Pepper Spray and Sweatpants, a reality for women who face a constant threat of violence
“Don’t forget your pepper spray anytime you walk outside”, “Make sure you wear ‘little boy clothes’ on the Metro”, “Always be prepared to fight for your life”... just a few 'tips' I have heard since moving out into the city on my own. I get it, always taking the extra precautions is a reality of my life in the ‘female’ body I have been given, but what I don’t get, is how these small changes in my way of life are going to protect me from the bigger issues that underly the very fabric of our country. We have given men ultimate power, authority, and inevitably the right to use them at their own convenience. While I am the first to stand against this idea (especially because any of the men I have dated recently prove they are far from superior beings), there is no way to deny that it is how we all function on a day to day.
One interesting piece of legislation that caught my eye pertaining to this idea, was the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
This was a bipartisan law that was signed in March of 2022. Biden and Members of Congress from both parties came together to reauthorize this legislation that was first passed in 1994 by President Clinton. Both the original legislation, and current, aim to dedicate funds to investigating violent crimes against women, increasing services for survivors, attempting to implement prevention programs and much more. Signed a month before Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month in April, this legislation stands for both progress and symbolic victories at the same time. The continued allocation of funding to these issues is certainly well-received by many communities, such as those benefiting from new training and prevention initiatives. However, others may say that it is a failed attempt to quiet the voices of thousands of women who know that this piece of paper will do little to nothing to improve their current or future situations.
One of the components of this legislation is geared directly at criminal jurisdiction and how women are affected in the courts. An expansion of jurisdiction for Tribal courts to assess cases even if the perpetrator is non-Native, allows for women to be protected within their own working systems of corrections. This emphasis can increase access to help and encourage safety for a community of women that is not often considered by law enforcement to be a deserving group. Women in Alaskan Native villages, will be significantly affected because as of now, they are faced with the terrifying odds that “One in two Alaska Native women will experience sexual or physical violence, and "an Alaska Native woman is sexually assaulted every 18 hours" (click here for more info). It is because of included initiatives such as this that I do believe the legislation has promise, despite its overexpansive list of areas it hopes to remedy.
One day it would be nice to live in a world where my pepper spray and wearing sweats on the Metro are laughable rather than a protective reality, but until then we will hope for continued progress in acknowledging, preventing, and ending Violence Against Women, one piece of legislation at a time.