Stand and Support the Violence Against Women Act

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy at a VAWA support rally in June. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

As much as we like to believe we live in a safe country for women, we know this is not the case. Women and girls across the country are subject to rape, abuse, intimidation, and sex trafficking, with the number of victims growing each day. 

Progress has been made over the past decades, thanks in part to the Violence Against Women Act. This policy protects women by providing everything from funding for rape crisis centers to increased collaboration with law enforcement to hold perpetrators accountable. VAWA is our country’s promise to women and girls that we will not allow them to be violated and abused. 

The Violence Against Women Act is up for a vote in the Senate next week, and Americans from every corner of the country are calling our policymakers to reauthorize this important legislation. Since it was first passed in 1994, VAWA has received strong bipartisan support and shown its effectiveness in making communities safer, healthier, and better stewards of their resources (in the first 6 years since it was introduced, VAWA saved communities $12.6 billion). 

VAWA expired in 2011, and has yet to be reauthorized.

Border Violence is Fast & Furious; Four Killed in Recent Weeks

Candles near site of shooting, Murphy Woodhouse

Candles near site of shooting, Murphy Woodhouse

Candles burn near the bloodstained concrete sidewalk where a youth was tragically killed when more than a dozen bullets shot across the wall into the Mexican bordertown. I've walked that sidewalk running parallel to the border wall and Calle Internacional in Nogales, Sonora possibly hundreds of times. It is with this intimate awareness of the context that I describe how recent deaths in the name of homeland security are an affront to all families of the borderlands. 

Four deaths in six weeks across the border region, one common offender

On the evening of Oct. 10 U.S. Border Patrol agents shot and killed 16-year old José Antonio Elena Rodriguez. The shots were fired through the paneled border wall in Nogales hitting José Antonio in the back seven-to-eight times. The agents allege the boy was involved in rock throwing. For more detailed description of the circumstances, see this article.

About a week earlier, Border Patrol agent Nicolas Ivie, 30, was killed in Naco, another Arizona border town just east of Nogales, when a fellow U.S. agent searching for smugglers mistakenly opened fire. Agent Ivie has a wife and two young daughters who live in southern Arizona, and the family is publicly fundraising to survive without him.


Shariah or Not, Muslim Divorces Can Get Tricky

New Jersey lawyer Abed Awad has been involved with more than 100 cases that involved some component of Shariah, or Islamic law, and knows firsthand how complicated things can get.

In one of those cases, a woman claimed she was married to a man according to Islamic law in her native west Africa. The man asserted there was no valid marriage, leaving a judge to decide whether the two were ever legally married in the first place.

If the judge rules they were married, there will be a divorce, and she will receive alimony and a share of marital assets. If the judge rules that there is no marriage, then the woman will be left with nothing from her relationship.

To make a ruling, the judge will need to consider what Shariah, as understood in one corner of western Africa, says about what constitutes a legal marriage. He will likely have to consult Islamic law experts and apply what he learns to his decision.

But what if American judges were prohibited from considering Shariah and other foreign laws, as many state and national politicians want to see happen?

Obama Speaks Out Against Modern Slavery

President Obama speaking to the Clinton Global Initiative on Tuesday:

I want to discuss an issue that relates to each of these challenges. It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity.  It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name — modern slavery.

Now, I do not use that word, "slavery" lightly.  It evokes obviously one of the most painful chapters in our nation’s history. But around the world, there’s no denying the awful reality. When a man, desperate for work, finds himself in a factory or on a fishing boat or in a field, working, toiling, for little or no pay, and beaten if he tries to escape — that is slavery. When a woman is locked in a sweatshop, or trapped in a home as a domestic servant, alone and abused and incapable of leaving — that’s slavery.

When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery.  When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family — girls my daughters’ age — runs away from home, or is lured by the false promises of a better life, and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists — that’s slavery. It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.

Federal Court Says Accused Abusive Priest Didn’t Work for the Vatican

A federal judge on Monday dismissed the Vatican from a lawsuit filed by a former Portland teenager who says he was sexually abused by a pedophile priest who was transferred from Ireland to Chicago and then Portland in an alleged church effort to hide his past.

U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman of Portland said the Vatican didn't employ the Rev. Andrew Ronan, who — according to the lawsuit — molested the teenager in 1965 and 1966. Mosman's ruling means the Vatican can't be held financially liable for the abuse.

"It's clearly a disappointment, but we're definitely not discouraged," said Jeff Anderson, the Minnesota attorney who is representing the victim, listed in the suit as John V. Doe.

High Appreciation or Holy Adoration? The Slippery Slope of Sports

Basketball image, Yuri Arcurs / Shutterstock.com

Basketball image, Yuri Arcurs / Shutterstock.com

While I strongly believe that physical activity and participation within sports can offer excellent avenues for education and wellness on an individual and community level, my role as a fan of sports has been significantly tested over recent years. In other words, I have come to wonder whether or not something inherently good, such as sports, has reached excessive levels to the point of having far too many negative consequences in society. For example, in the U.S. we experience massive inequality and outcry surrounding government budget shortfalls, yet we seem to have more than enough funds for stadiums, tickets, TV packages, and team-related memorabilia. While our public servants receive salary cuts and loss of jobs, millionaire professional athletes argue with billionaire owners over income distribution and so-called “fairness." And of course, while I hear countless people complain about how busy they are and how financial times are tough, those same individuals seem to have plenty of time to watch a few hours of sports on TV each night, and more than enough resources to support their favorite teams. With all of this in mind — and one could list countless more examples — we have to wonder whether our priorities have been distorted, as our collective love for sports may have crossed the line from entertainment to idolatry. Or in other words, how we went from being spectators and participators to devout worshippers.


How Do You Call the Cops on the Cops? Sobering Accounts of Abuse by Border Patrol

Via PBS's "Need to Know."

Sexual assault survivor (name withheld) recounts her alleged attack by a Border Patrol officer. Via PBS's "Need to Know."

What would you do if you were offering a voluntary service, like medical or pastoral care to a vulnerable population, and the clients repeatedly spoke of abuses by a specific perpetrator? You would be a “mandated reporter,” which for the caring professions means you must report certain cases of abuse to authorities. But then you find out that federal employees—law enforcement, in fact—are committing the atrocities. How do you call the cops on the cops?

This was my dilemma as I started working on the Mexico-side of the Sonora-Arizona border washing blistered feet and bandaging wounds of migrants who were just repatriated back to Mexico. 

We set up the Nogales Migrant Aid Station to provide basic care to upwards of 1,200 deported people each day. But we did not expect that human rights documentation would become the most pressing part of that work. With each Homeland Security busload of migrants being released from Border Patrol custody, we listened and then documented case after case of abuse. 

The abuse involved cussing and yelling, being pushed into barbed wire fencing, sexual assault, denial of life-saving medical care, denial of adequate food and water to children and the list continues. 

'Sound of My Voice': Belief, Skepticism and Cults

Apple image by OlegSam / Shutterstock.

Apple image by OlegSam /Shutterstock.

Typcially, cults don’t garner media attention unless they do something really big, like when Heaven’s Gate rose to the public eye in 1997 after 39 members committed mass suicide. And while cults may welcome newcomers openly or warily, it seems they prefer to remain elusive and secretive.

In the feature-length drama Sound of My Voice, Peter Aitken, a 20-something school teacher, is angry at the cultish fanaticism that led to his mother’s death (per her cult’s teaching, she refused to take medicine when she was gravely ill) and turns a cynical eye toward belief patterns he believes distort reality.

Shaped by an experience that left him void of parental companionship, he searches for meaning alone, not knowing what to believe.

Mothers, Violence and the House GOP

Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

House Republicans' news conference on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act in April. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

When we look deeply into our mothers’ eyes we see the beauty and power of grace; their grace offered to us and our grace offered to them.

And so their abuse is unthinkable …and the thought that their abuse would be deemed unworthy of protection by the state—for any reason—is unconscionable.

Why, then, is the House GOP insisting on a scaled down version of the bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act that the Senate reauthorized with bipartisan support in April? Because they have decided certain women are worth protecting and others are not.


Breaking the Chains of Religious Tradition

RNS photo by Jerry McCrea/The Star-Ledger

Fraidy Reiss of Westfield. RNS photo by Jerry McCrea/The Star-Ledger

Where I come from, girls are married off as teenagers to men they barely know and are expected to spend their lives caring for their husband and children. They are required to cover their hair and nearly every inch of their skin, and to remain behind a curtain at parties and religious events.

Where I come from, if a woman wants to feel her hair blow in the wind or wear jeans or attend college, the courts have the authority to take her children away from her.

Where I come from, you might be surprised to learn, is the United States. Specifically, New York and then New Jersey, in the Orthodox Jewish community.