Victims of gender violence find solutions slipping away

By Juhu Thukral, cross-posted from On The Issues Magazine.

What will the next president mean for the way we live and pursue safety in our daily lives? For most women, fear and apprehension of assault or domestic violence is pervasive. We all know someone who has been raped or battered, or maybe it’s happened to us: living with and negotiating the fear is a part of the daily lives of most women.

I saw a particularly ugly manifestation of gender violence when I worked with survivors of human trafficking. A common way for traffickers to lure young women into sex work against their will is to first pose as their attentive boyfriend. Once the woman is hooked, the trafficker rapes her to set her straight and to terrify and isolate her. The pain and trauma my clients experienced made it clear that we need solutions on gender-based violence that actually value all victims and survivors, and prevent these things from happening in the first place. We also need to address the complex needs of those who have experienced this abuse in a manner that lets them lead the way without shame, guilt or pressure.

This will continue to be a focus for people concerned with human rights, regardless of who is president. Potentially, the president can propose and urge Congress to pass landmark legislation or can veto it, issue executive orders, or instruct federal agencies to do their work in a different way. The president can act as our national voice and conscience by shaping public discourse and using the presidency as a bully pulpit on issues of the day.

President Obama has made a number of statements and created initiatives to address violence against women and girls, but he has not focused with passionate engagement on the issue or made it a core concern. Similarly, throughout his campaign, Mitt Romney has said that he hopes that the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which became snared in an embattled and politicized reauthorization, is passed, but his support is tepid.

Leaving Victims in the Dust

Controversy over the Violence Against Women Act stems from new provisions that, if passed, would weaken protections for victims. Other questions have arisen over the U.S. implementation of a global strategy against gender-based violence.

Until this year, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has been reauthorized as needed without much political fanfare, but now it is at risk of being reauthorized in a shrunken fashion with many of its protections undermined — or not passed at all. Advocates of women’s, immigrants’ and LGBT rights are outraged because some legislators support anti-immigrant and police-oriented changes to the law.

Earlier versions of VAWA created safe pathways to citizenship for immigrants who were victims or survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and other serious crimes if they met certain requirements, such as being helpful in criminal investigations against perpetrators. Immigrant victims also could get legal status if they were married to an abusive spouse through whom they should have rightfully secured immigration status, if not for the fact they were forced to leave the abusive marriage. Without the ability to leave, immigrant women are left under the thumb of an abusive partner.

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