The Violence Against Women Act: Gun Rights, Idle No More, and Why Most House Republicans Say Rape Is OK

Gyasi Ross
February 05, 2013


There is a fundamental difference between leadership and politics. Yet most folks tend to conflate the terms and pretend that they're inextricably linked or even synonymous.

They’re not the same. 

“Leadership” is when a person steps out on a limb, rightly or wrongly, to take a stance to help someone or something. Conversely, “politics” is essentially finding all the wrong reasons not to do the right thing. An example of conflating politics with leadership is the NRA’s insistence that it’s displaying leadership by its unwavering insistence that everything else but guns kill people and that guns are the one thing that definitely does not kill people. Now, there are certainly other factors in gun deaths, but in the same way that it’s difficult to make Hamburger Helper without hamburger, it’s difficult to have gun deaths without guns.

Yet, the NRA cannot concede this pretty simple argument merely because of politics.  They have millions of members who won’t let them.

Life is politics. I’ve been around politics, both tribal and non-tribal, for quite some time, and I’ve seen the evil that politics does. No one’s immune to it. In my lifetime, I’ve seen politics (disguised as leadership) justify invading a sovereign nation (Iraq) for a horrible event (9/11) with which said nation had absolutely nothing to do.  I’ve also seen politics cause one of my heroes, Barack Obama, to support bills (e.g., FISA, a warrantless surveillance bill that he previously said that he would filibuster) that any constitutional law student—much less a constitutional law professor—knows was unconstitutional. We’ve seen politics continue to justify the murder of children and innocent Americans by our Nation’s unwillingness to pass meaningful gun laws. 

That’s right, Democrats and Republicans are equally as likely to play politics.  No one’s immune.

And while it’s never a good idea to compare tragedies, 2012 saw one of the biggest tragedies in recent times in the name of politics.  See, 2012 was the year that rape ceased to be an undesirable activity—a crime of moral depravity—for most Republicans in the House of Representatives, and instead became a bargaining chip in a continued war against women. In fairness, Republican Representative Cole from Oklahoma, Representative Issa from California as well as Representatives Gosar, Ros-Lehtinen, and Don Young chose not to play these disgusting games. Now, it is up to us—everybody who thinks that women should not be raped—to contact all the House Republicans who are playing politics with rape (e.g. every one that isn’t named above) and tell them that this isn’t acceptable. 


It is absolutely mind-numbing that anybody would be opposed to reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.  Except rapists.  Yeah, my guess is that 100% of rapists oppose the Violence Against Women Act.  But other than rapists, it’s hard to imagine why anybody would oppose a federal law that

• Strengthens penalties for repeat sex offenders and creates a federal “rape shield law,” which prevents rapists from using survivors’ past sexual conduct against them during rape trials;

• Mandates that survivors not bear the expense of their own rape exams or for service of a protection order;

• Keeps survivors safe by requiring that a victim’s protection order will be recognized and enforced in all state, tribal, and territorial jurisdictions within the United States;

• Protects Native women from non-Native rapists by enabling tribal courts to prosecute non-native folks who live on tribal lands with all the same due process protections of federal court (including right to counsel).

Protect women, including Native women, from rape and not put women on trial when rapes do happen? That’s a good thing, right? Unfortunately, not so for most of the Republicans in the House of Representatives; they generally seem to be incredibly comfortable with the concept of rape. To wit, there was the much-publicized incident when former-Representative Todd Akin scientifically explained how there is no excuse for abortion ever because the female body shuts down—therefore not allowing pregnancy—“if it’s a legitimate rape.” By the way, recently Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) defended Akin’s position. 

“He’s partly right on that….”

Then there was the Republican candidate Richard Mourdock, who said that "even when life begins with that horrible situation of rape,  that is something that God intended to happen." Then there was Representative Lamar Smith and the House Judiciary Committee, who killed the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry Act, also known as the SAFER Act of 2012, which made it easier to track down rapists by gathering forensic data after a rape incident. 

Within this repugnant context, it’s easy to see why most Republicans in the House of Representatives let the Violence Against Women Act die on the vine. The other provisions—no rape shield, stronger penalties for rapists, full faith and credit for protections orders—was probably offensive enough for House Republicans who wanted to find ways to justify rape. Yet, the provisions that allowed tribal courts to protect Native women and prosecute non-Native sexual offenders set these Republicans off. 


Now, there’s a very reasonable question—why do tribal courts need to prosecute non-Native rapists and sexual offenders? Shouldn’t we simply leave that to the federal and state prosecutors? 

Well, no. See, Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be assaulted—and more than twice as likely to be stalked—than other women in the United States. Yet, history and statistics tells us that it would be foolhardy to rely upon US prosecutors to protect Native women. Indeed, US attorneys decline to prosecute some 67 percent of sexual abuse matters referred to them. Moreover, states simply lack the incentive, and oftentimes resources, to travel to reservations to prosecute non-Natives that only harm Native people. Some state law enforcement officials agree with the recent comments of a King County (Washington) Sheriff, “not to fully investigate rape or sexual-assault cases that occurred on the Muckleshoot Indian reservation, because rape happens on the reservations ‘all the time.” 

This has created “open season” for many non-Native sexual offenders on reservation lands. They rape, molest, stalk and commit acts of sexual violence with impunity (Indeed, anecdotally, if you go to the sex offender website, , you'll find that reservations are chock full of deviants who are primarily non-Native), and the only options are 1) to rely upon the feds and/or state to prosecute, or alternatively 2) vigilante justice.

In a very small nutshell, that is why the “Native provisions” to the Violence Against Women Act are necessary. More, that is also why the Violence Against Women Act is necessary for all women. Yet, politics will not allow most House Republicans to recognize and/or act on this need to protect any women. It is politics—simply trying to appease the most extreme elements in their constituency, who could not fathom the spectacle of a Native judge presiding over a white man for the rape of a Native woman, similar to the NRA’s position on gun control—that makes most House Republicans take the position that it’s ok to rape women. 


This is the “action” part: The Violence Against Women Act is currently in the Senate, where it should quickly pass through with bi-partisan support like it’s supposed to.  Once it gets to the House of Representatives, that’s where the problems are.  Therefore, we’re organizing a “call-in” to House Republicans (again, other than Representatives Cole, Issa, Gosar, Ros-Lehtinen, and Don Young) to gently encourage (note: sarcasm) them to understand the complex concept that “rape is wrong.” We’re working with many, many non-profit organizations and many, many individuals of all colors, backgrounds and political beliefs to make this happen. Our goal is to get 50,000 people (or more!!) to call these unenlightened public officials and let them know that we simply will not tolerate House Republicans playing politics with rape and women’s lives. 

That’s soon—not quite yet. We need to do it to maximize political effect. Soon.  If you represent a non-profit organization or group that thinks that rape is wrong, and you want to be involved, please, let’s work together. There are literally hundreds of non-profit organizations working on this right now—it strikes me that it would be more effective to work together.

Also, RockPaperJet, LLC will continue to release a series of videos concerning the Violence Against Women Act hoping to continue to tell the story of why Native women specifically deserve to be protected from rape just like all women deserve to be protected from rape. 

Here’s the first of those videos, entitled “What Affects One Woman Affects All Women.”

Finally, we need to vote and organize to vote for the 2014 and 2016 elections.  Take notes. Find out who supports VAWA, and get ready to support them in 2014 and 2016—and if they don't support VAWA, get ready to send money to their opponents. I know this isn’t an election year, but we need to let these cavemen know that this isn’t acceptable, and this is a surefire way. 

For those of you who asked (and perhaps poked fun), this is Idle No More 2.0: Beyond Rounddances and Speeches—this is what a powerful movement of the people looks like in motion, folks. 

Gyasi Ross
Blackfeet Nation
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi





Rachel Hyde
Submitted by Rachel Hyde on

I watched a video on youtube last night called, Andrea Smith: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide. She is a powerful speaker. I just ordered her book titled, Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide. I look forward to reading it.

Violence against women, of any color, is unacceptable. The violence against Aboriginal women that has happened throughout history and continues today is disgusting and IT NEEDS TO END!

Bill Demerath
Submitted by Bill Demerath on

Thank you!

Edward Colclough
Submitted by Edward Colclough on

There is something seriously and fundamentally wrong when our society turns a 'blind eye' to such a degenerate state of being and human existence .. and then sets out to justify inactivity and failure to act, by treating the matter as a political football.

SHAME on the politicians for such an act of blatant stupidity and lack of leadership.

But, even more so ..

SHAME on ANY community, that would allow such a state of affairs to come into being, and one that would allow their womenfolk to be treated in such a demeaning manner, irrespective of race, creed or colour.

THAT truly is where the real shame and fault lies.

If the respect and value for women doesn't exist and thrive in a nation's psyche at the community grass root level, then it is not a state of consciousness that can be 'legislated' into existence either.

This is a state of awareness and being that should stem first and foremost from the homes within each and every community.
If it doesn't exist and thrive there, it cannot effectively be reverse engineered into consciousness of a nation.

Submitted by JB on

How do you claim to have any academic honesty when you place "gun rights" within the context of VAWA?

Robert Seward
Submitted by Robert Seward on

There is no Constitutional authority for Tribal Courts to try non Natives. That is what Federal courts are for

Robert Seward
Submitted by Robert Seward on

There is no Constitutional authority for Tribal Courts to try non Natives. That is what Federal courts are for

Submitted by MJK on

Why most house republicans say rape is ok? Really? You need to back up that information with facts. You picked a few comments from one idiot. Never did they say the "act" of rape was ok. It was about not killing the baby that was "ok". Stop distorting the truth. Of course you can always find a half a hand full of ANY politician in ANY given party who will say stupid stuff.

Weeza Matthias, MD
Submitted by Weeza Matthias, MD on

You go, woman! I have two small organizations I will try to get involved once VAWA passes the Senate.