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Domestic Abuse and the MeToo Era:

1994-2018: The Violence Against Women Act.
2017: MeToo: flood of news of sexual abuse.
Congress drags its heels in legislation
to reduce domestic violence.
Womens' access to a Hindu Temple in India.

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1994: The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) as originally passed:

VAWA was written by Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) and Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY). It passed easily in the Democratic-controlled federal House and Senate. On 1994-SEP-13, President Bill Clinton (D) signed it into law as Public Law 103–322. It:

  • Allocated $1.6 billion of federal funds for the investigation and prosecution of crimes of violence against women;

  • Imposed automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted of violence;

  • Allowed women access to civil redress in those cases where prosecutors did not prosecute allegations of violence; and

  • Established the Office on Violence Against Women within the federal Department of Justice. 1

The title of the act is deceptive. It implies that it only protects female victims of abuse by males. In reality, the text of the law is gender-neutral. It equally protects male and female abuse victims.

Domestic violence -- also known as intimate partner violence -- ocurrs within a significant number of marriages and other partnerships -- both opposite-sex and same-sex -- with both females and males as victims. The Mayo Clinic states that victims often experience a cycle of abuse in which the abusive partner:

  1. Threatens violence.
  2. Strikes the victim.
  3. Apologizes and promises to never do it again.
  4. Sometimes offers gifts.
  5. Pauses for a while.
  6. Returns to step 1 to repeat the cycle. 4

The Mayo Clinic article also describes how victims of abuse can create a safety plan. protect their communications and locations, and where to seek help. 4

Bethany Backes, director of research for the Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault at the University of Texas at Austin, TX said that the law:

"... really formalized a stream of funding and support for services of victims. It created a more formalized way for agencies to obtain money and it really changed ... [victims'] support across the criminal justice system." 2

During the law's renewal during 1995, Republicans in the House attempted to limit its reach by reducing its funding. They were unsuccessful.

During the year 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision for the lawsuit United States v. Morrison. By the Justice's very narrow vote of 5 to 4, a slim minority of Justices declared unconstitutinal the provision within VAWA that allowed women the right to sue their alleged attackers in federal court under certain circumstances. The Court narrowly ruled that this provision exceeded the federal government's powers under the U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause.

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2000 to 2013: VAWA is reauthorized multiple times:

  • During the year 2000, VAWA was routinely reauthorized by Congress.

  • In 2005, VAWA was again reauthorized. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sent a "Letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee Regarding the Violence Against Women Act of 2005, S. 1197." It stated, in part, that:

    "VAWA is one of the most effective pieces of legislation enacted to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. It has dramatically improved the law enforcement response to violence against women and has provided critical services necessary to support women in their struggle to overcome abusive situations." 1

    Curiously, the title of the ACLU's letter only referred to "violence against women" and ignored violence of women against men.

  • In 2012, conservative Republicans opposed an amendment to the reauthorization of WAWA that would extend the act to cover violence by same-sex couples. It would also allow battered illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas to the U.S. After a lengthy delay which lasted into 2013, VAWA was again reauthorized. President Obama (D) signed it into law on 2013-MAR-07, saying it was a:

    "... day of the advocates, a day of the survivors. This is your victory. And this victory shows that when the American people make their voices heard, Washington listens." 3

Also, during President Obama's term in office, he established two federal groups that are related to VAWA:

  • The White House Council on Women and Girls, and

  • The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.

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The MeToo Movement:

The MeToo Movement is doing for workplace harassment and sexual violence what exposure of domestic violence has done for relationships. Isolated workplace harassment stories have always been covered in the news. However, allegations against Harvey Weinstein in the New York Times article by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey 2017-OCT-05 kick-started a movement that has exposed it nationwide.

Colby Itkowitz, writing for the Washington Post, commented:

"When VAWA was last reauthorized in 2013, it would still be years before sexual assault allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein inspired the #MeToo movement. Women's stories have since rocked media companies, politics, the restaurant industry, even classical music, and most recently the confirmation process of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who's been accused of sexually assaulting Christine Blasey Ford when they both were in high school." 2

On 2018-SEP-23, Deborah Ramires, a Yale classmate of Kavanuagha, made a second accusation against Brett Kavanaugh. 7

Gretchen Carlson, who accused Roger Ailes, the CEO of Fox News, of harassment, commented on USA Today:

I can’t overstate the magnitude of this evolution when compared with the environment that I encountered after my harassment lawsuit against Fox News CEO Roger Ailes became public in July 2016, which now feels like ages ago. There was no #MeToo hashtag then, no “Time’s Up” pins, and no real support system for women facing harassment and its aftermath. Compare that with the visibility and activism around Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s hearings, a massively important moment for #MeToo that every survivor, including me, is watching closely." 6

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2018 Congress drags its heels:

The 2018 reauthorization of VAWA ran into difficulties. 2 The current U.S. federal law is scheduled to automatically expire at the end of 2018-SEP. Neither the Republican-controlled Senate nor the Republican Controlled House considered VAWA's renewal a priority. So, as a stop-gap solution, they amended a bill that would keep the federal government funded until DEC-07 to extend VAWA by 9 weeks.

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2018-SEP: Hindu temples' policies on womens' access:

Decades ago, many conservative Hindu temples were off limits to Dalits (a.k.a. achhoots or untouchables). These are individuals who are outside India's caste system. The government has since required have access.

Many commentators have stated that traditional Hindu beliefs teach that menstruating women are unclean and are not allowed to enter temples and take part in religious rituals. However, Shrikant Soman -- a Hindu -- posted a thorough explanation of this matter on Quora. 10 He notes that women are excluded only from a small minority of those shrines that are dedicated to a male deity. He wrote that:

  • Women are the "most pure form of human life."

  • They are at the "peak of their purity" during their menstrual cycle.

  • If a woman visits a temple while menstruating, she will disturb the atmosphere of the temple and will suffer an energy disturbance herself. This will cause:

    "... harm [to] themselves ... [and] will also cause the divine presence in such area to withdraw."

The Sabarimala temple to Lord Ayyappa (a.k.a. Ayyappan and Hariharaputra, “the son of Vishnu and Shiva") is located in the hills of the state of Keraia on the south-west coast of India. He is a male deity who was the son of two other male deities: Vishnu and Shiva. Between the times of Ayyappan's conception and birth, Vishnu had taken a female form. This temple traditionally prohibited access to all women "of menstruating age," generally regarded as 10 to 50 years. The ban was enforced because Lord Ayyappa was a bachelor and a brahmachari (a celibate male). Potentially fertile women might cause him to break his celibacy status.

Subham Mal also commented on Quora saying that:

"... Lord Ayyappa is a brahmachari . He is not supposed to come close to women. A brahmachari considers all women as their mother. (incarnation of Goddess Uma) It will be a very big sin to Lord Ayyapppa if a motherly figure enters his temple (ie his place of worship). ... Lord Ayyappa, being a strict brahmachari, is not even supposed to think of women and any other luxuries." 10

On SEP-28, the Justices at the Supreme Court of India voted 4 to 1 in favor of a ruling that the shrine grant access to men and women of all ages. 8,9

However, during October, Rehana Fathima, 32 -- a telecom technician, activist and model, accompanied by a second woman, attempted to visit the Sabarimala temple together, along with hundreds of policemen. They were stopped by protestors about 500 metres (1,640 feet) from the doors of the Temple. She had allegedly taken a photo earlier which included her thigh while dressed in traditional pilgrim attire. Some commentators suggested that the photograph included only her knee area and not her thigh. Thar photo was posted on her Facebook account. Fathima was later arrested at her office for "hurting religious sentiments." After the arrest, she was jailed for 14 days to allow for an investigation. A few days later, other women were preventing from approaching the temple.

She is apparently a non-practicing Muslim, 10 and was later expelled by the Kerala Muslim Jama-ath Council for her actions at the temple.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Violence Against Women Act," Wikipedia, as on 2018-SEP-25, at: https://en.wikipedia.org
  2. Colby Itkowitz, "The Health 202: In #MeToo era, Congress isn't prioritizing Violence Against Women programs," The Washington Post, 2018-SEP-21, at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/
  3. "President signs Violence Against Women Act," CNN, 2013-MAR-07, at: https://www.cnn.com/
  4. "Domestic violence against men: Know the signs," Mayo Clinic, 2017-MAR-01, at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/
  5. "Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades," The New York Times, 2017-OCT-05, at: https://www.nytimes.com/
  6. Gretchen Carlson, "To succeed, #MeToo must target America's laws, not just a few powerful men," USA Today, 2018-SEP-25, at: https://www.usatoday.com/
  7. Ronan Farrow & Jane Mayer, "Senate Democrats Investigate a New Allegation of Sexual Misconduct, from Brett Kavanaugh’s College Years," The New Yorker, 2018-SEP-23, at: https://www.newyorker.com/
  8. Krzysztof Iwanek, "India’s Sabarimala Temple and the Issue of Women’s Entry," The Diplomat, 2018-OCT-18, at: https://thediplomat.com/
  9. "India Activist Held for 'Explicit' Thigh Photo," Atheist Republic/You Tube, 2018-DEC-11, at: https://www.youtube.com/
  10. Nikhil Panikkar posted a comment to a Quora discussion on "What is your opinion on Rehana Fathima trying to enter the Sabarimala Temple?," at: https://www.quora.com/
  11. Shrikant Somanalso posted a comment on Quora at: https://www.quora.com/

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Copyright Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Author: B.A. Robinson
Originally posted on: 2018-SEP-26
Most recent update: 2018-DEC-12

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