The Violence Against Women Act Passes: Now What?

By Amanda Marcotte
Friday, March 1, 2013 9:18 EDT
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I was on “Young Turks” last night to talk about the passage of VAWA:

You don’t see it in this clip, but going in there the hosts discussed a snag in the victory: sequester is going to undermine these gains. The requested budget for VAWA is $412 million, and sequester is expected to cut $20 million from it, as well as another $9 million from the Family Violence Prevention Services Act, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s coming from services that are sorely needed:

 Sequestration cuts $20 million from the Violence Against Women Act, which funds crucial sexual-assault and domestic-violence prevention and intervention services, and nearly $9 million from the Family Violence Prevention Services Act, which is the primary funding stream for shelters that provide housing to women and children who have fled a violent home. Cutting the Family Violence Prevention Services Act alone would mean that 112,190 fewer victims of domestic violence could receive services. The Department of Justice estimates that the cuts to the Violence Against Women Act would prevent 35,927 victims from gaining access to shelter, legal assistance, and services for their children. Cuts would also mean that domestic violence training would be eliminated for34,248 police officers, prosecutors, judges, and victim advocates. Cutting these critical prevention and intervention services will only increase both the human and economic costs of intimate partner violence.

I believe the Republicans gave in—sort of, since most Republicans voted against it—because it was becoming politically untenable. The entire claim that they’re not waging a war on women is based on bullshit excuses, like saying they want to protect “life” or “religious liberty”, even though they take no actions to preserve either but are happily chipping away at contraception access. But it was hard to sell the idea that opposing VAWA was about anything but opposing VAWA. To quote a stranger I spoke with briefly yesterday who asked me what I was working on lately, “Who could be against stopping violence against women?”

To be clear, I don’t think Republicans are for violence against women. I just think they’re stuck in an old way of thinking about it, which is that it’s unfortunate but not serious enough of a problem that it requires challenging institutionalized sexism to stop it. A lot of them particularly object to the idea that domestic violence is the result of the abuser’s belief that he gets to control and dominate their partner, because that opens up an uncomfortable discussion about their own belief that men should be the “head” of their households. As I’ve noted before, many conservatives prefer the evidence-free theory that domestic violence is a “couple” problem that requires counseling oriented towards reconcilation (which usually requires spreading blame for problems around, which is not helpful, because abusers tend to seize on that as “proof” that their victims are in the wrong and deserve to be pushed around). So they resist efforts that make it easier for someone being battered to leave.

(The fact that Jovan Belcher and Kasandra Perkins were win couples counseling before he murdered her is reason enough, I think, for people to pause at the notion that this is a preferable solution to separation. I’m skeptical that most abusers can change, but if they have a chance at all, they have to start by letting go of the idea that their partner owes them a relationship. I struggle to see how that belief gets challenged unless he practices not having a relationship with her. If that sounds harsh, it’s time to consider why we are conditioned to have so much sympathy for men who hit women.)

Is it a coincidence that Republicans caved on VAWA right before sequestration went through? It seems a remarkable that the cuts described above almost exclusively address services that make it easier for victims to end their relationships with their abusers, services that just so happen to be the major bitching points of anti-VAWA conservative lobbyists. I honestly have no idea, because this is an issue where I still think there’s some daylight between your typical Republican politician and the frothing-at-the-mouth right winger. But maybe not as much as I hoped, since most of the House Republicans voted against VAWA. It’s tough to say, since this is all new, compared to their many decades of anti-choice nuttery that have left a serious track record that’s harder to deny.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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