The Senate and House of Representatives are battling over reauthorisation of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), an important piece of legislation for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Last week the House passed a version that had been substantially weakened, eliminating protections for undocumented immigrants as well as same-sex couples.
Representative Gwen Moore was not amused.
Here’s the thing about Gwen Moore: If you think you know badassery, you haven’t met Representative Moore yet, because she takes badassery to a whole new level. Born to a public school teacher and a factory worker, she’s been an unrepentant advocate for the downtrodden, marginalised and powerless in her district since she was elected in 2005 to Wisconsin’s Fourth Congressional District. They keep reelecting her, so she must be doing something right.
I did mention she’s into direct action, right? As an outspoken member on the Congressional floor, she takes the same level of commitment outside the halls of the Capitol, and she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty. In 2006, she was arrested along with members of the Congressional Black Caucus for entering the grounds of the Sudanese embassy to draw attention to the Darfur crisis, for example.
She made headlines again last year when she basically told the GOP to shove it when they attempted to defund Planned Parenthood. Her impassioned testimony was pretty electrifying:
I just want to tell you what it’s like not to have Planned Parenthood … You have to give your kids ramen noodles at the end of the month to fill up their little bellies so they won’t cry. You have to give them mayonnaise sandwiches. They get very few fruits and vegetables because they’re expensive. It subjects children to low educational attainment because of the ravages of poverty.
And she’s done it again this year with her sharp public comment on the House’s version of VAWA. Which opened with an open discussion of her rape and choking and what happened in the aftermath, when she was dragged through the mud during the rapist’s trial. Which ended in a not guilty verdict.
As a woman of color I am particularly aggrieved that this bill ignores the special circumstances of women who are minorities, women who are in the shadows... Stop playing games with the lives of women... They don’t want to hear us talking about a war on women, but I mean this is a direct assault on women’s lives. Three women a day die from victimization. And I would implore my colleagues to stop playing games.
Today was a sad day in the House. The traditionally bipartisan Violence Against Women Act was passed today on party lines with a vote of 222 to 205. This legislation, H.R. 4970 is detrimental for women. This fake VAWA bill not only rolls back current provisions to help victims of domestic violence, it completely ignores groups of women. Under the Republican bill, gay and transgender women, women on tribal lands and immigrants are left unprotected.
This partisan gimmick is not what VAWA is meant to accomplish. We must protect all women with this legislation. The Republican bill sends a powerful message to these groups of women: that they are not the real victims of domestic violence. Yet I guarantee that all women feel the force of a fist.
She argues that the House version of the bill creates a “veritable sanctuary” for rapists. And she’s absolutely right when she says that “...once again, the word of the abuser is felt to be the law of the land.” That’s essentially what is being created with the revised version of the bill, which leaves huge holes for some of the most vulnerable women in society.
The vote sent a significant message about the value of women’s lives, and Representative Moore was there to hold Congress accountable for it, to make it clear that their actions would not pass without comment, to advocate for the people who don’t have the clout to influence Congressional votes. For that alone, I would salute her.
For the fact that she got up there and openly talked about her rape and the aftermath, even in a hostile environment, I worship at her feet. It takes tremendous courage to talk about rape in any forum, but especially one like that. Women are often accused of being too emotional and personalising things too much, and Rep. Moore was willing to say Yes, this is personal. This is very, very personal.
And it’s not just personal to her. It’s personal for all the women who will be losing protections under the new version of the bill if it passes as-is, to all the women in abusive and dangerous situations right now who just learned that the government doesn’t care about them.
For those who wonder whether the GOP is spearheading a war on women, you need look no further than this. As Moore pointed out, this bill is usually bipartisan, because really, who wants to be the politician saying you don’t support a bill designed to fight rape and domestic violence? Well, in 2012, the answer is “Congressional Republicans.”