Judiciary Committee's decision on HR 4970 is a black eye to women

The latest salvo in the perceived GOP "war on women" was felt May 8, when the House Judiciary Committee approved HR 4970 as their reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The committee approved the bill in a near-party line vote of 17-15, with a sole republican dissenter, Rep. Ted Poe of Texas, voting against the bill's passage. 

The bill is controversial because of the protections it strips away from immigrant and Native American women, and because it does not extend any protections to LBGT victims of domestic abuse.

According to the Jurist (a web-based legal news and legal research service), between 34 and 49.8 percent of immigrant women in the US are victims of domestic violence. ... [T]his percentage jumps to a harrowing 59.5 percent when considering married immigrants, and a startling 77 percent when considering women who depend upon their spouses for legal immigration status." 

Under current law, immigrant women who are abused and battered may apply for a U-visa without the abuser being advised of the application. Many of those who seek help are already terrified of reporting their situations, fearing escalation and even murder if the abusive spouse finds out. HR 4970 does away with that crucial protection. 

In a letter to the Judiciary, Catholic, Episcopal, Evangelical, Lutheran, Unitarian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders said they were deeply concerned that HR 4970 "contains many provisions that actually would roll back protections ... for battered non-citizens, making them more vulnerable and, in some cases, endangering their lives."

As approved by the Judiciary, HR 4970 also significantly impacts Native American women, who have the highest rate of domestic violence in the U.S. By stripping HR 4970 of the Title IX protection written into the Senate version of the bill (S 1925), it will be impossible for tribal authorities to prosecute non-Native American people who commit domestic violence on tribal lands or are married to Native Americans. 

According to attorneys at the Indian Law Resource Center, "By their own count, federal officials fail to prosecute some 67 percent of sexual abuse and related matters referred to them from Indian country. Because 77 percent of residents of Indian lands are non-Indian, and because 88 percent of these offenders are non-Indian, the long-standing jurisdictional loophole creates a human rights crisis."

The Judiciary also rejected the need for LGBT protections to be written in to HR 4970, alleging that there was little data to support the need. According to a report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, however, there were 5,052 reports of LGBT intimate partner violence in 2010. The report stresses that survivors of the abuse have long been hesitant to report the incidents.

The full House is likely to vote on HR 4970 the week of May 14, but the damage to the GOP's image is already done. Coupled with the widely-publicized comments of Republican Wisconsin state legislator, Don Pridemore (who averred that divorce should be avoided even in abusive relationships) the Judiciary Committee's decision on HR 4970 is a black eye to women. 

But what is it they say about women? Something about never forgetting? Come November elections, the GOP may be the one suffering the damage.

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