Domestic barbarism

A number of politicians have used concerns about women’s rights, violence against women and “medieval tyranny” in their argument for the invasion and ongoing expenditure of American blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Many also use xenophobic rhetoric about the “barbaric” practices of Sharia law — from Iowa to Oklahoma and beyond — in a manufactured crisis to stoke fear. Yet some of these same politicians argue efforts to update the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) by incorporating lessons learned and ensuring the law better addresses the realities of domestic violence in 21st century America are an attempt to “pick a fight” or part of some secret pro-gay, amnesty agenda.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner in the United States, and on average 24 people a minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner. Nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men have been raped in their lifetime, yet domestic abuse continues to be the most underreported violent crime in America. Only an estimated third of women who are injured or raped receive medical treatment for their injuries. 

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We’re passing on this legacy of intimate-partner violence to younger generations at alarming rates. An estimated 43 percent of college women report experiencing violence or abuse, while young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, almost triple the national average. Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse and 80 percent of female victims report being raped before the age of 25 — almost half before the age 18.

It’s a 21st century American reality that domestic violence among same-sex couples occurs at about the same rate as among heterosexual couples. Not only have reported incidents of domestic violence increased 30 percent from last year — including seven deaths — more than 44 percent of victims were turned away from shelters and more than 54 percent were denied orders of protection from courts. Victims have a harder time getting the help they need in part because of a shortage of available resources and in part due to law enforcements’ inability to handle these cases.

In 21st century America, rates of violent crimes and rape are highest against Native American women (as they have been for too long). A University of Oklahoma survey found approximately 3 out of 5 Native American women had been assaulted by a spouse or partner, and the CDC reported that 46 percent of Native American women have been the victim of rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. While we know many of their abusers are non-native men, an outdated legal system preventing the prosecution of non-Indians, even if the offender lives on a reservation or Indian lands, makes the pursuit of these crimes difficult. Additionally, federal law enforcement resources are hours away from reservations and stretched thin.

It’s also a reality that among the 12 million people here illegally, many are women who endure a unique tyranny. They are more vulnerable to all forms of violent abuse because of language barriers and fears of coming forward related to their immigration status.

Failure to pass the Senate version of VAWA sends a message that in 21st century America, it’s OK to violently beat and abuse certain groups of people. That’s real tyranny and barbarism.

Karen Finney is a political analyst for MSNBC and Democratic consultant, and co-host of POTUS/Sirius XM’s “The Flaks.”