CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Monday marked one year since the expiration of the Violence Against Women Act. Because partisan gridlock and election-year posturing have stalled the re-authorization of this integral legislation, each day it feels just a little bit more dangerous to be a woman.
Most men will never understand why a woman checks the back seat before getting into her vehicle at night, or averts her eyes when passing a stranger on a deserted street. But for women, the threat of violence is palpable, even as we go through the mundane tasks and routines of our day-to-day lives.
Women across the globe are acutely aware that gender-based violence poses a real and constant threat.
The Violence Against Women Act, first signed into law in 1994, provided victims with resources to find help, and law enforcement with tools to seek justice. Stalking became a federal crime. Intimate partner homicides dropped by 53 percent in 15 years, according to the Department of Justice. The act saved countless lives and put thousands of perpetrators behind bars.
Still, in some communities right here in the United States, rape and abuse have always been expected and accepted. In certain pockets of the country, violence against women is just a way of life.
In hundreds of Indian reservations, it happens every day. Non-Indians, usually white men, enter the community, rape women, then return to their lives with their anonymity preserved and without threat of punishment. Even if a victim finds the courage to report the crime, tribal courts can't prosecute non-Indians for crimes committed on Native lands.
In other areas, victims of inter-partner violence, women and men who have been battered, isolated, put down, restrained, stalked and controlled, finally escape and flee to a domestic violence shelter, only to be turned away because of their sexual orientation. More than half of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered victims are denied orders of protection when they seek them. (Most won't try, knowing the system is rigged against them.)
And behind closed doors in some homes, batterers tell their wives that abuse is just a condition of living in free and fair America. Abusive husbands with citizenship or permanent residency status beat their immigrant wives, then threaten them with deportation if they report it. Some men, those who miss the days when domestic violence was easier to get away with, have even turned to "mail-order brides" to find a partner they can easily control.
Abusers and rapists have one goal in mind: getting away with it. Predators target victims least likely to resist, often children or the disabled. Rapists often choose those who are drunk, drugged or otherwise impaired, then blame the victim until she's too ashamed to report. Batterers isolate their partners from friends and family, and ensure they become financially and emotionally dependent. They seek out women who grew up in abusive homes, who believe abuse is inescapable. They target groups of people who the law tells us are not worth protecting.
Now, the law leaves Native American, LGBT and immigrant victims vulnerable. Native American women face the highest rates of domestic violence in the United States, and they are more than twice as likely as non-Indians to be sexually assaulted, according to the Justice Department. In some isolated Alaskan villages, Native Americans are 12 times as likely to become victims of sexual violence. Over 44 percent of LGBT survivors of domestic violence are turned away from traditional shelters, the National Anti-Violence Project found in 2011. And a New York City government study found that foreign-born victims of domestic violence are more likely to be killed by an intimate partner.
House Republicans' version of the Violence Against Women Act leaves certain groups exposed, and not because they were simply overlooked. Instead, members of Congress are aiding predators, and telling these victims that abuse against certain groups is acceptable in the United States. West Virginia's own Rep. David McKinley and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito are even guilty of voting against the more comprehensive Senate legislation.
Abuse is abuse, regardless of where you live, who you love or where you're from. The Senate's version of the 2012 Violence Against Women Act, passed in April, seeks to protect all survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking. As West Virginia's Congressional representatives travel their districts this election season pandering for votes, tell them that Congress must pass the Senate version. All victims are worth protecting.
Beck, of Clarksburg, is co-chairwoman of the West Virginia Young Democrats Women's Caucus and has a master's degree in public health from WVU.