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WHAT OTHERS SAY: Political games delay help to victims of domestic violence

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST

Harmony House shelter for abused women and children in Springfield helped more than 560 people last year but had to turn away more than 1,100 because the shelter was full.

The staff of 26 serves all of those people, even the ones who cannot sleep in one of the 110 beds at the shelter. The cost per client, about half of whom are children, is $30 a day, which includes case management, day care, legal advocacy, outreach, transitional living, a 24-hour hotline and all of the other services that go along with housing and helping victims of domestic violence.

Funds through the Violence Against Women Act could help Harmony House expand its services, staff and facilities.

Congress needs to renew Violence Against Women Act now, not only so that agencies such as Harmony House can apply for grants that are supported through the act but so that the progress that has been made since the act initially passed in 1994 in addressing domestic violence can continue.

“There is a very real impact to have national recognition that domestic violence is not acceptable,” said Rodney Dwyer, Harmony House executive director. “It permeates all the way from Washington, D.C., to the sidewalk outside our shelter.”

We wish that such recognition would permeate through Congress so that the House of Representatives quickly takes a vote on renewal of the act, just as the Senate did — by a vote of 78-22 — this month.

But the third renewal — it was reauthorized without controversy in 2000 and 2005 — is not likely to have such a smooth ride. Despite a substantial Republican vote in favor of the act in the Senate, there are some Republicans who insist that an addition that would protect gays and lesbians, as well as Native Americans on tribal land, is taking it too far.

Our own Sen. Roy Blunt used this argument: “Unfortunately, the bill the Senate considered ... has been politicized and includes elements that are irrelevant to the core purposes of VAWA, including an unconstitutional provision related to tribal courts.”

The real politicization is being done by obstructionist Republicans who would rather pander to a far right tea party base than put the safety of Americans —including Native Americans — at the forefront.

The constitutional issues at hand — the act would finally provide legal recourse for Native Americans on tribal lands who are victims of domestic abuse by non-Native American abusers — are easily addressed by allowing a convicted abuser to appeal his or her case to a federal court. That is a solution — the Issa-Cole compromise — that is backed by the National Congress of American Indians.

Blunt and the Republican Party should have learned a lesson in the most recent election — women vote, including Native Americans and lesbians. Putting the tea party vote above those of women and men who care deeply about the issues of abuse against the most vulnerable among us is a foolish bargain, even in politics.

Missouri’s other senator is an outspoken supporter of reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Claire McCaskill comes to that position through experience. She was a prosecutor in Kansas City when the act was first passed.

“I remember what it was like before VAWA,” she said, recalling when police did not always respond to domestic violence calls because it was seen as a private matter. “Women were afraid to come out of the shadows. They didn’t feel like anyone was there to protect or support them during a very difficult criminal process.”

But since the act was first passed, shelters have been established, training programs have helped law enforcement learn how to deal with the issue and advocates have learned how to help victims through the prosecution process.

“I don’t want to go back,” McCaskill said.

We don’t want to go back, either. It is important that we not only continue to hold the national position that domestic violence is not acceptable but that we support programs that work toward assisting victims and law enforcement.

This is not just a women’s issue, but it is women who have taken the issue to heart. The truth is, women and children are the most likely victims of domestic violence.

Every woman in the Senate, including every Republican female senator, voted in favor of reauthorization. Women leaders in the House have also stepped up to put pressure on leadership in the House to bring the issue up for a vote.

There are certainly enough votes in the House to pass the reauthorization bill, but Speaker of the House John Boehner has traditionally refused to bring a bill to a vote if it does not have the support of the majority of Republicans in the House.

That is politics, plain and simple.

This isn’t a Republican-Democrat issue, a gay-straight issue or a Native American issue. It is an American issue.

Copyright Springfield News-Leader. Reprinted with permission.


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