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FINALLY! The Violence Against Women Act has passed!

And we DID get it done!

And we DID get it done!

So, there have been a number of posts here on Prevention, Power & Peace about the importance of the Violence Against Women act and the shenanigans that have endangered it and hung it up in partisan politics for 500 days of bickering and stalling.  I’m glad to report that this morning, it passed through the House and is finally reauthorized with a vote of 286 to 138.  Even better, the alternate Republican version of the act, which struck out protections for LGBT, for immigrant women, and for Native American women, got consigned to the circular file of history.

Just for a bit of perspective, one reason that the Native American women portion is so important is this (taken from a Washington Post article):

Before the end of the last Congress, negotiations stalled over the Native American provision. That is, giving tribal courts limited authority to prosecute non-Native Americans accused of domestic violence, sexual assault and other crimes against Native American women on Indian reservations. As I wrote last December, under the old VAWA, a non-Native American man who beats up, sexually assaults or even kills a Native American woman on tribal land would basically get away with it because tribal courts do not have jurisdiction to prosecute non-Indian defendants. In addition, federal and state law enforcement have limited resources to pursue cases and might be hours away from a reservation.

The reauthorized and expanded VAWA also extends protections to other groups that are among the most vulnerable such as human trafficking victims.  It will help reduce violence on college campuses, and help rape victims by making sure that their rape kits are processed–there is currently a tremendous backlog on processing, leaving many victims of sexual assault in a limbo where evidence that could be used to bring their attacker to justice languishes without being analyzed.  Every year since VAWA began in 1994, it has passed without fuss and with expanded protections… until this latest time.

In America, we have long stood by the principle that the protections of the law are not meant just for some. The law should be there to keep all people safe. That is why VAWA’s expansions to protect vulnerable populations such as Native American victims, LGBT victims, and immigrant victims are so terribly, integrally important.

Today is a good day–a day of hope for those victimized by sexual assault and domestic violence.  Today is a day that America finally FINALLY said, “We support you.  We hear you.  We believe you.  You have worth in our eyes.  Your pain is real.  You deserve justice.”

FINALLY.

What the Heck is a “VAWA” and Why Do We Care That it Was Allowed to Die?

While most of the United States was worried about the Fiscal Cliff and whether we were going off it or not, another piece of legislation went by the wayside and died before the 12th Congress adjourned for good. That piece of legislation is VAWA – The Violence Against Women Act.

I’ll be putting out more than one blog 735075_451227128272165_1180963144_npost about VAWA and why it’s being allowed to die is a Big Hairy Deal.  So, I figured the best way to approach this is to first put out a VAWA 101 post since you may not know what the heck it is or why it is important. So… strap in, here it comes!

WHAT IS THE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT?

The Violence Against Women laws provide programs and services, including:

  • Establishing the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice;
  • Community violence prevention programs;
  • Protections for female victims who are evicted from their homes because of events related to domestic violence or stalking;
  • Funding for female victim assistance services, like rape crisis centers and hotlines;
  • Programs to meet the needs of immigrant women and women of different races or ethnicities;
  • Programs and services for female victims with disabilities;
  • Legal aid for female survivors of violence;
  • Funding toward investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women.

WHO SUPPORTED THE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT? (At least until recently.)

Everybody!  Well, okay, not EVERYBODY.  However, it was drafted with support from a broad coalition of groups, including:

  • The battered women’s movement;
  • Sexual assault victim advocates;
  • The victim services field;
  • Law enforcement agencies;
  • Prosecutors’ offices;
  • The courts, and the private bar.

It passed through Congress with bipartisan support in 1994 and was reauthorized in similar manner in 2000 and 2005.

SO WHAT RESULT HAS VAWA HAD?  HAS IT DONE ANY GOOD? 

SINCE VAWA WAS ENACTED…

  • Reporting of domestic violence has increased as much as 51%.
  • All states have passed laws making stalking a crime and have strengthened rape laws.
  • The number of individuals killed by an intimate partner has decreased by 34% for women and 57% for men.
  • After using VAWA funding to institute a Lethality Assessment Program, Maryland’s intimate partner homicides have been reduced by a remarkable 41% over four years (July 2007-July 2010).
  • A 2010 study demonstrated that an increase in the number of legal services available is associated with a decrease in intimate partner homicide.
  • A 2009 Department of Justice Study found Kentucky saved $85 million in one alone year through the issuance of protection orders and the reduction in violence

WOW!  SO THAT MEANS THAT SOCIETY NO LONGER HAS TO WORRY ABOUT RAPE AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, RIGHT?  VAWA’S WORK IS DONE?

Sadly, no!  We still need VAWA desperately!

  • Three women are still killed every day as a result of domestic violence;
  • Nearly 1 in 4 women are beaten or raped by a partner during adulthood and each year approximately 2.3 million people are raped and/or physically assaulted by a current or former intimate partner;
  • 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape;
  • Teens and young adults suffer the highest rates of dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking;
  • Domestic violence takes its toll on our economy. Even by conservative estimates, domestic violence costs our economy more than 8 billion dollars a year in lost productivity and health care costs alone.

SO WHAT HAPPENED TO VAWA IF IT WAS SO USEFUL?

The Act’s 2012 renewal was fiercely opposed by conservative Republicans, who objected to extending the Act’s protections to same-sex couples and to provisions allowing battered illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas. In April 2012, the Senate voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, and the House subsequently passed its own measure (omitting provisions of the Senate bill that would protect gay men, lesbians, American Indians living in reservations, and illegal immigrants who were victims of domestic violence). Reconciliation of the two bills was stymied by procedural measures.

In the most recent news… on January 2, 2013, The Senate’s 2012 reauthorization of VAWA was NOT brought up for a vote in the House; effectively ending the Bill after 18 years in effect.

SO YOU’RE SAYING THAT THIS LAW HAS BEEN AROUND NEARLY 20 YEARS WITHOUT MUCH FUSS AND NOW IT’S JUST BEEN ALLOWED TO KEEL OVER?

Why yes, that is what I am saying.

In other words, THIS IS NOT GOOD for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking!  On a societal level, we are going from being active bystanders, to people who just walk on by and ignore the problem.

More blog posts to come…

Well, isn’t this interesting? (And disturbing)

So, I just did a big blog post about the Mallory Owens story, which has already had some twists and turns.  Now there is apparently a NEW twist–this one being that Mallory’s lawyer has just quit after Mallory made a statement saying that the EARLIER statement theoretically put out by her lawyer with her consent, and featured on GLAAD… isn’t really what happened or doesn’t really represent what Mallory wanted to say.

The story is just getting more convoluted–there were rumblings that the beating was not done “because of” Mallory’s orientation and dating of Ally Hawkins… but that it was because Travis, Ally’s brother, was angry that Ally and Mallory had done drugs and prostituted themselves/each other.

Um… wow.

In short, an already tragic, complex and horrible story is now tragic, complex, horrible and… confusing.  I wonder personally if Mallory is being threatened by the Hawkins family, or members of it, and is thus changing her story to fit what they want portrayed about the incident.  What about the previous time Mallory was assaulted by the brother, Travis?  Was that before or after allegedly learning of this drugs and prostitution element?  Who knows?  I certainly do not.  But I wonder.

However, I am leaving my earlier post up because I do believe that my observations about bystander intervention on the web are still quite valid and important.  By the same token, I certainly don’t want to unintentionally spread misinformation or unclear information in the blog.

Consider this post a disclaimer for the previous and perhaps a “to be continued…”

No matter what, nobody deserves to be beaten as this young woman was beaten.  That can still be safely said.

Thinking About Mallory – Bystander Intervention, the Internet, and How We Are All Connected

mallory-owens

Something I have been thinking about when it comes to this blog is—what IS Bystander Intervention, really?  Some of it is pretty obvious—stepping in to help a friend at a party when she is drunk and someone is clearly trying to take advantage of her.  That’s bystander intervention.  Hearing a friend of yours making sexist comments and telling him, “Dude, that’s not cool.”  That’s bystander intervention.

It can be a big thing or a small thing.  It can be done with words.  Or with actions…

…can it be done online?

Weirdly, even though I’m writing this blog, I hadn’t thought so much about ONLINE bystander intervention until I read a recent series of news stories.  This story got me thinking about a whole bunch of things, actually—bystander intervention was one thing.  But also how we can’t really limit ourselves to one social problem at a time.  Things are all intertwined—that woman who is homeless might be homeless because of domestic violence.  That man who has substance abuse issues might be trying to deal with the pain of childhood molestation.  Someone suffering racial discrimination is being impacted by a culture that also perpetuates other kinds of discrimination and suffering.  We are truly all connected in so many ways.

This leads me to the story of Mallory Owens.  There has been a lot on the news about this young woman, who went to the home of her girlfriend on Thanksgiving, where her girlfriend’s brother attacked and beat her so violently that she suffered brain bleeding and needed reconstructive surgery and two metal plates to restore her cheekbones.  The young man, Travis Hawkins Jr., was charged initially with Second Degree Assault and was bailed out almost immediately.

Mallory-Owens-beaten_0

There has been debate as to whether this attack was prompted by Mallory being an out lesbian—whether Travis attacked her due to her sexuality and dating of his sister.  At first, Mallory’s family said emphatically that the attack WAS due to Mallory’s sexuality.  It also came out that in a previous incident, Travis Jr. had attacked Mallory with a metal wrench and threatened to later “finish the job” he had started, and that Travis’ father several years prior had shot his own son in the stomach–and several years before THAT had discharged a firearm over the heads of his children in the bedroom.  Clearly, there is a history of domestic violence in the family.  And clearly, this was not the only time Travis Jr. had attacked Mallory.

Mallory’s family and friends rallied around and tried to raise awareness of the relatively minor charge of Second Degree Assault.  A Facebook Community called “Justice for Mallory Owens” was formed and now has over 15,000 Likes and over 23,000 people talking about posts made on the Community Page.

Later, there was some confusion when Mallory—upon being released from the hospital—went to the home of her girlfriend and the Travis family for a press conference in which she said that she did NOT claim the attack as a hate crime.  Then, not too many days later, she said that she had been tricked and intimidated into making the appearance at the Hawkins home, and maneuvered into a position where she had to make these statements.  She then released a written statement saying she had been attacked due to her sexual orientation and that she was in continuing fear for her life.

As you can tell by reading this—there are a LOT of issues going on here, ranging from domestic violence to hate crimes, gay-bashing, child abuse, and more.  But what is at the heart of it—the core of it—is that a 23 year old woman had gone to the home of her girlfriend to celebrate Thanksgiving, and was left beaten nearly to death, desperately injured, traumatized and terrified.  She faces high medical bills that her family is going to struggle to pay.  Her life will never, EVER be the same.

The hope of her and her family is that the charges will be upgraded to Attempted Murder.  The likelihood that this was a hate-motivated crime seems extremely high.  However, in Alabama, where the attack took place, there are no laws on the books that include attacks against gays and lesbians prompted by their sexual orientation as hate crimes.  For these reasons and so many more, the future is uncertain for Mallory.  She faces a long road of recovery ahead—physical, emotional, spiritual.

My heart breaks for her.

Now… what does this have to do with a bystander blog?

A lot.

For one thing, according to reports, the girlfriend’s family did not intervene in the beating.  They were passive bystanders.  Why?  Quite possibly out of fear.  If this family has suffered child abuse and domestic violence in the way it clearly has, fear could quite easily paralyzed them.  Right or wrong, they took no action.  But it got me thinking about what might have happened if someone had intervened.  Could they have done it safely?  If so… how?  These questions in and of themselves could make their own blog post.  Or several.

But I was talking about Bystander Intervention and the Internet.

The INTERNET response to this tragedy really opened my eyes.  Here, there are THOUSANDS of active bystanders—people responding to the Facebook Community.  People posting in forums.  People signing petitions urging the charges of 2nd Degree Assault to be upgraded.  People sending money to help with Mallory’s medical expenses.

Can you by an active bystander on the internet? YOU DARN WELL BET YOU CAN.  And being an active bystander here can make a difference just as profound as being one in other venues.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, we are ALL connected.  You don’t have to be a woman to care about women’s issues.  You don’t have to be an recovering addict to care about addiction issues or their connections to poverty and abuse.  You don’t have to be a survivor of violence to know that violence in our homes and relationships is destructive, wrong, and pervasive.

And you don’t have to be gay or lesbian to care about Mallory Owens.

If you feel moved to be an active internet bystander when it comes to this issue, here are some links:

For the Justice for Mallory Owens Facebook Community, use this link.

For the GLAAD fundraiser page to help pay for Mallory’s medical expenses, go here.

For the Change.org petition to upgrade the charges against Mallory’s assailant to Attempted Murder, use this link.

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