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Il Fatto Quotidiano, Italy

United States: Legal Aid For Rape
Victims Dropped After 18 Years

By Marco Quarantelli

Translated By Micaela Bester

7 January 2013

Edited by Molly Rusk

Italy - Il Fatto Quotidiano - Original Article (Italian)

Congress has avoided the fiscal cliff, but has not extended the Violence Against Women Act which has “endured” since 1994. It is the latest act of the Republicans, who have already excluded homosexuals, illegal immigrants and citizens of Indian reservations from legal protection.

All legal protections dropped in one single blow. Raped, beaten or persecuted women will have to get by on their own: no more legal aid or protection programs for the victims, not even for those with disabilities. The 112th Congress has succeeded in avoiding the fiscal cliff for several months, but not in extending the Violence Against Women Act, the law of 1994 that, until a few days ago, protected victims of violence. The measure should have received the final OK in December. However, the Republican Party altered the text, considering it too progressive; funding for it was refused and now, after 18 years, the law is gone. The umpteenth stop, the umpteenth sign of Barack Obama’s weakness: divided between a Senate with a Democratic majority and a House in the hands of the Republicans, Congress did not manage to pass a law that holds social significance beyond party interests; this is a country in which three women are killed every day by family members. And now, for the president, urged to reach an agreement on gun control that is becoming more and more “lame duck,” it is an uphill battle.

It seemed done. The side-by-side work between Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Vice President Joe Biden seemed to be leading to an understanding. But the legal protections of minorities contained in the law bothered too many people among the ranks of the Grand Old Party. The first step taken in Congress was in April when the Senate gave its OK. Then, in May, the text was passed to the House, which voted yes but stripped it of legal protections and significance. The Republicans excluded the articles which guaranteed protection to lesbian, gay and transgender people, to immigrants whose visas have expired and to women who live on Indian reservations where, according to federal statistics, rape incidents increased by 55 percent between 2000 and 2010. In December the agreement seemed possible. “Cantor worked hard seeking to move the bill forward,” explained his spokesperson, Doug Heye, in the Huffington Post. But the fracture showed itself to be irreparable. The negotiations foundered beneath the blows of the Republicans, who vetoed the protection of Native Americans.

Signed by Bill Clinton on Sept. 13, 1994, the Violence Against Women Act strengthened “federal penalties for repeat sex offenders,” says the White House website, mandating “that victims, no matter their income levels, are not forced to bear the expense of their own rape exams or for service of a protection order" and "guaranteed assistance to women evicted from their own homes following cases of stalking, violence or rape.” And not only that: the VAWA guaranteed special visas for illegal immigrants to encourage them to turn in their aggressors. The results were that “between 1993 to 2010, the rate of intimate partner violence declined 67 percent,” says www.whitehouse.gov. “Between 1993 to 2007, the rate of intimate partner homicides of females decreased 35 percent and the rate of intimate partner homicides of males decreased 46 percent.”

All useless. These are rights “dictated by political interests,” shouted the Republicans, who, during the electoral campaign, showed inadequate attention to the subject and incited fiery controversy. In August Todd Akin, representative from Missouri, placed Mitt Romney in a difficult position in his race to the White House by affirming that “from what I understand from doctors, [becoming pregnant from rape is] really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Two months later, the second serious gaff: on Oct. 24, a Republican Senate candidate from Indiana, Richard Mourdock, very close to the Tea Party, explained during a debate that if a woman becomes pregnant from a rape “it is something that God intended to happen.”

The decision to drop the VAWA comes at a time when the United States finds itself shocked by an event in Steubenville, Ohio, where on the night of Aug. 11 a 16-year-old high school girl was raped by two members of the school football team, who then published photos of the rape on Facebook and Twitter. On Jan. 2, Anonymous posted on YouTube a 12-minute video in which a friend of the alleged rapists, identified as Michael Nodianos, laughed at the girl: “They raped her quicker than Mike Tyson,” he said, smiling while watching the screen. “What if that was your daughter?” a voice off-screen asks him. “But it isn’t,” the boy responds, “It isn't really rape because you don't know if she wanted to or not.”



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