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Wednesday, April 17, 2013
I was quite shocked when I discovered that 138 Republicans, including Reps. Morgan Griffith and Bob Goodlatte, did not vote to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. They have cited concerns with the stipulation that allows Native American tribal government to prosecute non-tribal members accused of violence against native women.
I am still perplexed by that explanation, as this new provision actually ensures that anyone who sexually assaults a Native American woman on reservation land is prosecuted. If an American commits a crime in another country, he is prosecuted by that country’s government. Tribal government should have the same option, especially given the fact that rates of violence against Native American women are much higher than those of non-native women.
What I found more disturbing was the lack of public outcry. The VAWA did receive a majority vote, so it was reauthorized just a few weeks ago; however, I cannot help but be sickened at the political partisan issues that muddied this policy and am perplexed as to why voters have not stormed the doors of their Republican representatives demanding an explanation.
How quickly we forget how things were before 1994, before the VAWA was enacted. I have not forgotten.
It was the late ’80s and I was a graduate student at California State University in Long Beach. I fell for a guy who had a serious drug problem and who became increasingly violent with me, at first, in California and, then again, when we moved to the state of Washington. Of course, as the typical domestic violence story goes, I thought I could fix him because “I loved him.” Not until one nightmarish night in 1988 did I finally get it and realized that this man was not worth losing my life over — and I remember it well.
I remember him threatening me with a butcher knife, slightly pushing the blade in his chest then removing it as he stated in a matter-of-fact tone of voice, “I am going to kill you, and then I am going to kill me. You are going to die tonight.” I remember the taste of death in my mouth and thinking that I was going to die as I frantically tried to escape from my own home.
I did eventually escape, running down the sidewalk to the neighbors’ house, where I crawled under their tables and chairs trying to hide. I will never forget being that scared.
When the police showed up, the ex-boyfriend had already fled. The officer shined his flashlight in my face, which was swollen and bruised, and said, “Yeah, looks to me like you need to find yourself a new boyfriend.” I begged the officer to arrest him for attempted murder. However, nothing could be done because ours was a domestic relationship. No charges could be filed, nor could an arrest be made unless he was caught within 24 hours.
I went to the courthouse the next day to request a protective order. I was told that I had to pay $70. I did not have $70. I did not receive a protective order. I borrowed a shotgun instead and put newspapers all over the floors so I could hear if he returned to the house. I could not even run water more than a few seconds at a time because the sound of the water might muffle the sound of him breaking into the house. I rarely slept. I was traumatized. Yet he was never held accountable for what he did to me. That was 1988, before the VAWA. I remember it well.
Now, thanks to this powerful critical piece of legislation, women (and other survivors of domestic violence or sex trafficking), whether they are gay, non-U.S. citizens or a member of a Native American tribe can receive justice. Support services are in place to help break the cycle of violence and to heal and empower individuals and families.
Although partisan politics again reared its ugly head during the recent reauthorization process, and although the final all-inclusive Senate version of the VAWA was the victor, the bill itself had lingered, inactive for more than a year, waiting on the same, old debates regarding immigration, gay rights and reproductive rights.
All persons have a right to be protected against violence, and the Violence Against Women’s Act ensures that we continue to move forward on the path to equality.
This social policy should never be taken for granted. We must remember.
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