Have I mentioned that I love Amie Newman? If you’re not reading her stuff on RHRealityCheck, you should definitely get on board. She has the best explanation I’ve read for why the Sarah Palin Rape Kit controversy matters to all women, and how the supposedly “pro-family” Republican party in fact fosters a culture of violence against women. Charging survivors for their rape kits is only the tip of the iceberg — and Amie is right when she says, “To discuss the rape kit story without addressing what kinds of policies, as a nation, we must put forward in order to address violence against women – the causes of violence, the symptoms and how it can be curbed – does nothing to further the dialogue, find solutions and heal some of our most gaping wounds.”
And those wounds do run deep:
According to Amnesty International, one out of every three women in the world has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. In the United States, a woman is raped every 6 minutes. In global conflicts and wars, rape is widespread – a tool of war.
Instead of hashing and re-hashing a budget line under Sarah Palin’s mayoralty, we need to put forward questions to be asked about and of the candidates that will allow us to understand what they have done or will do, concretely, to reduce violence against women, at home and abroad.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Alaska’s rape rate is 2.5 times the national average. Alaska also has the highest rate per capita of men murdering women. Ninety percent of Alaskans would vote to increase funding for victim service programs because, according to the coalition, “programs are in dire need of more funding in order to serve the sheer volume of victims.” Seventy-five percent of Alaskans have been or know someone who has been the victim of sexual assault or domestic violence. Alaska’s domestic violence shelters, sexual assault services and programs for survivors have seen a relatively small increase in funding. In 2008, the state budget included an additional $300,000 in funding for victims services programs. In 2009, according to Alaska’s Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Governor Palin’s budget includes an increase in funds to help shelters offset the higher costs of fuel, utilities and insurance.
But the extraordinary levels of violence against women in the state of Alaska and the underlying causes still require a much greater level of state-level funding and oversight. According to the Alliance for Reproductive Justice, who lobbied to address Alaska’s rates of domestic violence and sexual assault, when explicitly asked to address these issues in 2007, the Governor did not respond.
We need to be asking what each of the candidates are doing for women. John McCain voted against the Violence Against Women Act, a crucial piece of civil rights legislation, twice. Obama’s running mate Joe Biden was one of VAWA’s biggest proponents. Sarah Palin has said that she thinks women should be legally forced to carry pregnancies to term against their will — even when those pregnancies threaten their health or resulted from rape. McCain is also anti-choice. Both Obama and Biden are strongly pro-choice.
None of that is to say that Obama and Biden are perfectly feminist candidates — there’s a lot more they could be doing, and I hope that they’re pushed to address the tough questions that Amie poses. But both men have spearheaded crucial legislation for women’s rights; McCain and Palin have sought to undermine those rights. Amie asks,
Which set of candidates understands best how to remedy the culture of violence perpetuated against women in this nation and globally? Which set of candidates pro-actively creates policies that address the root causes of rape and sexual assault? Which set of candidates do we trust to raise the status of women in this country and work internationally to do the same? Which set of candidates’ legislative and leadership records reveal genuine attempts at fixing the problems their various constituents face when it comes to rape, sexual assault and other forms of violence against women?
I think the answer is clear enough.