Racism and Sexism Go Hand in Hand in Opposition to VAWA Reauthorization

In spite of being passed by a super majority of the Senate, the Republican dominated House of Representatives allowed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to expire for the first time since 1994. The Act supports investigating and prosecuting violence against women. It also imposed automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allows survivors to seek civil redress in cases where prosecutors won’t take action. The expiration of the Act threatens all of this, making women more vulnerable to domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault.

This is probably not news to you.

It’s probably also not news to you that the reason the Act has been allowed to expire is that conservative House members object to extending protections to LGBT women, undocumented immigrants, and Native American women.

But, the case against House opposition to VAWA can’t be overstated. Refusing to reauthorize VAWA because of the inclusion of LGBT survivors is ridiculous. It’s simple bigotry and nothing more to arbitrarily draw the line on cost so as to include only women perceived to be heterosexual.

Conservative attempts to exclude undocumented immigrants is similarly about bigotry. I recognize that the u-visa issue is a complicating factor, but there should be no question that detaining and deporting someone who exposed themselves to immigration authorities while reporting an incident of sexual assault is just plain cruel, not to mention terrible criminal justice policy. After all, the assailants in these cases broke the law. We are releasing them from accountability simply because of the immigration status of their victims. In other words, we are rewarding them for attacking women who are especially vulnerable.

I’m guessing most conservatives don’t want these guys who prey on the most vulnerable in the company of their minor daughters. It seems that some combination of racism and sexism (as in that they don’t believe that the women in their own lives could be victimized because they’re not like those women) is the clouding their reasoning. But maybe I’m being too generous. It’s possible they just don’t care.

On the issue of extending protections to Native American women, however, the bigotry seems most clear.

This provision provides tribal governments the authority to investigate and prosecute cases of violence against women on American Indian reservations when the assailant isn’t a tribal member. Because neither tribal nor non-tribal local law enforcement agencies have the authority to pursue cases involving non-Indians on tribal land, this means that non-Indians can commit acts of violence against women on reservations with virtual impunity.

Opponents, and Representative Eric Cantor in particular, have claimed that extending this authority to tribes is unconstitutional. However, many lawyers in the field disagree. Preemptively determining this provision unconstitutional before it can be adjudicated in court, especially when the belief that it is unconstitutional is outside of the mainstream, seems pretty obviously political.

And the politics of this seems to me to have to do with tribal sovereignty. It’s about whether tribes can exercise legal authority over non-Indians on tribal lands, which should be no different a question than whether the U.S. government has the ability to exercise legal authority over Canadian citizens in the U.S. That is, except for the fact that tribal authority is based on treaties with an anti-Indian government.

Need more convincing? We don’t allow the government of Mexico to intervene against prosecution when Mexican citizens break U.S. laws, except in pretty extraordinary circumstances. Yet that’s basically what we’re doing against tribes when we passively intervene by prohibiting tribal authorities from investigating and prosecuting crimes committed by non-Indians within tribal jurisdictions.

And for this reason, Native women are far more likely to be victimized – 2.5 times more likely in fact. The murder rate of Native American women is also 10 times the national average. Leaving out those who are the most likely to be victimized doesn’t make good criminal justice sense and is against the intent of VAWA, which is not just to prosecute those who commit violence against women, but to deter people from doing it in the first place. Yet we allow this to go on.

If you’ve been reticent to get on the horn with your Representative to get them to hang tough on the Native American provision in VAWA, you should check out this video presented by The Nation’s Greg Kaufman.

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By Scot Nakagawa

Scot Nakagawa is a political strategist and writer who has spent more than four decades exploring questions of structural racism, white supremacy, and social justice. Scot’s primary work has been in the fight against authoritarianism, white nationalism, and Christian nationalism. Currently, Scot is co-lead of the 22nd Century Initiative, a project to build the field of resistance to authoritarianism in the U.S.

Scot is a past Alston/Bannerman Fellow, an Open Society Foundations Fellow, and a recipient of the Association of Asian American Studies Community Leader Award. His writings have been included in Race, Gender, and Class in the United States: An Integrated Study, 9th Edition,  and Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.

Scot's political essays, briefings, and other educational media can be found at his newsletter, We Fight the Right at He is a sought after public speaker and educator who provides consultation on campaign and communications strategy, and fundraising.

4 replies on “Racism and Sexism Go Hand in Hand in Opposition to VAWA Reauthorization”

Thanks for posting on this issue. The implications for Indigenous women are particularly troubling. I hope to you use this video in my racial justice class.

Great, I’m glad to be of service. I’m interested in knowing how the class goes. Always curious about how folks in the world are responding to all of this.

Sigh. The VAWA is certainly not perfect, but the idea ever since it was first introduced has been to improve upon it each time it is up for reauthorization. And that’s what these latest provisions aim to do. It was disheartening, but not surprising, that this piece of legislation was allowed to die in the House. I’ve been doing advocacy around intimate partner/sexual violence prevention and survivor support for a number of years, and I’ve noticed the backlash creeping in against this kind of advocacy: the racism, classism and homophobia were always there to make it difficult to advocate effectively for all victims of IPV/SV , and with this particularly conservative movement on the rise, the sexism/misogyny is becoming more open (even though I suspect it was there all along as well) – i.e.,, lots of denial that rigid patriarchal notions of gender roles and relationship models can contribute to this victimization (I’ve been hearing lots of blame on drug/alcohol use instead) and even the old idea that victim advocates create these problems where none actually exist (it’s just general marital problems, miscommunications, not that bad, etc.).

And it’s not like this legislation was allowed to lapse b/c the opposition said they had concerns that the act wouldn’t work as intended, or that it didn’t really address root causes of the issue; the opposition just didn’t want to extend protections to certain groups of victims, and essentially said this issue is just not important enough for them to even want to bother trying to work it out.

The crisis agency where I volunteer is seeing more clients and less funding, and with a supermajority of conservative power in the new NC govt, I know they are concerned. I hope they are able to take the opportunity to really stand up for their clients and advocate against so many policies that can contribute to this issue (including some economic policies), but I completely understand if they just keep their heads down and hope their funding isn’t cut more. The lack of reauthorization of this bill did not help.

Way Ahead of Your Time…Thanks for Posting This. One issue that has become more than prominent recently is the association with Capitalism and women’s rights’; especially women of color. Additional intersections such as single motherhood, income disparity, in addition to an increases within Patriarchal privilege, male misogyny, and unclear discrimination laws; are making it impossible for women of color to function. I posted a similar situation in N.C. last year, revolving around ‘Amendment One’; which was promoted as an anti “gay marriage” bill; thus was quickly passed. However; hidden beneath it was the very little known and seen bill which denied single women protective orders in cases of domestic violence; even if they had previously held a restraining order. Domestic violence privileges only apply to married couples within this new amendment.

Amendment One:

It is as if, we are alien within our own societies, because the law applies to everyone else accept for us. Within your article above we can clearly see the connection with sexism, and how this is affecting women in general; yet very few actually understand how devastating it is to women who actually have to endure this type of ridiculous legislation. It’s not just those in affects us all; as it increases the affirmation that male violence against women and women of color is acceptable. Especially; if that affirmation is approved by an almost all white male Capitalistic Republican committee.

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