Latta’s, Jordan’s stand against women must not be forgotten

3/16/2013
BY MARILOU JOHANEK
BLADE COLUMNIST

Five Ohio Republican congressmen voted against the Violence Against Women Act last month: Steve Chabot, Brad Wenstrup, Bill Johnson, Bob Latta, and Jim Jordan. Remember their names when they ask to be re-elected.

U.S. Reps. Latta and Jordan are from northwest Ohio. They voted against reauthorizing the bill that funds many programs for victims of domestic violence, battered women’s shelters, and law-enforcement training.

The reason? The measure recently signed by President Obama also includes new help for victims of domestic and dating violence, adding protections no matter what their sexual orientation or gender. That was the crux of the clash with conservatives.

Broadening the scope of the original 1994 legislation to protect Native American women, immigrants, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered people did not sit well with House Republicans. They felt the expanded provisions went too far.

Republicans would only renew the law’s funding, normally a routine obligation, if certain groups were excluded. GOP lawmakers quietly crafted an alternative.

It removed language that dealt with gender identity and sexual identification, and it gave Native American tribes the authority to try non-Indian defendants for abuse on tribal lands. But House Republicans still split on the more limited alternative. It was rejected before the Senate version passed, with 87 Republicans joining 199 Democrats in voting yes.

The more than 130 House Republicans who voted against a law that protects women and children from domestic violence aren’t eager to explain why. The issue is not mentioned on many of their Web sites. Some of those lawmakers act as though supporting the pared-down substitute they embraced was like voting for the bill that passed.

It wasn’t. It wasn’t a move in support of sweeping protections for women. But Republicans hope female voters assume otherwise.

Mr. Latta of Bowling Green, who represents the 5th District, sent a statement that sounds like spin for a re-election campaign. “I voted in favor of the House of Representatives’ Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization legislation, which offered increased accountability for how VAWA grants and funds are administered, increased funds for rape prevention and sexual assault services, and enhanced the ability of our law enforcement officers to prosecute offenders.

“I supported the House VAWA legislation,” his statement went on, “because it adopts a victim-centered, comprehensive approach ensuring domestic violence victims receive needed assistance, offenders are prosecuted in a timely manner, and it continued vital programs to prevent reoccurring and future incidents of domestic violence.”

It’s just that some people were less worthy of protection than others in the House alternative.

A message from the office of the 4th District’s Mr. Jordan of Urbana was equally guarded and defensive: “Domestic violence is not a partisan issue and unfortunately in our country, the left is trying to make it one. Congressman Jordan once again voted for the House’s Violence Against Women Act, which would reauthorize VAWA grants for 5 years and streamline the grant process to better utilize resources for preventative and protective programs. The House bill contained more oversight of funds so that victims receive the care and protection they deserve.”

But not all victims. If Republicans want to win back lost ground among female voters — who gave President Obama a 55-45 percent advantage last fall — playing games with the Violence Against Women Act is the wrong way to do it.

Picking and choosing which victims of domestic and intimate partner violence should get help is not what women want. Federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle recognize how crucial VAWA funding is to protect victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking.

“Look at the rate of victimization across our country and the rates of domestic violence,” said Tim Boehnlein, director of visitation and court services at the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center in Cleveland. “I can’t imagine a program that does so much to address violence and help victims of violence being cut.

“Talk to any police department,” Mr. Boehnlein added. “Ask about the No. 1 call they go on, no matter what the community. It is domestic violence. People who are harmed and surviving these traumatic incidences need assistance.”

Passage of the revitalized Violence against Women Act marked an important win for women, gay-rights advocates, and Native Americans. Tea Party Republicans tried to stop it.

Women voters won’t forget.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact her at:mjohanek@theblade.com