The Fight for Women’s Rights

Unlike with many other issues, we tend to think of domestic violence as a non-partisan topic. We assume that our elected officials from both sides of the aisle will work together to create and implement policies that prevent and remedy family violence and keep women safe in their homes, their workplaces and elsewhere. But a closer look reveals a much different picture, as domestic violence has sadly become a partisan political issue in recent years.

A prime example of this is the recent legislative battles over the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA was first passed in 1994 as landmark federal legislation to address the scourge of domestic violence, and it has been tremendously successful in protecting the basic safety of women. Between 1994 and 2011, intimate partner violence against women dropped by 72%, and sexual assaults against women dropped by 64% over roughly the same period.

VAWA was reauthorized several times on a bipartisan basis without any significant controversy, but became a hot button issue following the “Tea Party” election of 2010. In 2012, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives refused to reauthorize VAWA because the GOP’s Tea Party members opposed the legislation’s protections for Native American and LGBT survivors of domestic violence and its requirement that college campuses develop meaningful responses to sexual assault. It was only after public outrage that Republican leaders allowed a floor vote on the bill in February 2013 — after VAWA had been expired for over 500 days — and 87 moderate Republicans joined with all 199 Democrats to pass the re-authorization bill.

More recently, this past October, ZERO House Republican voted to sign onto a re-authorization bill for VAWA, signaling that the basic principle that we should try to protect women against violence will, for the foreseeable future, continue to be a political hot potato.

The politicization of domestic violence hits close to home for me because of my amazing wife, Jane. Jane has been a tireless advocate for victims of domestic violence throughout her legal career. She has an extensive background in domestic violence law and currently serves as the Director of both the Domestic Violence Clinic and the UCI Initiative to End Family Violence. She also co-chairs Orange County’s Domestic Violence Death Review Team and, in her quest to increase access to safety and justice for abuse survivors, recently worked with Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio to author AB 2694 to permit the availability of alternative service in domestic violence cases in California.

Jane’s many experiences fighting for survivors and their rights — ranging from working at a shelter for teenage girls and being a live-in staff member at a shelter for homeless families to advocating for domestic violence survivors in the courtroom and conducting research to improve our legal and social responses to abuse — mean that she possesses an intimate understanding of the insidious impacts intimate partner violence has on those affected. Domestic violence has unbearable societal, health, economic, and legal costs on individuals, families, communities, and countries.

To put things in perspective, a recent Harvard study concluded that domestic violence in our country is “the very definition of a public health problem” and estimated that the United States spends $460 billion each year dealing with 5 million domestic violence cases. The personal trauma is beyond measure, and the economic cost of domestic violence is more than double what the annual federal budget allocates for education, Veterans Affairs, housing, Medicare, and energy programs combined.

The shock factor of this statistic tells us plainly that we are not doing enough locally or nationally to end domestic violence and address intertwined issues — such as reproductive justice and pay equity — that disproportionately affect women. In fact, the Trump administration’s continuous attacks on women’s rights, attempts to silence women’s experiences, and “war on women” is sure to cost them — but in the meantime, it’s up to the states to lead the way on gender equality when the federal government cannot.

Our state has an opportunity to be a leader on this important issue, and I don’t intend to waste it. With my wife Jane’s extensive experiences advocating for survivors, I promise to be a firm voice for women’s rights in the California State Senate. Consistent with the recommendations of the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, I will seek to increase funds for domestic violence and sexual violence prevention and to dedicate funds for community-based and culturally responsive approaches. I will advance solutions that defend a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her body, mind, education, and health, and call for increased protections against domestic violence — ALL forms of it.