The House of Representatives is poised to pass a hobbled version of the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization (VAWA) later today. The House GOP version actually rolls back some current protections and excludes other key protections contained in the Senate version of the bill, which was passed with bipartisan support in April.
In past years, VAWA enjoyed bipartisan support and garnered little controversy. This time around, however, top Religious Right groups have rallied against the bill due to the protections it would extend to immigrant, Native American, and LGBT victims of domestic abuse. These groups, including the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, Eagle Forum, and the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
, made noise on Capitol Hill and are most directly responsible for the events that will unfold in the House today.
It’s worth noting then that these groups partnered in their lobbying efforts with a convicted wife-beater and a group tied to a mail order bride firm. The anti-VAWA coalition
, led by Concerned Women for America, wrote
earlier this year to Senators:
We, the undersigned, representing millions of Americans nationwide, are writing today to oppose the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This nice-sounding bill is deceitful because it destroys the family by obscuring real violence in order to promote the feminist agenda. […]
There is no denying the very real problem of violence against women and children. However, the programs promoted in VAWA are harmful for families. VAWA often encourages the demise of the family as a means to eliminate violence.
Further, this legislation continues to use overly broad definitions of domestic violence. These broad definitions actually squander the resources for victims of actual violence by failing to properly prioritize and assess victims. Victims who can show physical evidence of abuse should be our primary focus.
was signed by leaders from major Religious Right groups like FRC, Eagle Forum, Liberty Counsel, Traditional Values Coalition, and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It was also signed by Timothy Johnson, former vice chair of the North Carolina Republican Party and founder and president of the Frederick Douglass Foundation
, a small organization focused on outreach to conservative African Americans.
But there’s a big problem with partnering with Johnson on an issue like VAWA, and it’s been widely reported. Back in 2009, when Johnson was running for vice chair of the NC GOP, the media reported
on his felony domestic violence conviction from 1996. He responded by releasing a statement of support
from his ex-wife – “Were I a resident of the state I would vote for him.” Except she never said that. Months later the media reported
that Johnson had fabricated the endorsement:
"I absolutely did not say that," Ofelia Felix-Johnson, now living in Nebraska, tells Xpress. "This was not done with my consent, and I didn’t even know about it. I didn’t appreciate him putting my name out there when I had nothing to do with it.”
According to court records, Johnson was arrested on Christmas Day 1995 in Cleveland, Ohio, and was later indicted by a grand jury for two felony counts, one of felonious assault and the other of kidnapping. According to the arrest report, when the police arrived, they found Felix-Johnson bleeding from the face. Timothy Johnson told the officers, according to their report, “I admit it. I hit her, that's the only way I can get her attention.” Felix-Johnson told the officers he restrained her on the couch, holding down her neck. One officer reports Ofelia Felix-Johnson saying that Johnson also punched her breasts, saying that she had no heart, and hit her over the back and buttocks with a plastic shoe rack, breaking the rack. The police report in the court file states that Johnson broke his wife's nose and toes, causing her to be hospitalized.
Johnson pleaded guilty to one count of felony aggravated assault and was sentenced to 18 months in prison, which was suspended. A few years later, Johnson was arrested again
on domestic violence charges:
In 1998, Johnson was arrested by the Perrysburg Police, again on domestic violence charges. According to the police report, Johnson provided a "very similar" account of the incident to that his wife Ofelia and 14-year-old son gave police. Both wife and son reported that Johnson had Ofelia Felix-Johnson in a wrist lock, and when the son attempted to stop Johnson from hurting his mother, Johnson put the son in a head lock such that he was "unable to breathe and was choking up food," according to the police report. After the son broke free, the police report continues, Johnson "put his right hand around [the boy's] throat and pushed [him] against the wall with his back to the wall and choked [the boy] for about 5 seconds."
According to court records, Ofelia Felix-Johnson did not appear for the hearing, and the charges were dismissed. Johnson told AlterNet that "the incident that took place wasn't domestic violence. My ex-wife and I had a disagreement. And as always, well the person says, well I know you have this past on you so I'll just call the police. And as you said, there was no conviction and there was no trial. You know why? Because there was nothing there."
Given Johnson’s well-reported history of domestic violence and well-reported efforts to fabricate support from his battered ex-wife, it boggles the mind that Religious Right leaders would sign on to the above letter with him. In fact, their partnership with Johnson seems to take the War on Women to an entirely new level.
Another notable name on that letter
is Philip Cook, the director of Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE), on whose site
the letter is hosted. SAVE has been lobbying House Republicans, with much success, to roll back protections for immigrant victims of domestic violence under VAWA. As Laura Bassett reported last week
at the Huffington Post, SAVE’s treasurer “has a major financial interest in reducing immigrant protections”:
Natasha Spivack, started international "marriage service" Encounters International in 1993 with the aim of arranging marriages between U.S. men and Russian women. "The Woman Of Your Dreams Just May have a Russian Accent," states the company's website.
A federal jury in Baltimore awarded one of the Russian brides matched by Encounters International a settlement of $434,000
after she claimed to have been beaten by her American husband and claimed that the company failed to screen candidates properly. The woman also claimed that Encounters International neglected to tell her about a law allowing immigrants to escape abusive marriages without fear of automatic deportation. […]
Rosie Hidalgo, director of public policy for the anti-domestic violence organization Casa de Esperanza, said she has notified Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee that SAVE Services had strong connections to Encounters International, and pointed out that there have been no studies documenting immigration fraud on the part of U.S. anti-domestic violence programs.
"It's shocking to me that the people who are advocating for these anti-immigrant provisions are the people who have a monetary interest in not holding batterers accountable and not holding marriage broker agencies accountable," she told HuffPost. "These are the ones reaching out to House Republicans, and Republicans are supporting the policies they're pushing."
This is the company that the Religious Right keeps, and they sadly have a great deal of influence in the House. Today’s vote in the House will reveal just how much.