Jill Gruenberg: Guest opinion | AspenTimes.com

Jill Gruenberg: Guest opinion

Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

Since when is violence against women political?

On Feb. 28, after more than a year of Republicans blocking the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, House Republicans finally approved the Senate-passed bill.

Ultimately, the bill passed the House 286-138, including 199 of the 200 Democrats and 87 Republicans voting in favor. The irony of the debate over the reauthorization of the act is that this is a bill that has been in effect since 1994, with previous universal support from Republicans and Democrats, up until this most recent reauthorization and significant evidence of its efficacy.

None of us needs a reminder of just how partisan and dysfunctional the current incarnation of Congress is. Yet when the issue of whether we as a country support efforts that reduce the occurrence of violence against women and provide resources to combat such violence and support victims becomes a partisan issue, we have sunk to an all-time low. Thankfully, the Violence Against Women Act has cleared the hurdle of passage in Congress and Obama signed the bill on March 7, but I have to ask, “Why was its passage such a battle?”

According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey in 2010, led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four women has experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner. This same study also points out that although women are disproportionately affected by sexual violence, intimate-partner violence and stalking, men can be and are victims of these crimes, as well.

As a side note, just because the bill is titled the Violence Against Women Act, it is subject to anti-discrimination laws that apply to all federal government activities, making the prevention and support services it funds available to all victims of relationship violence regardless of gender. One of the most basic facts of domestic and sexual violence is that it can and does happen to anyone.

I have seen this over my eight years working with survivors at Response, and it is always interesting to see how almost everyone who comes to us can’t believe that abuse actually happened to them. Regardless of your age, your education level, your race, your religion, your socio-economic status or even your gender, you could be a victim of sexual or relationship violence. I get that this is not comfortable for most of us to acknowledge because we want to believe that we have control in our lives. Yet being the victim of abuse has everything to do with the abuser’s beliefs, attitudes, and actions and has very little to do with the victim. So, if we know that there is nothing that makes a Republican woman or man any less likely to experience abuse as a Democratic woman or man, why did the Violence Against Women Act become yet another example of partisan politics?

It is not as simple as blaming the Violence Against Women Act party-split on the divergent fiscal beliefs of the two parties. According to a cost-benefit analysis of the act, done in 2002, the act saved governments more than $12.6 billion net averted social costs in its first five years. Some pointed to the fact that there had been a reduction in domestic violence by 64 percent between 1994 and 2010 as reason that the bill didn’t need to be reauthorized.

The irony here is that those that support this logic don’t acknowledge the obvious fact that these sharp declines have been attributed, in part, to changes in attitudes about the acceptability of abuse and the increased ability of victims to leave abusive relationships, factors that were greatly influenced and facilitated by Violence Against Women Act. This is the equivalent of saying let’s get rid of the Violence Against Women Act because it’s working too well. In truth, I believe that a significant reason for the Violence Against Women Act party battle had to do with the new provisions that the Senate added to the reauthorization to provide enhanced protections for Native American, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, and immigrant victims. In short, it increased the number of visas available to undocumented victims of domestic violence, it denied grant money to organizations that discriminate against LGBT victims of domestic violence, and it allowed Native American tribal courts to prosecute any non-tribal members who are accused of abusing their Indian partners. Ironically these are three groups that often experience violence at a significantly greater rate and yet often have the least access to legal protection and resources.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of survivors, advocates, concerned citizens, and courageous politicians, we now have a strong and comprehensive Violence Against Women Act. Thankfully, most U.S. citizens recognize that a bill providing protection against relationship violence to all women and men, including if they are LGBT, immigrant, or Native American should not be controversial and ultimately convinced their legislators that this is one issue that deserves to be left out of the political game-playing.

I am happy to report that both Colorado senators, Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, and Pitkin County’s representative, Scott Tipton, all voted in favor of the passage of the current Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, and I extend my most sincere appreciation of behalf of the victims and survivors of Colorado.

Now please, next time, let’s not make it such a fight.

Jill Gruenberg is the Advocacy and Prevention Program Coordinator for RESPONSE: Help for Victims of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. She can be reached at jillresponse@yahoo.com. If you are a victim in need of assistance please call RESPONSE’s 24 hr. hotline at 970-925-7233.

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