Merlene Davis: Don't give us special rights, give us equal rights

Herald-Leader columnistFebruary 13, 2013 

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday passed the Violence Against Women Act with bipartisan support. If passed by the House of Representatives, this will be the third renewal of the act that was originally passed in 1994 aimed at preventing and alleviating domestic violence.

VAWA has provided funding to train police and prosecutors how to protect victims, to investigate those crimes, and to provide shelters to help victims mend and move on. It has helped reduce the rate of domestic violence by 60 percent.

But passage in the House is not assured as written for a variety of reasons. And, even if it does pass, VAWA will have to go through this same process again in 2018.

Why is that? In fact, why can't we come up with ways to issue laws that will be blanket protections for everyone?

We have come up with special laws to protect black people, the disabled, gays and lesbians, too. Why isn't there a law that simply protects people?

When the Constitution was written, women and blacks were excluded from the group that was allowed to vote. No one at that convention had the foresight to figure out that privilege should be shared.

Then, when women won the right to vote, folks found ways to exclude black people. A special Voting Rights Act had to be written and passed to include the overlooked.

When builders and city managers were designing buildings, roads and sidewalks, none seemed to think about people who may have difficulty maneuvering because of physical limitations. So, much later, Congress had to come up with a correction for that short-sightedness.

What seems to be happening is that lawmakers have been creating protections with themselves in mind. In the past, that has meant just white men. Then they have to go back to make things right for everybody else.

And now, even though VAWA has passed without argument for years, it failed to get enough votes last year when it was up for reauthorization. The reason? Some Congressmen didn't like added provisions that expanded visas for battered immigrants, services for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender victims, and a proposal to allow Native American courts to hold non-Natives accountable for violence.

According to ABC News, American Indian women are often unable to get justice against non-tribal aggressors because their court system has no jurisdiction over their assailants. Hispanic women are more likely to be raped than non-Hispanic women, but they are less likely to report the crime because of fear of deportation, retaliation or understanding their rights.

And LGBT domestic violence victims are sometimes turned away from shelters and more than 50 percent are denied orders of protection.

So, instead of giving special inclusions for excluded victims, some members of Congress who are not LGBT, who aren't Native American and who aren't abused immigrants, prefer to kill the act.

Those members are not willing to bring the excluded under their blanket of protection.

Yes, we need the renewal of VAWA and the funding that helps our society confront the horrors of violence against women. And it is because we still need those protections that I don't understand why we can't make the act permanent, or at least extend those protections for decades in the future.

There is precedence for that. The Voting Rights Act is permanent, but a particular section covering oversight of regions with a history of discrimination, has been renewed incrementally since 1965.

In 2006, President George W. Bush signed an extension of that section for 25 years. Before that, it had been renewed and amended some four times.

Rights and protections should not be weapons that the powerful wage against the powerless.

VAWA should be a source of protection for everyone who has been beaten, raped or mentally abused by a current or former intimate partner. Period.

And everyone abused in that manner should have access to the same kind of redress and repair. Period.

Make those provisions a permanent part of our social and legal systems, with no need to renew.

It's about equal rights, not special ones.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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