It is somewhat of a surprise to me that the Violence Against Women Act has not caused my facebook news feed to blow up. This bill that looks to protect millions of victims of gender violence has not made the front page of The Times, The Huffington Post, or any other major news medium. As a result, with minimal response, the House Republican leaders brought their version of the bill to the table. Almost to be expected, there is the omission of protections for the LGBTQ community and Native American victims of abuse. Before even reaching the House, the Senate removed the portion of the bill that increased the number of U-Visas available to undocumented immigrants who have been victims of violent crimes.
It is not as if the VAWA was a magical piece of legislation that eliminated the rape culture and protected all victims of violence. The VAWA was more of a polite gesture from Congress to address to the incredible burden placed upon victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking, and other forms of gender violence. The idea is cute but what actually came about from the legislation was a partial protection from the horrendous crimes. For example, there are only 5000 T-Visas available for the 45-50,000 men, women and children that are sold and exploited by criminals in the US.
In 2012, the VAWA was allowed to die for the first time since its enactment in 1994. The conservative House let the piece of legislation to sit on the floor, without a vote, until slowly began to suffocate on its own dreams of justice. It had ideas to include minorities of different sexualities, gender identities, ethnic backgrounds, and violence experiences. It imagined filling the holes where victims fell through. It imagined giving justice to the raped, the battered, the enslaved, and the oppressed. It was these “progressive” ideas of righteousness that eventual led to the bills death, leaving millions of victims completely vulnerable.
As Rae Smith states, “Never be afraid to fall apart because it is an opportunity to rebuild yourself the way you wish you had been all along.” The bill being allowed to die provides an incredible opportunity to reform the previous patchwork legislations. The VAWA could finally be a safe place for victims to land and survivors to flourish. That is what the survivors of today and the victims of tomorrow merit. They don’t deserve a reauthorization – they deserve a revolution.
Now this complete reform will not happen overnight. Gender violence is entrenched in a ridged culture of misogyny that will take years to influence. But what better time is it than now to raise our voices and demand a difference – to insist that sex-ed classes teach consent; to condemn rapists instead of glorifying their acts in movies and media; to understand the battered and respect their decisions; to give the bird to someone who cat calls you; to make people uncomfortable with the truth about sexual assault and domestic violence if they make a “rape joke.”
What else can you do? Educate yourself and others because nothing is more dangerous than a well-informed people. Stay up to date on the news and politics surrounding the legislation that affects you. Advocate for survivors because everyone has their story of struggle, and everyone deserves the chance to heal and achieve justice (google.com organizations in your area). Speak out against violence – verbal, physical, or emotional – that you encounter in your life. Empower people who speak up before you do. Support victims instead of blaming them. Lastly, remember we are all a part of this movement.