LENA MITCHELL: What’s holding up the Violence Against Women Act?

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

What are they thinking? The U.S. Senate’s passage this week of the Violence Against Women Act, with 22 dissenting votes, makes me wonder how the mere presence of women in their lives – mothers, wives, sisters, daughters – didn’t prompt those 22 male senators to support this important law.
These senators may disagree with some provisions of this reauthorization of a law that has been in place since 1994, but aren’t laws amended all the time? Reauthorizations of the law in 2000 and 2005 added language, protections and funding that advocates say have helped tens of thousands of victims.
Nothing was done during the last congressional session, but we need to make our support so strong that this session cannot end without Congress reauthorizing this bill.
By treating domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking as domestic matters and not recognizing them as crimes until 1994, U.S. laws in essence said that women and girls didn’t matter.
While a lot has changed in awareness of these issues, some of the woeful ignorance of many of our male legislators was clearly exposed in last year’s elections. These are people who make life-changing decisions for millions of Americans, yet their (mis)information sounded like myths exchanged by uninformed teenage boys in school locker rooms.
The month of February holds a particular focus in the violence against women conversation.
Recently representatives of S.A.F.E. Inc., a shelter in Tupelo serving victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in north Mississippi, asked local officials to designate February as Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month.
Awareness of teen dating abuse was highlighted in the 2005 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and in 2010 Congress designated February as the month to focus attention on the issue.
Last week on Valentine’s Day – a day to celebrate love – V-Day celebrated its 15th anniversary with an even more ambitious campaign to end violence against women and girls, One Billion Rising.
The statistics show that one out of three women worldwide will experience violence in her lifetime, or one billion women. On Feb. 14, one billion women and girls around the world, and the people who love them, were encouraged to walk out, dance, rise up and demand an end to the violence against them.
The founder of the global V-Day movement to end violence against women and girls is Eve Ensler, playwright of the award-winning “The Vagina Monologues.” She also has written a poem called “Over It” that, were it not for the rawness of some of the language, could have taken up the entire space in my column today.
These are a few of the issues Ensler mentioned in her poem, and more, that highlight some of the reasons everyone should support, advocate for and protect women and girls in their lives from violence in every form.
• Demonstrated social acceptance of violence against women that makes people unashamed to put up rape pages on FaceBook and sign their real names, claiming it’s free speech and calling it a joke.
• Rape in the military documented by filmmaker Kirby Dick in “The Invisible War,” which used Defense Department statistics that show more than 20 percent of women in the military have reported a sexual assault.
• The family of Pennsylvania State University’s former football coach Joe Paterno objecting to treatment and the loss of his positive reputation, even though Paterno did nothing to protect children he knew were being molested by a pedophile.
• An assassination attempt on the life of 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, a girl in Pakistan who was fighting for an education for herself and other girls who are not allowed to go to school under Taliban rule.
• The public beating, gang rape and murder in India of a 23-year-old student as she rode a bus home.
With men in charge of so many of the institutions that control our lives, Ensler issued a direct challenge in “Over It.”
“You live with us, make love with us, father us, befriend us, brother us, get nurtured and mothered and eternally supported by us, so why aren’t you standing with us? Why aren’t you driven to the point of madness and action by the rape and humiliation of us?”
Each of us can act each and every day.
Start at onebillionrising.org.
Lena Mitchell is the Daily Journal Corinth Bureau reporter and writes a Sunday column each month. Contact her at lena.mitchell@journalinc.com.