Dispatches from the fight against homelessness and AIDS
Posted by Sunny Bjerk , March 07, 2013
Today President Obama will sign into law an expanded, surprisingly modernized version of the Violence against Women Act, despite Republicans attempts to block the progressive bill.
First introduced in 1994 by then Senator Joe Biden, the expanded Act aims to improve the criminal justice protections for women who have been raped, sexually assaulted, stalked, and victims of other violent crimes. In other words, the Act has the potential to reverse the blatant sexism that has saturated sexual assault crimes for most of the modern era.
For one, the expanded Act will prevent the victim’s past sexual history to be used against them in a rape trial. THIS IS HUGE. One only has to conduct a cursory search of high-profile rape cases to see how defense lawyers have tried to tarnish a woman’s account of assault by tacitly portraying her as promiscuous, “hypersexualized,” or at the most base level, [insert pejorative term for sexually active women here], which has successfully shifted the scrutiny from the accused to the victim. The new act will strengthen federal penalties for repeat offenders and prevent the mud-slinging that has unfortunately characterized many sexual assault and rape trials over the last three decades (at least).
Similarly, the Act will also include a Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, which requires schools to inform victims of their rights if they are raped, stalked, or have experienced domestic or dating violence. (A chilling stat: 1 in 5 women are raped at colleges). This portion of the act was specifically included after a number of news outlets reported that women’s rape complaints were not investigated until months after the attack—if at all—and that they faced purposeful barriers to initiate and follow-up on their reports. An eye-opening (and frankly horrifying to read) report by NPR and the Center for Public Integrity found that women who reported being raped were punished by the school for “drinking” while the attacker went unpunished. With the new Act, however, schools are required to offer “preventive education” to teach students the meaning of consent, how to stop sexual violence as a bystander or witness, and gives the person reporting the assault the option to appeal the school’s decision or lack thereof.
Finally, the new expanded act includes provisions for “underserved” or frequently marginalized communities. For one, the Act gives greater power to tribal courts to prosecute sexual offenders who aren’t Native Americans but who commit crimes on tribal land or against Native Americans. Before this expansion of the law, tribal courts faced bureaucratic barriers to prosecuting crimes committed on their land or against Native American women, but this bill will expand their power and protections for their residents. (According to reports, nearly 35% of Native American women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes).
Secondly, the Act will provide specific protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people by mandating that all LGBT people must be included in any anti-violence programs, including domestic violence shelters. This clear inclusion is important, as lesbians and bisexual women have reported higher rates of domestic violence, yet are much more likely to be denied entry into domestic violence shelters. Similarly, gay and bisexual men also have reported being denied entrance into shelters, yet they too experience high rates of intimate partner violence. The expanded Act provides protections for LGBT people from discrimination and exclusion from grants, legal aid, and state programs and services.
Other provisions of the bill include:
• Ensuring victims do not have to pay for their rape exams or service for a protection order
• Mandating uniformity of protection orders across all state, tribal, and territorial areas in the U.S.
• Developing dedicated prosecution and law enforcement units for domestic violence
• Annually training police, prosecutors, judges, and victims’ advocates on the “realities of sexual assault and violence.”
Hopefully this act will usher in a new era of respect and protections for all victims of violence, sexual assaults, and intimate partner violence.
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“We are GENDA” is a new feature on the AIDS Issues Update blog, which will feature the voices of transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers and people across the country to illustrate the need for gender expression non-discrimination protections. Have a story to share? Email Housing Works’ Communications Manager Sunny Bjerk at email@example.com comments powered by Disqus
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