When Violence Against Women Becomes a Political Game

The Violence Against Women Act is a U.S. federal law signed into effect by President Bill Clinton in September of 1994, providing $1.6 billion to help investigate and prosecute violent crimes against women. Now, once again, it's the focus of a fight.

This article is from the archive of our partner .

The Violence Against Women Act is a U.S. federal law signed into effect by President Bill Clinton in September of 1994, providing $1.6 billion to help investigate and prosecute violent crimes against women. In 2000 the act was reauthorized by Congress, as it was again in 2005. Now, once again, it's the focus of a fight.

Already against the backdrop of a so-called "war against women," involving fights over birth control, abortion rights, Planned Parenthood, and more generally what seems to be a kind of semantical lady-undermining, conservative Republicans are veering into ever more dangerous territory as Democrats push to renew the Violence Against Women Act. As much as this is a real issue, it is also one of perception -- in the same way that no one wants to be "pro-abortion," no one wants to be "for violence against women." But that is a danger that the Republicans are very much facing as Democrats again and again seem to envelope "women" as part of their platform. (And wisely so: Women are widely acknowledged as key voters, with single ladies getting a horrible nickname -- swingles -- and everything.)

So the act is up for renewal and on Thursday, Jonathan Weisman writes in The New York Times, Senate Democratic women plan to march to the floor to demand that it be extended without delay, thereby expanding financing for domestic violence programs and broadening their reach. This is a no-brainer for Democrats, who seem to be "winning the war on women." But how can anyone sane or reasonable be against fighting violence against women? And, if the Republicans do come down on that side, what do they stand to lose? Possibly quite a lot. As Weisman writes, "At a closed-door Senate Republican lunch on Tuesday, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska sternly warned her colleagues that the party was at risk of being successfully painted as antiwoman — with potentially grievous political consequences in the fall, several Republican senators said Wednesday."

Still, some Republicans protest. Why? Because of key issues in the Republican agenda we've heard about before: Immigration, gay rights, and money. As Weisman explains:

The legislation would continue existing grant programs to local law enforcement and battered women shelters, but would expand efforts to reach Indian tribes and rural areas. It would increase the availability of free legal assistance to victims of domestic violence, extend the definition of violence against women to include stalking, and provide training for civil and criminal court personnel to deal with families with a history of violence. It would also allow more battered illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas, and would include same-sex couples in programs for domestic violence.

Terrifyingly, for conservative Republicans, this could open up immigration avenues, "by creating new definitions for immigrant victims to claim battery." Also scary: There's no guarantee the grants would be well-spent. And, "it also dilutes the focus on domestic violence by expanding protections to new groups, like same-sex couples, they say." Translation: Same-sex couples, immigrants, the poor... Don't deserve to be protected?

A weak counter to this comes from Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama (a Republican), who said, "You think they might have put things in there we couldn’t support that maybe then they could accuse you of not being supportive of fighting violence against women?” Yep, they might sneak some stuff in there! But depending on what those "things" are (protection for same-sex couples, immigrants, and the poor?), Democrats are still more likely to fall on the "good" side in the eyes of voters. Even Senator Roy Blunt, the man behind the infamous Blunt Amendment that would have involved your employer in your birth control decision-making, acknowledges that there's sort of a branding problem here: "'Obviously, you want to be for the title,' [he] said of the Violence Against Women Act. 'If Republicans can’t be for it, we need to have a very convincing alternative.'" Wise words from a man who tried to take away our birth control privacy.

Still, acknowledging the "branding" aspect seems only to highlight the real issues, which are way more important than the name of an act (and frankly, shouldn't it be the Anti-Violence Against Women Act?). We are talking about programs that help stop violence against women, and hopefully same-sex couples too. As much as Democrats may be hoping in some way deep down or even more shallowly to use this for their gain (while simultaneously supporting something that should be done) and Republicans fight to reign in the scope of the act and not alienate every single women in America, they're both somewhat at fault -- Democrats for any unnecessary strategic "add-ons" that compromise the meaning of the act itself; Republicans for cowing to the conservative line.

Makes you wonder, though: If Republicans block this act, is that indeed a final straw in the "war against women?"

If Mary, one New York Times commenter, is an indication of American women, perhaps yes. She writes, "Elected males across the country ought brace themselves for the second wave: younger females who've struggled to put themselves through college and establish themselves in the work force are not as willing as their moms and grandmothers to see their hard earned tax monies thrown down the bottomless pit of 2 million predatory male criminals, corporate prisons, and the male-skewed law enforcement industry ... which clearly does little to protect women and girls. At some point, the majority of females in the U.S. will finally begin to wonder why males make so little effort to control themselves while obsessed with controlling everything that is female."

Look. It's in everyone's interest to stop playing with women's violence (and same-sex violence, too) as a political game. Pass the damn act, and fight your political battles on other terrain. Women are tired of it.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.