Where the Real Shame Lies: Calling Victims of Violence Liars and Their Advocates Crooks

“Shame on them.” That’s what Rep. Sandy Adams said when she was told that more than 300 organizations and government agencies helping victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking opposed her version of reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, H.R. 4970. Adams’ bill did get the support of one organization, the National Coalition for Men, which issued a statement saying VAWA must be amended to prevent “false accusations.”

H.R. 4970 contained language drafted by another organization, Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE) — language that rolled back protections for battered immigrants. One of SAVE’s board members, Natasha Spivack, runs a mail-order bride agency called Encounters International. Spivack has lobbied Congress for years to weaken laws that provide protection for the women she matches up with U.S. men. SAVE says that their language, as adopted by Adams, would discourage “false allegations of abuse.”

The principles underlying H.R. 4970’s rollbacks of existing law seem to be that victims don’t tell the truth, and that the governmental and nonprofit agencies that provide services to victims and hold perpetrators accountable are engaged in self-enrichment.

Right-wing House members marched in lockstep, decrying the “fraud, waste, and abuse” committed by VAWA grantees as their reason for supporting the draconian and incredibly costly auditing mechanisms and punishments contained within their bill. Yet not one of them provided evidence of rampant fraud and abuse among VAWA’s thousands of grantees and subgrantees, which include law-enforcement agencies, prosecutors’ offices and courts, as well as severely under-funded victim service providers. In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice specifically reported that these agencies are not engaged in fraud or abuse.

Why aren’t House Republicans celebrating the hard work and success of VAWA grantees? And why does the language of the bill assume victims are liars and grantees are embezzlers?

Perhaps the focus on “fraud” and “false allegations” is meant to be convenient cover for what H.R. 4970 really does: roll back victim protections that have existed in law for decades; order the establishment of a new and costly bureaucracy to burden grantees with unnecessary paperwork; and deny any meaningful protections to battered immigrants, Native women, or LGBT victims.

H.R. 4970 would establish a new and costly “fraud” unit in the Justice Department by taking money that would help victims. H.R. 4970 says there are “enough victims,” and that immigrant, Native-American, and LGBT victims aren’t worthy to be added to the list of those already protected from abuse. H.R. 4970 insults victims and those who serve them.

Shame on “them,” Rep. Adams? I don’t think so. The real shame is on you.

Originally published on Terry O’Neill’s Huffington Post blog on 05/31/2012

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