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  • Writer's pictureEmilie Surrusco

Playing games with women’s lives

As the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) languishes in legislative conference, two of the nation’s leading newspapers and many others are speaking out about the sheer lunacy of the Republicans’ continued push to keep some victims of domestic violence from getting the help they desperately need.

Not all Republicans are engaged in this partisan charade. Some – such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) – have called on members of their own party to back protections for such domestic abuse victims as gay and transgender people, students, illegal immigrants and Native Americans. These protections are included in the Senate version of the VAWA re-authorization bill but kept out of the House version. Sen. Murkowski signed a letter, along with 12 Democratic Senators, that reads: “We should not let politics pick and choose which victims of abuse to help and which to ignore.”

As a Washington Post’s May 20 editorial points out: “the Senate bill was the result of a careful effort beginning in 2009 in which law enforcement officers, judges, health-care professionals and service providers for the victims were consulted to identify gaps in the current law. Every time VAWA has been reauthorized, and this would be the third, it has been expanded to address unmet needs; the provisions deemed so controversial by House Republicans are seen by professionals who deal with domestic violence as logical next steps. Fifteen Republican senators joined with the Democratic majority to support the bill.”

What’s more, 300 organizations stand behind these provisions, with groups such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops noting that the House bill would make “non-citizen women less safe and could result in thousands of women remaining enslaved,” Rep. John Conyers’ (D-MI) wrote recently in The Hill. 

In fact, the only groups that support the House version include anti-immigrant groups and Encounters International, an international marriage brokerage company that matches American men with Russian and Ukrainian women. As Michelle Goldberg points out in the Daily Beast, one of the most vocal proponents of the House bill is Encounters International owner Natasha Spivack, who was sued successfully by a Ukrainian woman who claimed that Spivack never told her that the law, as established by VAWA, would allow her to escape the marriage without facing deportation. Ever since, Spivack has been dead set on changing the law.

“Spivack, meanwhile, continues to promise her American clients docile, submissive partners. ‘As wives,’ the Encounters International website promises, ‘they desire to build a loving home, follow their husband’s lead, and stick with the marriage, even when times get tough and things stop being fun.’ That’s an easier promise to keep if they have no choice,” Goldberg writes.

The New York Times opined on the rollback of VAWA as just one of several recent examples of the Republicans’ “war on women” that has been focused largely in four areas — abortion, access to health care, equal pay and domestic violence.

As The New York Times editorial board wisely wrote on Sunday: “Whether this pattern of disturbing developments constitutes a war on women is a political argument. That women’s rights and health are casualties of Republican policy is indisputable.”

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