violence against women act

The Article

Kate Michelman and Carol Tracy, co-chairs of WomenVote Pa, wrote a scathing opinion article on 03/11/13 as an indictment of the Pennsylvanian legislators who voted against the Violence Against Women Act.

They did so because they see the resistance of these legislators as politically motivated marginalization—if not of women, then of the subset of women who happen to also be “gay, bisexual, and transgender domestic abuse victims [as well as] Native American Indian women assaulted on reservations by non-Indians.”

They pull no punches. They name names:

Mike Kelly (PA-3); Scott Perry (PA-4); Tom Marino (PA-10); Keith Rothfus (PA-12); Joseph Pitts (PA-16); Tim Murphy (PA-18).

They do so even though the act was passed.

The Content

Why, then, despite a victory do they pursue an annihilation?

This might be why:
Because the article gave me the curiosity to go ahead and contact my representative. I asked him why he had voted against the revised act. This is what he said (I italicized his reasoning):

Dear Mr. Kane,
Thank you for contacting me about the Violence Against Women Act. It was good to hear from you, and I appreciate the opportunity to respond.
As you may know, the original Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) became law in 1994, with the goal of preventing domestic violence and protecting abuse victims. Since then, Congress reauthorized VAWA twice, and although the most recent authorization expired in fiscal year 2011, VAWA programs have continued to receive funding.
During the 113th Congress, both the House and the Senate offered reauthorization bills forVAWA, which came to a vote in the House on February 28.
I voted in favor of the House language to reauthorize VAWA because I agree with you that it is important to prevent and prosecute violence against women. This legislation would have increased oversight and ensured that funds actually go to prosecuting perpetrators and providing much-needed services to victims.
The Senate version of the bill raised constitutional questions about the jurisdiction of Indian tribal courts over non-Indians. In particular, I had concerns about rights to due process and a jury trial for non-Indians in tribal courts. Without the opportunity for the House Judiciary Committee to conduct hearings on the Senate bill, I could not support it. Ultimately, the senate Version passed the House of Representatives and now awaits the President’s signature.
An essential part of our government is the exchange of ideas between constituents and their representative, and I value your input in this process.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me on this important issue, and it is an honor to represent you and Pennsylvania’s Twelfth District in Congress. If you have any additional thoughts or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me. To read more about my views and positions on a wide range of issues, you can sign up to receive the District E-Mail Newsletter by visitng

If Mr. Rothfus, as he here claims, voted against the Senate version of the bill because it “raised constitutional questions about the jurisdiction of Indian tribal courts over non-Indians,” then I suppose I can’t pitch a fit. That seems like a legitimate concern, albeit for potential defendants in abuse cases.

I am most curious to know why the House Judiciary Committee had no opportunity to sort those questions out and suggest a tweak of that section of the legislation. It seems to me like Mr. Rothfus is implying that the HJC is a normal part of this process, which raises the question—why was this intentionally-designed body responsible for oversight of legislation barred from that duty? If, however, the HJC isn’t a normal part of the process, well, that makes Mr. Rothfus’s concern a bit of a standout.

Here’s why: Pennsylvania has no federally recognized tribes. So, beyond attempting to ensure that defendants of abuse cases are adequately afforded due process, it seems as though Mr. Rothfus is protecting his constituency from something that doesn’t exist—namely, a tribe and its tribal court.*

*I’m not claiming to have a great understanding of these things—it’s with a cursory logic that I hit this snag. I may very well be missing something crucial, and so if you have any familiarity with the law or what happens when a Pennsylvanian non-Indian goes to Oklahoma and is accused of brutalizing a Native American woman there, then please share!

Let me now explain that I did not find the reasoning that Mr. Rothfus offered as substantial enough to dictate a rejection of the re-authorization of VAWA. In fact, because I had so many questions about it, I had another read—this time at what was between the lines.

What I found was no mention of the other portion of what changed in this version of VAWA: the inclusion of “gays, bisexual, and transgender domestic abuse victims.” And that’s just a little bit suspicious—especially because Mr. Rothfus opposes same-sex marriage. You would think he would have at least mentioned opposing protection for women in those relationships because he believes they ought not to exist in the first place. To turn to a technical reason—a mutable and distant-from-the-spirit of the law reason—as substantiating his rejection seems like a cop-out.

That said, I’m not very happy with his reply.

what do you think?

Thank you for reading.
Thank you for writing.

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