Honolulu Star-Advertiser: Anti-violence act crucial for women — Sept. 17, 2017

AAUW Honolulu member and former president Linda Weiland penned this op-ed to recognize the anniversary of the passage of the Violence Against Women Act. Read it here or if you aren’t a subscriber to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, read it below.

Anti-violence act crucial for women
By Linda Weiland

September 17, 2017

The Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, is a reflection of how serious society now views domestic crimes and crimes against females.

In 2017, victims of those offenses have resources, services and laws to fall back on: A federal rape shield law that prohibits the past sexual history of the complainants to be brought up in court. Protections against eviction by women who are being stalked. Funding for prevention programs, rape crisis centers and hotlines. Legal aid, and aid for immigrant women, women with disabilities and who are minorities.

These are programs and protections that various groups — including domestic violence and sexual crimes advocates, law enforcement, prosecutors and the courts — advocated for, and are now what we expect.

However, until this month in 1994, VAWA didn’t exist. There was no Office on Violence Against Women at the U.S. Department of Justice, and those who wanted to bring charges against their husbands or those who had assaulted them faced a much more difficult path.

AAUW Honolulu has supported, and continues to support VAWA. The reduction of violence against women is one of our primary priorities in public policy. We feel that VAWA addresses freedom from violence and fear of violence in homes, schools, workplaces and communities, and is a very important law.

Locally, VAWA bolstered the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office with efforts in enforcing the law. According to the office, it receives a grant because of VAWA that provides salary support for a deputy prosecuting attorney that handles felony domestic violence cases. This grant has been ongoing for several years.

Subsequent reauthorizations of the act added protections for college students and addressed the rise of campus sexual violence. In 2013, the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act was included with that year’s reauthorization. College disciplinary procedures have become more transparent, educate faculty and staff, and institutions have updated their policies regarding domestic crimes and sexual assault. Colleges are now required to keep data about stalking and dating and domestic violence.

However, Candice Jackson, the U.S. Department of Education’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, remarked to The New York Times on July 14 that she felt investigations into accused rapists went too far and produced an invented, false statistic to justify her claim. She later said she was “flippant.”

AAUW joined with the National Women’s Law Center in its statement that rejected Jackson’s position and her subsequent attempt at walking back the remarks: “But the problem with your remark was not its tone but its substance, which you have yet to disavow. As advocates for student survivors, we are gravely concerned that rape myths like the one you articulated to the Times will motivate your office’s policies. Stereotypes like the one you repeated have long fueled skepticism of rape victims by courts, communities, and, yes, schools.”

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos also weighed in, on Sept. 7 claiming that sexual assault protections instituted under the Obama administration “failed.”

AAUW Chief Executive Officer Kimberly Churches stated, hours after DeVos’ quote was reported, “Secretary Betsy DeVos’ decision to open up Title IX for changes represents a blatant intent to roll back protections for students. It is an action that is at direct odds with upholding the civil rights of all Americans.”

Despite the progress made in raising awareness of domestic and sexual violence, these recent incidents remind us of how far we’ve come, how much more work there is to do and that VAWA is a law worth protecting.