What about The 50.8%?

In the grand scheme of things, our country’s fiscal issues are getting the most news coverage . We’re a country coming out of a recession (yes, we are) and people are afraid of being plunged back into one because of political infighting and legislative hardheadedness from Congress. News media was obsessed – would they compromise?

They did compromise. The country is saved. And now the news media is left to talk about how they compromised and how they didn’t, what specific changes came out of these negotiations, and what didn’t get done (like Sandy relief and debt ceiling negotiations). News outlets have been covering this for months, and will continue to do so until everything finally gets settled, leaving little airtime left for other important news stories.

Which is a shame. Because in all the coverage of the fiscal negotiations, no major networks reported that Cantor and Issa killed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

From The New Civil Rights Movement:

“Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) killed the decades-old Violence Against Women Act  yesterday when — like the Hurricane Sandy victims aid bill — they refused to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. Yesterday was the last day of the 112th Congress, so any bills not passed will have to start from scratch.”

The law was written in 1994 by then-Senator Biden, and allotted more money for investigating crimes against women, and ensuring automatic and required legal sentences for offenders.  It created the National Domestic Violence Hotline, trained over half a million law enforcement officials and judges in prosecuting domestic abuse cases, and made stalking illegal and rape a felony.

And the act worked – According to the National Organization of Women (NOW), the number of women murdered by their partners had dropped by 43%, and the number of women abused by their partners had dropped by 53%. Not only did VAWA create mandatory legal consequences for these abusers, but it disincentivized abuse for potential abusers.

Both parties renewed the act in the past with no controversy and no fighting, but this year Cantor and Issa both raised a fuss over which women, exactly, were being protected by the law. In the Senate’s updated version of the law, VAWA would have protected American Indian women living on reservations, undocumented immigrant women, lesbian women and transgender women. In the version Cantor and Issa preferred – the House’s version – these women were left out.

Issa and Cantor argued that including American Indian women in the bill overstepped the boundaries of the federal government on Indian reservations – that is, that the government was superseding tribal law enforcement in protecting American Indian women on reservations, even if the abuser was a non-native visiting the reservation. We should be concerned with the rights of tribal law enforcement, but shouldn’t we also be concerned that 1 in 3 American Indian women have been sexually assaulted, with few legal consequences for offenders?

Issa and Cantor also completely ignored the rising numbers of domestic violence cases in the LGBT community in their exclusion of lesbians and transgender women, with no reason was given to exclude undocumented immigrants.

So naturally, the only solution to this problem – deciding who to exclude and why – was to exclude all women from legal protections, and to let VAWA die. Great plan.

All this comes after an election cycle of trying to redefine rape, deny women the right to make decisions on their own health care, and deny women equal pay.

Republican leadership, you are on a ROLL.

Yes, all of this law enforcement and all of these efforts to protect women require money – which is a major sticking point for the GOP. But it’s disgusting to think that protection for women is considered okay to cut. This is discounting significant protection of over half the population – in campaign terms, it is a disservice to “The 50.8%.”

It’s disgusting to think that excluding certain groups of women from this law is okay. No matter what tribal or social boundaries there are, the point of the law was to protect all women from domestic violence, and to institute mandatory punishments as disincentive for abusers. American Indian women, LGBT women, transgender women and undocumented immigrant women deserve equal protection under the law as any other woman does.

We should certainly respect the boundaries of reservation law and federal infringement on native land, but there must some sort of compromise between the federal government and tribal leaders to stop the sexual assault epidemic on reservations (although we all know how good Congress is at compromising, right?). To think that 1 in 3 American Indian women have suffered some form of sexual violence with little to no prosecution for their abusers is unacceptable. And while different states offer different levels of protection for illegal immigrants, it’s ridiculous to deny a woman legal protection for a felony crime just because she is undocumented.

Furthermore, there is absolutely no reason given for discriminating against LGBT women or transgender women, outside of the usual bigotry and insistence that these relationships are somehow illegitimate. To the best of my knowledge, VAWA did not make any distinction between domestic violence abusers being a spouse or being a partner for straight women. And without this distinction, there is no legal precedent for excluding LGBT women or transgender women from VAWA.

What this comes down to is this: Congress does not see women’s protection from domestic violence as a high priority. There are more important things to argue about. This is not to belittle the country’s fiscal problems; obviously those are high on the list and need to be dealt with.

But I find it disgusting that elected officials whose job it is to represent me were not willing to fight to protect myself, my sister, my mother, my aunts, my friends and my coworkers from domestic violence. And I find it really unfortunate that the news media was too busy reporting on fiscal negotiations, political infighting and other trivial matters to pay attention to an effective and groundbreaking piece of legislation being killed for such insignificant reasons.