Skip to main content

GOP House's inaction on VAWA shows bigotry

By Ilyse Hogue, Special to CNN
updated 8:40 AM EST, Mon January 7, 2013
 Ilyse Hogue says the House GOP stalled renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, which extended the bill's protections.
Ilyse Hogue says the House GOP stalled renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, which extended the bill's protections.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ilyse Hogue: The House GOP killing VAWA is betrayal of women's right to safety
  • She says it extends critical protections for LGBT people, immigrants, Native American
  • She says House GOP scoring political points off pain of those reviled by extreme GOP base
  • Hogue: We decry rape, abuse in other lands, and these distract us from abuses in our own

Editor's note: Ilyse Hogue is co-director of Friends of Democracy, a super PAC aimed at electing candidates who champion campaign finance reform. She is the former director of political advocacy and communications for MoveOn.org and has been a senior strategist to Democratic and progressive groups, including Media Matters for America, Public Campaign and Rebuild the Dream. She is a regular contributor to The Nation magazine.

(CNN) -- My great-grandmother used to laugh in moments of misfortune and confusion. It was a reflex honed by the constant daily pressures of being an immigrant in a country where the language and the culture were alien. Years later, she said it was a form of stress release. But thinking back, I can also see how laughter felt like the safest bet when confronted with threatening situations in an unfamiliar world.

So, maybe genetics explain my inappropriate hilarity when I heard that the U.S. House killed the Violence Against Women Act this week -- or at least stood by and did nothing while it died. The bill has been almost automatically extended every five years since its initial passage in 1994. This trend came to a sickening halt this week when the Senate sought to extend critical protections to immigrant and Native American women, as well as LGBT people. The current political climate that allows for this betrayal of the fundamental right to safety of body and being feels as alien to me as early 20th-century Texas must have felt to my Polish great-grandma.

Ilyse Hogue
Ilyse Hogue

Drafted in the mid-'90s by then-Sen. Joe Biden, VAWA provided greater authority to investigate and prosecute domestic violence cases. It also beefed up scant funding to support victims. Before VAWA, women saw little incentive and an ominous downside to reporting abuse. More often than not, their abusers saw no punishment, but victims faced losing jobs, homes, marriages and custody of their children.

Offer women a safe way out of a terrible situation, however, and the results are impressive.

Reports of gender-based violence dropped a remarkable 64% from 1993 to 2010 -- from 2.1 million reported cases to 907,000 reported cases. Even better, the more robust reporting incentives and mechanisms illuminated societal blind spots where abuse still occurs.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



That led the Senate to pass an expanded version of the reauthorized bill -- one that extends protections to populations that remain vulnerable. The bill was drafted jointly by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and passed the Senate by a comfortable margin last Spring.

The need is clear: A full third of Native American women will be raped in their lifetimes; an even higher number will experience physical and emotional abuse. Lesbian and gay people will be brutalized at the same rate as general society -- approximately 27% -- but will have far bleaker prospects of finding help.

Some 45% of those seeking refuge at a shelter were turned away, and 55% who sought restraining orders against abusers were denied. Undocumented women in the United States risk being held hostage by abusive spouses who lord citizenship over them as a means of control. These same husbands often threaten deportation and separation from children if their wives seek help or report abuse.

Opinion: House GOP failed women on Violence Against Women Act

Meanwhile, 80% of migrant workers who work in American agriculture report sexual harassment; many of those include rape. The crisis is so endemic in those industries that the workers often refer to their workplace as "fil de calzon" or "field of panties."

College men walk a mile in high heels
Encouraging women to speak the unspoken
Why politician revealed her rape story

The reforms in the Senate bill that seek to right these devastating and rampant wrongs are modest and simple: Tribal authorities can prosecute offenses on reservations when state and federal prosecutors fail to do so, the government can issue a visa to abuse victims to halt deportation if they agree to testify against their abusers and shelters that receive federal grants are prohibited from discriminating against LGBT abuse victims who seek their services.

These reforms seem like no-brainers in the face of so many brutalized women. But not to a House GOP caucus that is scoring political points off the pain of people reviled by the extreme GOP base. It seems that sanctioning an underclass of women who live in fear is a small price to pay for approval ratings at home.

Even worse, at least one GOP supporter actually profited from killing the bill.

Natasha Spivack is the owner of a mail-order bride company successfully sued by a bride who had been continuously beaten by her husband. She is also a top official on the advocacy group Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, or SAVE, which, according to a report in the Huffington Post, lobbied the "House of Representatives to include a 'reform to curb VAWA immigration fraud' in its version of the bill." More protections for these immigrant women would cost Spivack's company a lot of money. These are among the folks with whom the GOP has cast its lot.

In the past couple of months, Americans lent their voices to the global chorus of horror as a young Indian woman died from internal injuries after being gang raped, and we shook our collective heads self-righteously when a Pakistani girl was shot by the Taliban simply for wanting an education. Perhaps keeping our eyes on the horizon distracts us from having to face the unchecked bigotry in our own Congress.

But the result today is millions of ignored and vulnerable women within our own borders. Aside from the moral repugnance of this, the actions of this minority make our great nation a hypocrite in the eyes of so many around the world who have looked to us to be beacons of democracy and equal rights. And that's not a laughing matter, no matter how alien that makes me feel in my own home country.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ilyse Hogue.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT