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February 25 2013

Whither VAWA?

Charlotte Hays

The Violence Against Women Act, which has passed in the Senate and is now before the House, is always a sticky wicket for the GOP.

The original 1994 bill, which was renewed in 2000 and 2005, was deeply flawed and subsequent iterations are more flawed.

But Republicans know that, if they put forward a serious critique of the legislation, they will be hailed as sexists who don't care about the welfare of women, a ridiculous but nevertheless potent charge in the wake of the Obama campaign’s successful “War on Women” strategy.

Some of us would love to see the leaders of the GOP calmly taking on the rhetoric of the other side, explaining that the bill, despite its handy name, is not the best way to help women.

Some provisions of the bill are so far removed from protecting women as to belong in some other piece of legislations.

One of the reasons that President Obama has been successful is that he doesn’t hesitate to make his points. The GOP, on the other hand, pulls its punches. They realize that, if they do try to explain a point (this is not a good bill for women), they will be smeared. Lesson: Smears work. This leaves GOP points unmade and surrenders the field to their opponents.

But the GOP is attempting to quietly make improvements in VAWA. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers is the lead sponsor of an improved version of VAWA that addresses some of the worst provisions in the Senate-passed bill. This version of VAWA was unveiled on Friday.

The McMorris Rogers bill does have some measures to improve financial transparency, though it does not require that ten percent of VAWA grants be audited, as was recommended by a set of VAWA Reform Principles embraced by IWF.

One longstanding complaint is that VAWA training programs are often ideology-driven. The McMorris Rogers bill calls for “evidence-based training” in VAWA programs. Critics of the McMorris Rogers bill say that it doesn't go far enough and will not apply to VAWA programs across the board.   

An important change in the proposed version addresses a power-grab for tribal courts on Native American reservations. The Senate-passed bill included a provision—added only in the 2012 VAWA bill—that would vastly expand the power of tribal courts by giving them the right to try anybody accused of domestic violence on tribal lands.

Such tribal courts in the past have had jurisdiction only over members of the tribe. Added to this, defendants in tribal courts are not protected by the Bill of Rights. There is also a question as to whether an outsider could get a fair trial. The McMorris Rogers bill would allow non-Native Americans to opt out of being tried in a tribal court.

It is interesting that a Seattle newspaper describes the change this way:

It would permit non-Natives who abuse women on reservations to have their cases removed from tribal courts if they fear that their constitutional rights would be violated. 

The correct terminology is “non-Natives accused of abusing women.” This slip on the part of the newspaper neatly shows how the civil rights of the accused in domestic violence cases often get short shrift.

Possibly the most talked-about change is that the McMorris Rogers bill is that it doesn’t specifically single out LGBT people for protection. No doubt, the Left will make hay out of this. But I don’t see it as a failure to protect LGBT people from violence—rather it is a failure to pander. A GOP aide explained:

 “The House bill protects all people from discrimination," the aide said. "The Senate bill continues to add people to an enumerated list, therefore excluding those categories not on the list and requiring constant updating. The House bill also allows states, through which VAWA grants flow, to determine the best recipients of those funds, based on the victim populations in their areas."

The changes aren't nearly as sweeping as many VAWA critics might hope.

Nevertheless, Democratic advocates are going to have a field day.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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