dozen known or suspected cases of Russian brides making such a claim.
So there are a few legitimate problems with the law. But Eric Cantor and other conservative Republicans aren’t opposed to the law simply because a minor loophole has benefited twenty or thirty Russian immigrants. No, they also oppose it because it offers protections for lesbians and Native American women.
Seriously. I know that sounds completely fucking insane, but I swear I’m not making that up. The guys are actually opposed to extending the law to protect certain groups of women.
Cantor claims his problem with the provisions protecting Native women is that it extends the jurisdiction of tribal justice to include non-Native American men. Right now, if a white guy commits a crime of violence against a Native woman on a reservation — if he beats her, or rapes her, or murders her — tribal police and tribal courts can’t act. The crime has to be reported to Federal authorities, who generally don’t reside on the reservation or have offices on the reservation. So it may take hours for them to respond. Failure to respond quickly means evidence is lost or tainted. Without evidence, prosecutions either fail or, more often, prosecutors simply decline to prosecute.
A report by the General Accounting Office noted that prosecutors declined to bring charges against 52% of the violent crimes reported on reservations. Why? Lack of evidence. What makes this even more serious is the data reported in the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010:
34 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped in their lifetimes
39 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women will be subject to domestic violence
A third of Native American women will report being raped and/or beaten by domestic partners. Let me repeat that, because it boggles the mind. A third of Native American women will report being raped and/or beaten. Some of those rapists and abusers will be white men. Most of their crimes won’t be reported. Of those that are reported, about half won’t even be prosecuted, primarily because of inadequate evidence collection.
The new provisions in VAWA gives tribal police and courts some limited authority to investigate and prosecute non-Native Americans accused of domestic violence, sexual assault and other crimes against Native American women on Indian reservations. That’s it. That’s all it does. For some reason, Eric Cantor and his Republican friends think it’s inappropriate for tribal police to investigate white suspects or prosecute white defendants.
As for their opposition to including lesbians in VAWA, the only conclusion I can draw is this: they just don’t care if lesbians get raped or have the shit beat out of them. What other explanation is there?
But I have a suggestion for Eric Cantor. This is my suggestion:
Eric, don’t think of victims of violence in terms of their immigrant status, or their ethnicity, or their sexual preference. Just think of them as victims of violence. Then grow the fuck up and do the right thing. In a few days a new session of Congress will begin. Pass VAWA.
Oh, and really, stop being such a dick.