The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is up for renewal and incredibly, though not unbelievably, a line is being drawn down the center of the aisle. Republicans are accusing Democrats of intentionally including some hot-button issues in order to bait Republicans into not voting for reauthorizing VAWA; Democrats are practically foaming at the mouth, accusing Republicans of misogyny disguised as racism and homophobia; and media outlets, both liberal and conservative, are clamoring for the most damning soundbites.
The truth is, this is not new language that was randomly thrown in at the last minute. According to the National Task Force to End Violence Against Women, Discussions began two years ago and included information from over two thousand advocates, with twenty-two Senate committees formed to prioritize issues for victims from different demographics. Over three hundred national organizations have endorsed this version of VAWA. The Task Force reports that, “Supporters include law enforcement, religious, education, legal, and service professionals across the nation, because it is the only version of VAWA that protects all victims.”
Politicians are perfectly capable of working together during a non-election year. The current version of the VAWA Reauthorization bill was introduced in November, 2011 by a Republican (Mike Crapo, Idaho) and a Democrat (Patrick Leahy, Vermont). Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa ) sent a statement to the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee outlining what he viewed as the inherent flaws, proposing his own version of the VAWA Reauthorization Bill. On March 23, 2012, however, seventeen Senators signed a letter to Jim Larkin of Village Voice Media, urging Mr. Larkin to remove the adult services section from Backpage.com. The signatures of Senators Leahy and Grassley appear side by side.
Timing is everything. For Republicans, their opposition to parts of the newest VAWA bill couldn’t have come at a worse time. For Democrats, it couldn’t have been more perfect. Each side is seizing the opportunity to shout each other down, hoping their constituents will “see the light”. The men engaging in this ridiculous squeaky-wheel-gets-the-grease contest are sitting on both sides of the political aisle. They are getting louder and louder, whipping everyone into a frenzy for their own political gain. They need to put their self-aggrandizing and moralizing aside for a moment and consider that while they play a political game of which side is holier-than-thou in an attempt to win elections, battered women and victims of sexual assault continue to suffer. It’s deplorable.
Meanwhile, the women in the Senate have established what they refer to as a “Zone of Civility”. They understand the power of establishing a good rapport with each other and how to better listen and communicate with one another. They are able to talk through the issues and come to a consensus. CNN recently interviewed Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
“We are all a team as women. We may not agree on every issue but that’s not the point,” Snowe continued. “We know how to work together in the give and take of it and achieve results.”
Murkowski offered another explanation for what makes Senate women different from the men: ego.
“I don’t think that we have as much ego attached with who’s getting the credit,” said Murkowski, who noted that oftentimes with the men, it’s “my way or the highway.”
“We’re all pretty competitive or we wouldn’t have gotten here in the first place, but in order to achieve the results that we are looking for, I think there is less personal ego on the line,” she said.
Sixteen of the seventeen women in the Senate – Democrats and Republicans – signed on as sponsors. The one who did not, Kay Bailey-Hutchison (R-Texas), worked with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to include “a bipartisan provision to strengthen federal stalking laws in legislation reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which is currently set to expire in 2011.” The women in the Senate most likely evaluated and discussed facts and research presented to them by the experts and advocates, rather than listen to vitriolic rhetoric whispered in their ears by lobbyists or shouted at them from across the aisle. I’m willing to bet they discussed all of the newly included language, not just the most controversial bits. They get it that they are not debating some new, radical concept or a set of statistics: these are human beings whose lives are at risk.
Passing the VAWA Reauthorization should be a no-brainer. Please contact your Senators and tell them to get refocused on women’s safety. Remind them that the last thing a victim of any kind of assault needs is an uphill battle filled with judgement, and that lives are depending on their compassion. Tell them that if they aren’t sure how engage in reasonable, intelligent, civil discourse they can look to the Senate’s women as an example.