It’s a story I can only tell in pieces — a woman I love leaving her home and marriage in the middle of the night with her children to escape a man who hurt her and so many others in so many ways. Dreams I have still about him burning down the house with her and all of us in it. The silences where the pain he caused still exists.
There are other stories I know. A woman whose husband set her hair on fire. A woman whose boyfriend locked her in a room until she apologized for scraping her own car on the side of the garage. Another woman whose boyfriend stole her clothes because he didn’t like them, hid them, then told her he lost them. The day she found them was the day she left. Teen girls on TikTok have recently gone viral dancing to the sound of their ex-boyfriends screaming verbal abuse on their voicemail — calling them “ugly” calling them “sluts.”
These stories are shocking but not uncommon. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that 1 in 4 women experience extreme forms of intimate partner violence such as injury, stalking and sexual assault. In Iowa, the rate is one 1 in 3.
In 1994, the National Violence Against Women Act was passed into law, which allocated $1.6 billion toward the prosecution and investigation of crimes against women and instituted mandatory restitution on those convicted.
Throughout the years, the act has been updated and changed, but not without controversy. In 2012, conservative Republicans opposed extending the act to protect same-sex couples and undocumented immigrants. It was eventually reauthorized in 2013, but not without a fight.
And because America can’t resist playing politics on the bodies of the broken and abused, we are heading into another fight over the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, this time headed by Joni Ernst.
The House has a version of the act which extends protections to trans people and adds language that closes the “boyfriend loophole,” preventing people convicted of dating violence or stalking from purchasing a gun. Last week, Sen. Joni Ernst introduced a version of the bill that did not include those key elements, instead focusing on sex trafficking. Additionally, according to Progress Iowa, Ernst’s bill weakens tribal courts ability to go after abusers, leaving Native women with fewer protections. Ernst had previously worked with Sen. Diane Feinstein on a bipartisan version of the bill. But negotiations broke down earlier this year.
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Last week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer criticized Ernst’s version of the bill. Ernst made headlines by pushing back, saying she didn’t need Schumer to “mansplain” the bill to her.
Ernst, herself, a sexual assault survivor, knows all too well the cost and toll of violence on women. Which is why it makes no sense that she would introduce a bill without key protections that would prevent violence against all women and then use it as a political tool to garner headlines. Gender should not be used as a cover for bad policies and mimicking the language of feminism, does not make someone a protector of women. This back and forth on the Violence Against Women Act is a cynical move that plays politics with the lives of women. But here we are again, debating how much protection women deserve and who is deserving. Meanwhile, as the politicking continues and headlines are made, women will die. Politics is a game to be won and lost, but our bodies are not.
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