WHAT OTHERS SAY: Government needs to reauthorize Violence Against Women act

Saturday, February 16, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST

U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom of Kansas knows Valentine’s Day is a time for celebrating loving relationships. To honor this day, he has a good idea for parents of teenagers: Check in to make sure any romantic relationships they or their friends might be involved in aren’t abusive.

It’s uncomfortable to contemplate but all too real. Teen dating violence is often hidden and few teens know how to extricate themselves or friends, or even where to seek help.

The U.S. Senate did right by women — and society — this week by reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. It’s the second time in the past year a large majority of senators agreed to expand protections to combat domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. The bill is widely supported by victim advocates’ groups and the public.

The 22 no votes were all Republican, and this region sadly claims two of them: Missouri’s Sen. Roy Blunt and Kansas’ Sen. Pat Roberts. Neither deserves a valentine this year, and one hopes this vote in particular will be remembered if they again seek office.

The reauthorization bill offers needed expanded protections for gay people, undocumented immigrants and Native American women who suffer from domestic abuse, groups now not treated equally under the law.

The landmark legislation — first passed in 1994 and reauthorized in 2000 and 2005 — sought to improve criminal justice and community responses to violence against women.

It’s up to the House now, but the Republican-led chamber is making excuses for inaction again, after letting the bill die last year. The act expired in 2011 but has continued to receive funding through the appropriations process.

The “no” side to what should be an easy bipartisan vote offers tortured reasoning for opposition. Of course, all opponents start with professed regard for anti-violence measures. Just not the one that’s done the most good already.

“Unfortunately, the bill the Senate considered today has been politicized and includes elements that are irrelevant to the core purposes of VAWA, including an unconstitutional provision related to tribal courts,” said Blunt. Politicized? We think the opposition is stretching concerns about non-Native Americans facing tribal courts to create a dangerous and mean-spirited diversion.

Why aren’t the no voters expressing worries about Native American women abused by non-Native Americans? As Grissom says, the bill doesn’t confer special rights, just equal rights.

“The sad reality is one of every three females born on a reservation will be a victim of domestic violence or sexual violence,” Grissom said.

Missouri’s senior senator, Democrat Claire McCaskill, has a more informed view as a former Jackson County prosecutor who represented victims of domestic violence.

“Protecting women and families from violence — no matter who they are or what their family looks like — is something we can agree on, and I strongly urge my colleagues in the U.S. House to quickly consider and pass it as well, ” she said.

President Barack Obama wants to sign the bill. The best valentine the House could give America soon is a yes vote.

Copyright The Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.

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