The Senate’s recent passage of legislation reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act was a victory for demagoguery over open and honest discussion of problematic social issues.
Supporters of the current manifestation of the VAWA have attempted to portray those with reservations about various components of the law as unsympathetic to violence against women, Native Americans, immigrants, and homosexuals.
Such mischaracterizations have effectively silenced opposition to many of the troublesome aspects of the law. Who wants to confront charges of indifference to abused women and to others in need? Consequently, the Senate expended little time considering how the law might be redesigned or amended to serve victims of violence more effectively and efficiently.
Yet there is a real need for a re-evaluation of the law. The U.S. Department of Justice recently issued several reports exposing blatant instances of fraud and abuse in the use of the VAWA grant funds, but there was no discussion of how to address these problems and the need for greater accountability during the law’s reauthorization.
Additionally, the law creates duplicate programs for services already offered by other federal agencies and contains millions of dollars in grants that have not been adequately monitored by the Government Accountability Office to determine their effectiveness. Victims and Americans generally are shortchanged by such a lack of oversight.
Another problematic aspect of the law receiving inadequate attention is the unprecedented amount of legal authority granted to tribal courts over the prosecution of non-Native Americans. No hearings were held on the ultimate impact of this new provision in the law, and how it might affect the constitutional rights of the accused or set a precedent for the future expansion of tribal legal authority over non-Native Americans.
Furthermore, for all the talk about the need to provide assistance to female victims, little attention was given to Democrats’ rejection of Senator Cornyn’s Justice for Victims amendment. This amendment was designed to bring about justice for rape victims and reduce recidivism by addressing the enormous national backlog of DNA rape test kits that would help identify offenders.