Heather Kristin: Violence Against Women Act

A few years ago while on vacation in India, a gang of boys with cricket bats surrounded me in broad daylight and said they were going to piss on me. My newly wedded husband, 25 feet ahead of me, turned around and yelled at the boys to back away. They continued to taunt me. Having grown up in New York and been physically assaulted during a few different muggings during my childhood, I knew not to run, scream or look the assailant in the eye. It made the beatings worse. Just hand them your money and move on.

But this time I feared they wanted to violate me. I quickened my pace to a fast walk. My husband and I had wandered outside of a village, up a dusty hill. We carried no phone, no computer in our bags. No one would find us if something happened. I wasn’t sure if my sweet and loving husband could fight off a gang. It was one of the rare times in my life that I felt completely alone.

Two boys blocked my path and another pulled at the scarf I wore to cover my head in temples. My husband reached through the gang, grabbed my hand firmly, and pulled me away. It was the first time in weeks that he and I had any public physical contact with each other. We had been told by several Indians that we could be arrested if we touched each other in public. As we ran away, I could hear the gang laughing and was thankful to be safe.

So I wasn’t shocked a few weeks ago, when I read in the newspaper the various reports of gang rape, but I was when I came across my very own sister-in-law’s account of being gang-raped in India when she was seventeen years old. I wondered why she had never told me about the incident, but on reading I realized she did not want to be defined by it or be the poster child of rape. In her article, I agreed with her call to teach the next generation to respect one another, to have tough laws that protect woman, to stop pointing fingers, for the violators to be punished and take responsibility.

On Facebook I posted her piece and voiced my support. My friend Kat commented that when she road home on the subway, she saw a construction worker covered in drywall dust, reading the paper, completely absorbed in my sister-in-law’s story. It made her aware that rape wasn’t just a woman’s issue. It was a human issue.

I felt confident that most American’s held those same values, but one night, surfing the internet, I discovered a disturbing video clip of an Ohio former high school student bragging about an alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl.

The Ohio high school football players allegedly carried a blacked-out drunk girl to three different parties and violated her. Witnesses took cell phone pictures and tweeted about the incident as it happened.

Who can fight against these dogs? Not Congress. The 112th Congress put a Band-Aid on the fiscal cliff and allowed the Violence Against Woman Act to die by not reauthorizing it. Penned in 1992 by then-Senator Joe Biden, the VAWA’s purpose was to combat violent attacks against women. It provided funding for prosecutions against sex offenders, tougher penalties for repeat sexual offenders, law enforcement training, established a national hotline for victims, federal rape shield law, a mandate that states rape victims don’t have to pay for the rape exam, and many other provisions.

Congress must reauthorize Violence Against Woman Act. America must lead the way to help end violence against woman worldwide.

I was lucky that day in India. Someday I hope to return and walk up that dusty hill, not just as a wife, mother, sister, daughter, but as a person.

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