I know things are supposed to be all Valentine's Day-y, with streets chock-full of pink hearts and movie posters for that new Katherine Heigl movie, "The Big Wedding," but let's take a break from all that love and fun to talk about something super not fun but also super important: violence against women.
I know, I warned you it wasn't going to be fun.
This week, the Senate passed a bill reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, placing the focus square on the House. VAWA was enacted in 1994 to protect women, who are the primary victims of abuse, from all forms of violence. It provided funding for pretty basic things like counseling, emergency housing and prevention education. The act had been passed by bipartisan vote for almost two decades until 2011, when the GOP decided the act was too comprehensive.
Apparently some politicians believe only some women deserve a violence-free Valentine's Day. Among the shafted minorities are LGBT, undocumented and Native American women. But unlike other things from 1994 like the Spice Girls, WWJD bracelets and beepers, VAWA still is relevant.
Many of us think (or naively hope) we don't need an anti-violence act anymore. Many believe "feminism won" and women are equal. But every year 1,200 women are killed and 2 million injured by domestic violence. That makes it a very real problem today.
Plus, it is a young person's problem. Eighty percent of sexual assault survivors are under the age of 30, and women ages 20-24 are at the highest risk for domestic violence.
The good news is we're seeing some movement toward ending violence against women. College campuses are taking an active role in reducing the number of sexual assaults. For example, the University of Michigan recently rolled out a fantastic student-led "I Will" campaign that empowers men and women to talk about sexual assault and to assert "I will take a stand."
Globally, we also have seen a shift toward protecting women's safety—just look at the recent demonstrations in India after a deadly gang rape.
To bring awareness to the survivors of violence globally, the organization One Billion Rising created a dance movement to demand an end to rape, sexual assault and domestic violence. The group will dance in Daley Plaza at noon on Valentine's Day to say that in 2013, the world should refuse to accept violence against women. We want better.
And as Americans, we want better from our government. It is time for Congress to stop this partisan insanity and reauthorize an act that for the past 20 years has made the U.S. a better, safer and more just country. Of course a big part of the act is funding for organizations that are in desperate need of resources, such as Rape Victims Advocates and Between Friends, a domestic violence prevention nonprofit. Funding organizations like these has a direct positive effect on decreasing violence against women.
But beyond money, the act is about some basic respect. VAWA is the government saying it respects the personhood of the women of this country and vowing to do all it can to protect and help women from targeted violence; it is about saying as a society that we want progress.
This Valentine's Day, all Americans deserve the right to live without physical or mental abuse or assault, as well as to never endure another Katherine Heigl movie. If only Congress could include that amendment to VAWA, it would be a happy V-Day for all.
RedEye special contributor Niki Fritz is PR chairwoman for the National Organization for Women's Chicago Chapter.
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