Violence Against Women – Do Republicans Care?

“The War on Women” at first seemed like a bit of an exaggerated meme of what has been going on in the Republican party this election season. I can’t remember at exactly what point the field of candidates decided to target specific women’s issues. Was it Gingrich’s poor record on Republicans family values (written about here) that spurred a reaction, Santorum’s rise in popularity with his regressive gender role attitudes, or a bishop whispering in someone’s ear. Republican’s haven’t exactly been champions of women’s issue for a long time, but anyone can see that the heat has been turned waay up and fiery discourse has ensued. Republicans are now refusing to support the “Violence Against Women Act” , it’s the latest front in the battle to secure women’s rights and health.

The pattern of Republicans pushing women back “into their place” – according to their conservative worldview – has never been more apparent. “The War on Women” now has a literal violent component; without passage, more women and children will be beaten, some will die. The Violence Against Women Act was first passed in 1994 with bipartisan support. It was renewed in 2000 and 2005. The bill does what it says, it provides for programs that assist and empower women in domestic violence situations; the title of the legislation isn’t a front for some man hating bumper sticker company, or a revenue stream for Rachel Maddow. Battered women experience terrorism right in there own homes, many times sharing that terror experience with their children. Brute force, economic circumstances, fear, and lack of options prevent battered women from leaving their terrible situations. These facts are from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

  • One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.
  • An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year.
  • 85% of domestic violence victims are women.
  • Historically, females have been most often victimized by someone they knew.
  • Females who are 20-24 years of age are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence.
  • Most cases of domestic violence are never reported to the police.

Talk about promoting terrorism, it is happening right here, right now and it impacts millions of Americans. When children see domestic violence happening in their home, they continue the family tradition as adults. Again from the NCADV:

  • Witnessing violence between one’s parents or caretakers is the strongest risk factor of transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next.
  • Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults
  • 30% to 60% of perpetrators of intimate partner violence also abuse children in the household.

There are also economic implications for the general citizenry reaching into the billions. Check out the NCADV fact sheet here.

Addressing domestic violence is urgent and a matter of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. So this bill seems like a no-brainer. It attempts to break the chain of domestic violence and provide much needed support for women and their children in crisis. Well, Republicans used to think that supporting victims in their struggle against domestic violence was a good idea, now they don’t.

The hierarchy of values couldn’t be more clear. Republican senators are complaining that they do want to support victims of domestic violence, but they can’t. What could they possibly mean? It has been possible for them to support them in the past, what has changed? The change has been the consensus ideology of the Republican party – the resistance to this bill shows that the “mainstream Republican” candidate is more right-wing than ever. Since 1994 our Republican Congress people have steadily moved to the right.  Heck, if Reagan were in power today, many of his positions would be “too liberal” for many Republicans.

The values behind this conundrum for Republicans are apparent – once again, tradition and authority rule the day. Domestic violence against women used to be the rule, not the exception in human history. It was common – and still is in many social circles – to have husbands disciplining their wives as well as acting out in uncontrolled anger. There was no shame in speaking of it openly and men might share techniques of reprimands – of putting them in their place. Millions of marriage ceremonies today are conducted with the phrase – for the wife only – to love, honor, and obey, which clearly establishes the authority hierarchy of the bonded relationship. Authority and tradition are so important for Republicans that it is not worth upsetting those most highly prized values to save millions of women and children from a home life of terror.

Part of the resistance for this years debate is the fact that the program is slated to expand. The New York Times reports that it would reach into rural areas and indian tribes. “It would increase the availability of free legal assistance to victims of domestic violence, extend the definition of violence against women to include stalking, and provide training for civil and criminal court personnel to deal with families with a history of violence. It would also allow more battered illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas, and would include same-sex couples in programs for domestic violence.” (NYT article here).

Republicans look at the above mentioned expansions and consider the ideology behind breaking the chain of violence and women empowerment – those are not Republican ideologies. In fact they call attention to what is very wrong when authority and tradition “go bad”. The fact that same sex couples and undocumented workers are new target populations rakes against their distaste for both.

Even if Republicans abhor violence, it is not stronger than their ideas that gays, “illegals”, and uppity women are problems in society today – in fact they believe that they are tearing at the very fabric of society. Perhaps – in line with their spiritual beliefs – they even believe that those particular populations are reaping what they sewed for immoral behavior.

Repubs are also whinging because of the title of the legislation and the timing of the legislative debate. These components may be inconvenient for them but indeed the Act expired in 2011 and needs renewal and the title hasn’t changed since 1994. The fact is that words matter and bills are often misnomers for their contents – like the Clean Air Act that actually made our skies more polluted. They might have had a point except that this particular bill is quite descriptive of the actions it funds. It would be refreshing if every bill’s title accurately reflected it’s contents as this one does.

A vote for this bill is a vote for a more peaceful nation. We all know people who have dealt with domestic violence whether we are aware of it or not.There is much shame, fear and manipulation in a violent home; our national morality should call on us all to support happier, healthier and more productive families. I do find it ironic that the party that claims we are “a Christian nation” is so resistant to this call – regardless of the demographics of the victims.

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