January 3, 2013

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

2012 was a rough year for the Republican Party’s relationship with women. From Missouri Senate nominee Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments to the party’s efforts to cut funding for preventative care (particularly important for women seeking cancer screenings and the like) to Rep. Darrell Issa’s all-male panel on contraception mandates and religious liberty — and the subsequent attacks from Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing voices on Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, whom Issa had barred from the hearing — the GOP repeatedly showed a less-than-impressive concern for women’s rights. Not surprisingly, the 2012 presidential election saw the gender gap increase from 12 percentage points in 2008 to 18 percentage points, as President Obama maintained his support among women. One would think, then, that Republicans might pause before yet again insulting half of the country. But this week showed that House Republicans, at least, remain oblivious, as they let the landmark Violence Against Women Act expire.

First passed in 1994 (and drafted by then-Sen. Joe Biden), the Violence Against Women Act has helped law enforcement investigate and prosecute domestic and sexual abuse and increased the resources available to victims of those crimes. The bill was passed (and renewed in 2000 and 2005) with bipartisan support. This past April, the Senate passed the bill 68-31; though all 31 votes against were from Republicans, a number of very conservative senators supported the bill, including Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), who co-wrote the bill with liberal stalwart Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

But House Republicans objected to the reauthorization’s expanded protections for LGBT, illegal immigrant and Native American victims of sexual assault. That the GOP would prioritize discriminating against illegal immigrants and LGBT people over fighting domestic and sexual abuse is outrageous yet, sadly, not that surprising, given the power of anti-gay and anti-immigrant voices in the party. But perhaps even more damning is their opposition to the Native American protections. The expansion would give tribal courts jurisdiction over domestic violence committed by non-Native Americans against Native American women. As The Nation’s Greg Kauffman writes:

The statistics are indeed horrific: one in three Native women will be raped in their lifetimes; two in five are victims of domestic violence; three out of five will be physically assaulted. Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be assaulted—and more than twice as likely to be stalked—than other women in the United States. On some reservations, the murder rate of Native women is ten times the national average. According to the Indian Law Resource Center, 88 percent of these crimes are committed by non-Indians—the majority of the population residing on reservations is now non-Indian—and US attorneys are declining to prosecute 67 percent of sexual abuse matters referred to them.

Yet House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) flatly refused to bring the Senate bill to a vote unless the protections for Native Americans were stripped out. Given the statistics, this negligence is disgraceful. The only reason for inaction from Cantor and others, frankly, is that many House Republicans simply do not truly care about women who are victims of domestic and sexual violence. Women, in turn, will rightly continue to shun the Republican Party.

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James Downie is The Washington Post’s Digital Opinions Editor. He previously wrote for The New Republic and Foreign Policy magazine.