Sunday, May 6, 2012

GOP Etch A Sketch can’t erase war on women

U.S. Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
Republicans are sensing a monumental misstep with their attacks on women’s rights this election season. So they recently took a page from their presumptive presidential nominee and reached for the Etch A Sketch. There is no war on women, according to them, and never was. It was just a figment of our imagination.

But evidence of a war is all too clear. The latest battle is, ironically, being waged on a dangerous bill introduced by House Republican leaders to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

The VAWA first passed with strong bipartisan support in 1994. Subsequent efforts to increase its protections passed Congress with little controversy. The Senate continued this tradition last month by strengthening protections with a bipartisan supermajority.

But the House Republican bill is a far cry from the Senate bill. It not only fails to include the Senate’s improvements, like protections for Native American and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims, it eliminates long-standing protections for immigrant women — leaving them more vulnerable to abuse.

The VAWA was designed to protect all women and empower law enforcement to go after abusers. Of prime importance are protections for immigrant women — particularly vulnerable because of their dependence on spouses for immigration status. Abusers often use threats of deportation and permanent separation from children as powerful tools to control their battered wives.

The VAWA’s principal protection gives victims the ability to petition for their own immigration status. By letting women take control of their own lives and provide for their children, the law helps them leave abusive relationships and cooperate with police to hold perpetrators accountable.

The House bill butchers this protection by violating a sacred component of the process — that the wife’s petition be kept secret. Rather than preserve confidentiality protections, the bill would have immigration officers contact abusers whose wives are seeking protection — tipping them off to the fact that their wives are taking steps to leave.

This is a horrendous step backward. It is well-established that the most dangerous time for a battered wife is when she begins the separation process. When the abuser first realizes that his wife is asserting control over her own life, he often retaliates. The House Republican bill would make the government complicit in this.

The House bill further dismantles the VAWA protections by eviscerating the U visa process, which is critical to protecting women from severe abuse. The VAWA has long authorized police officers to recommend victims of serious crimes for U visas if necessary, both to protect the victims and to ensure their continued cooperation. Two-thirds of U visa recipients are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or rape.

The House bill would deny a victim protection unless she reports the crime within 60 days. This essentially abandons those who need protection most — women who can’t come forward because of a continuing threat of retaliation or the social stigma and psychological damage attendant on heinous crimes such as rape.

We don’t bar the prosecution of a serious crime for failure to report it within 60 days. Why deny a victim protection and law enforcement the tools it needs to secure the victim’s cooperation for such a failure?

The House Republican bill would also eliminate a long-standing provision that allows victims with U visas, which offer temporary benefits, to get permanent protection through green cards if they cooperate fully with law enforcement. Eliminating this opportunity would likely result in less cooperation, fewer prosecutions and more criminal conduct that endangers women.

The VAWA has had two purposes: to protect victims and to help prosecute perpetrators. The House Republican bill undermines both — eliminating existing protections for women and depriving police of the tools needed to hold offenders accountable. All this serves to undermine years of community-policing efforts that are widely credited with reducing violence against women across the country.

Republicans may have reached for the Etch A Sketch. But the picture they have drawn can’t easily be erased.

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) is the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) is the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement.

Voting is beautiful, be beautiful ~ vote.©

No comments:

Post a Comment