VAWA and the Rights of Crimes Victims

When I was stalked, I experienced first-hand the limits of the justice system and the burden that gets placed on victims.  In the last few decades, there have been numerous improvements in the way survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence are treated and the way the justice system prosecutes violence against women.   This week is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and the National Center for Victims of Crime has great resources and ways to get involved.

In feminist spaces, we spend a lot of time discussing how violence intersects with gender and the impact violence has on women.   I am quick to call someone out on a rape joke, to dissect and point out bias in reporting, and throw out statistics about violence against women if I see even a glimmer of a teachable moment.  However, I am still struggling with the extent to which I may be participating in and even encouraging a culture obsessed with violence once I remove the gender lens.

If you have 20 minutes, I would recommend reading  “A Grief Like No Other” by Eric Schlosser, an excellent non-fiction article about victim’s rights, America’s obsession with murders, and the impact of violence on victims’ loved ones.   The term “rape culture” is well-known to feminists, but the Shlosser’s use of “culture of murder” was new to me.  As I read, I recognized myself as both the victim of a crime and a voyeur of crime, which was very uncomfortable.   If I wouldn’t make a rape joke, why was it ok to watch shows that feature violence as a leisure activity?  I had never considered what I thought to be news, entertainment, or fascinating case study about crime to be exploitive or dulling sensitivity to something that causes other great pain.

I remember being in the domestic violence intake room filing for a protective order, and noticing that an episode of Criminal Minds was playing on the waiting room TV.  There was a woman running for her life and looking over her shoulder for her attacker.  I remember thinking that many real women have probably made that run and didn’t make it, which made me feel kind of sick.   It does not say much for the level of cultural sensitivity society displays towards victims of crime, when even in a domestic violence intake center normal TV programming includes shows that are based on murder.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was first enacted in 1994, reauthorized in 2000, and is in the process of being reauthorized again this week.  New provisions extend protections to gays, lesbians, transgendered people, Native American women and immigrant women.  Some Senate Republicans are withholding their support for VAWA due to the new provisions, which I and others believe is wrong.   Everyone should be protected against sexual or domestic violence.   We should just be as serious about fighting violence against all other people.  VAWA should not be interpreted as special protections for women, but a mechanism for ensuring women (and everyone else) get the protection owed to them under the law.

 


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