There is no greater coward in Congress right now than House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
Cantor and his GOP allies killed off the highly effective, highly popular Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) this session over a provision that would give Native American tribes limited authority to prosecute non-Native Americans accused of domestic violence, sexual assault and other crimes against Native women on Indian reservations. Currently, tribal courts have no jurisdiction to prosecute non-Indian defenders, which leaves the vast majority of sexual assault prosecutions handled by the Department of Justice. Cantor objected to the provision as a power transfer to non-sovereign tribal courts and along with the rest of the Tea Party, rallied the troops behind thinly-veiled racism and in-your-face misogyny that has come to define House Republicans and blocked re-authorization for the first time in almost 20 years.
The Women’s Media Center project Women Under Siege documents sexualized violence worldwide and in this must-read op-ed from September, notes the levels of sexualized violence experienced by women living on Indian Reservations parallels levels documented as war crimes in places like Sudan or the Democratic Republic of Congo. And for Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and the rest of the Republicans in the House of Representatives, that is just fine.
Just how bad is it? One out of three Native American women report they’ve been raped or the victim of an attempted rape. According to the Department of Justice, at least 86% of those sexual assaults are reportedly perpetrated by non-Native American men. Of those reported assaults, DOJ claims to prosecute approximately 13% of those cases. That means at best tribal courts are prosecuting 1 in 10 reported rapes, while the rest are left to federal law enforcement to handle, which is getting around to prosecuting just barely 10 percent of those cases.
As Feministing.com editor Chloe Angyal noted on the Melissa Harris Perry show, it’s long past time the media start asking why, when given an opportunity to make this tragedy a little better, Cantor and his allies didn’t just position themselves against women, they positioned themselves on behalf of rapists.
I think we need to ask why Eric Cantor is going to such efforts, to such extensive efforts to protect men who go onto reservations to rape women. We need to talk about it and frame it as violence against women, but we also need to flip it around and talk about it, this is about protecting rapists. That’s exactly what Eric Cantor and the House Republicans are doing when they are holding this up.
With that in mind, let’s revisit those statistics again. 34 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped in their lifetimes. 39 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women will be subject to domestic violence. According to a General Accounting Office report on “Department of Justice Declinations of Indian Country Criminal Matters,” federal prosecutors declined to take action on 52 percent of violent crimes committed on tribal lands. Of those declined cases, 67 percent were sexual abuse and related cases.
Now is probably a good time to remember that the Senate passed VAWA reauthorization with bi-partisan support in April with a total of 68 Senators voting in favor of the bill.
Cantor’s cowardice doesn’t simply come from the fact that his opposition is grounded on the idea that men who rape women on Indian reservations should, effectively, be able to get away with it. No. It comes from the fact that Cantor let the bill die by simply refusing to bring it up for a vote in the House where Republicans told Huffington Post they expected it could pass.
“I absolutely would support the Senate bill,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told HuffPost in late December, speculating that other House Republicans, namely GOP congresswomen, “are very supportive of that.” When asked if he thought the Senate bill would pass in the House if it came up for a vote, Cole replied, “My judgment is yes.”
But it didn’t. Instead it died on the vine and with very little outrage from the American public. Supporters of the bill insist they will reintroduce the bill in 2013. But until it passes, domestic violence shelters, rape crisis programs, and a host of other critical services for crime victims will shut down because a loud, racist, misogynistic minority feel secure enough in their entitlement to insist they are not protecting rapists and punishing women but merely legislating on principles.
Photo from gageskidmore via flickr.