Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and 176 Democrat members of Congress have sponsored a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that removes the references to women.
“Children, youths, and adults” are replacing the wording “women and children.” What to make of this? Confusion about what gender means now that “male and female” are being removed from the liberal agenda? Acquiescence to an activist, identity politics that seeks to elevate fluid gender perceptions above biological sex? It’s a travesty women would no longer be the focus of the Violence Against Women Act.
The left’s double speak around sexism seems only a matter of convenience. Think about it. Capitol Hill just endured weeks of mob protests crying out for victims of sexual abuse. The #MeToo movement is populated by women victims of sexual assault. Rep. Jackson Lee supposedly made a stand for women when she and her — dare I say female — colleagues from the House stood in protest at the Kavanaugh committee vote. As one of the “Women for Kavanaugh” sitting in front of that group of Congresswomen, I felt the animosity toward any woman not on their side — as if our voices were illegitimate.
Vulnerable women in the halls of the Hart Senate Building were fed extremist views that justice for survivors would be lost and “women would die” if Kavanaugh were on the court. Manipulating the pain of survivors of sexual abuse by inciting such fear is despicable and ultimately hurts women.
The Democrats’ crass tactics actually exploited women. Christine Blasey Ford was the first exploited when her confidential letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was leaked to the press. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp(D-N.D.) recounted the sexual assaults of “countless North Dakotans and others close to me” in opposing Kavanaugh, then proceeded to release their names without permission in a campaign ad, before apologizing profusely, but the damage had been done.
The strident, uncorroborated slander against now-Justice Kavanaugh which screamed “a vote for Kavanaugh is a vote against women” rings hollow when considering how the liberals take the focus away from the protection of women in VAWA.
Congress must stand for women of sexual assault and domestic abuse, their privacy, safety and rights as victims first. According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 43.6 percent of women, nearly 52.2 million, experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.
Twenty one percent of women experience rape, compared to 2.6 percent of men. For all forms of violence including stalking, 25 percent of women compared to 10 percent of men. Despite decades of programs funded by VAWA and similar laws, the number of women who were raped in America rose by 3 percent between 2010 and 2015 from 18.3 percent to 21.3 percent.
If women become secondary in VAWA to advance a sexual and gender identity political agenda, how can Congress expect to turn around this trend? Before politicizing VAWA, members across the political spectrum agreed on this legislation. They should work again to strengthen the focus on justice and support for women.
First, focus support on women and girls in defining underserved populations. Stop forcing sexual orientation and gender identity language, neither of which have shown to be underserved populations in VAWA programs. These efforts take the focus away from all women.
Second, increase accountability and priority in testing rape kits through the Debbie Smith DNA backlog grant program. It is unconscionable that after fifteen years and one billion dollars spent, the rape kit backlog still hasn’t been eliminated. Every sexual assault kit represents a brave woman waiting for justice.
Third, increase penalties for and education around the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). Believe it or not, FGM is practiced in the US today on the most vulnerable of our population: little girls.
Fourth, treat nondiscrimination a matter of civil rights for all women, not special rights for some. Including sexual orientation and gender identity terms are unnecessary to provide effective and non-discriminatory legal protection and support services to female victims of violence. Such expansion often leads to violations of the rights, privacy and safety of women.
Under current law, women who have sought refuge in a shelter to escape male abusers can be forced to live in quarters with a man who identifies as a woman. Under VAWA’s nondiscrimination provision women could not seek protection or privacy from these individuals. It’s not right that their safety and privacy is compromised.
Finally, ensure all support organizations that serve victims of abuse can participate fully, including faith-based service providers who compassionately and effectively serve victims of violence and human trafficking. No person or organization should be targeted or excluded based on sincerely held religious beliefs.
These are some of the changes that would increase women’s safety and make VAWA more effective. In short, make women the priority again.
Doreen Denny is the senior director of government relations at Concerned Women for America.
A version of this article was published by The Hill