Our very own Cindy Romero. The new State of Health Commissioner of the Commonwealth of Virginia! Former President of Norfolk Academy of Medicine and Medical Society of Virginia.
Shared by: Rodel Rodis
Global Networking: Violence Against Women
Lost in all the media frenzy over the various economic fiscal cliffhangers facing the US on the last day of the 113th Congress on January 1, 2013 was the fate of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that had been extended every five years by the US Congress since it was first enacted in 1994 to address domestic and sexual abuse and to expand services and programs for victims of sexual crimes.
Though it passed the Senate by a 68 to 31 vote, the House Republican leadership refused to bring the measure for a vote on the last day of Congress fearing that a straight up or down vote would result in its passage.
As Sen. Patty Murray explained to CNN, VAWA had “provided life-saving assistance to millions of women and families across the nation. For battered women, the law has provided critical law enforcement protections and often a way out from a life of abuse. One reason the law has worked so well in protecting a broad group of women is that since its initial passage, every time the US Congress has reauthorized the bill, we have done so in a bipartisan way that extends the legislation's many protections to new groups of women.”
US lawmakers had been presented with statistics showing that a sexual assault occurs every two minutes in the US, a figure which may be an underestimation as authorities believe that more than 50% of rapes in the US go unreported. VAWA had provided funds to train about 500,000 law enforcement officials, judges, and prosecutors each year to help ensure that rape crimes are properly prosecuted. Since VAWA’s passage, more rape survivors have been willing to come forward and report the crimes against them. The rate of intimate partner sex crimes has dropped by more than 60% since VAWA's enactment.
In the House debate on VAWA, Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wisconsin) described her own ordeal as a sexual assault victim to explain why VAWA needed to be reauthorized. The man who raped her, she said, took her underwear to display as a prize to his friends, who had all bet him that she couldn't be "had." "This is what American women are facing," Moore explained.
Rep. Moore’s point was further emphasized by a New York Times story on December 17 (“High School Football Rape Case Unfolds on Web”) about the rape of a 16-year old high school girl by two star football players in Steubenville, Ohio. The case drew widespread attention because the rapists committed their sexual assaults on the intoxicated minor in front of partygoers who recorded the rape on their cell phone cameras and posted them on the Internet. Despite the clear evidence of their depraved crimes, their football coach and a local judge vouched for their sterling character.
On December 18, the Economist reported the December 16 gang rape of a 23-year old medical student in New Delhi. “The police said the men were looking for some fun. They had been drinking, having a party, and decided to go on a joy ride. They began circling the capital in a private bus, the police said, when they spotted a couple looking for a ride home. They waved the man and woman onboard and charged them each 36 cents. And then, the police said, the men beat the couple with an iron rod and repeatedly raped the woman as the bus circled the city.”
The woman suffered severe injuries to her head and sexual organs and had to be flown to Singapore for treatment of her injuries where she eventually died but not before news of her brutal rape drew outrage all over India and by Indians all over the world who demanded changes in the government’s treatment of rape. According to news reports, of the more than 600 rape cases reported in New Delhi in2012, only one led to a conviction.
“Change is possible, but the police must document reports of rape and sexual assault, and investigations and court cases have to be fast-tracked and not left to linger for years,” wrote Sonia Faleiro in an op-ed piece in the New York Times on January1, 2013. “If victims believe they will receive justice, they will be more willing to speak up. If potential rapists fear the consequences of their actions, they will not pluck women off the streets with impunity.”
While the women of India were looking up to VAWA as a legislative example of how to safeguard their rights, House Republicans – especially members of a group informally known as the “Men’s Rights Caucus” - were successfully blocking reauthorization of the law because of their opposition to provisions expanding the rights of immigrant women, gays and Native Americans.
According to Erika Eichelberger, (January 3, 2013,The Nation, “Blocking VAWA, The GOP Keeps Up the War on Women”), House Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor “dug in his heels over the Native American provision, which would have expanded tribal courts’ jurisdiction over domestic violence offenses committed on reservations against Native women by non-Native men.” Under current US law, white American men cannot be charged for raping Native American women in tribal lands.
As an immigration lawyer, I am especially dismayed by the demise of VAWA because of the protections it provided to spouse-victims of domestic violence which allowed them to “self-petition” and obtain immigration relief independent of their abusive spouse.
Since VAWA’s passage in 1994, I have represented many Filipino women who were petitioned by their US citizen spouses and who were then subjected to repeated sexual battery and were unable to escape their abusive situations because of fear of deportation. Because of VAWA, the battered Pinays were able to obtain their green cards even without the petition or cooperation of their spouses.
VAWA will be reintroduced this year in a Congress that now has more women than ever before. It should receive the vote of even those male members of Congress who believe that every human being has a fundamental right to be free from violence, rape, and sexual assault and that society’s most vulnerable and marginalized members deserve to be protected.
(Send comments to Rodel50@gmail.com or mail them to the Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127 or call 415.334.7800).