Advocacy groups fight for domestic violence protection bill

by: Hanna LeskyStaff Writerhlesky@unca.edu

Women’s rights activist groups in Asheville continue to urge Congress to renew a bill providing funding for victims of domestic abuse, despite debate over gender equality.

“I think that we’re stronger than any act of Congress,” said Dielle Ciesco, transformational voice specialist, vocalist, author of The Unknown Mother: A Magical Walk with the Goddess of Sound and One Billion Rising member.

“I believe it’s one of the reasons women have been put down for so long.  It’s because there is a sense among the patriarchy that women can overcome and overtake any corrupt power, and I think that can happen regardless of what they do to stop us.  In ways they try to limit us, they just can’t do it, as much as they try.”

The Violence Against Women Act, which expired 2 years ago, fell to controversy after members of the legislature raised questions over whom the bill protected.

VAWA passed in 1994, but some members of the 112th Congress refused to reauthorize the act after additional sections were added to support victims of domestic and sexual violence on Native American reservations and among immigrants and the LGBT community.

“Reauthorizing this legislation would far and away be in the best interest for protection against domestic and sexual violence,” said Amber Maness, junior women, gender and sexuality studies student and organizer for V-Day at UNC Asheville.  “The inclusion of LGBTQ individuals shouldn’t even be a question.”

“There is not a single descriptor or act that could inherently erase a person’s bodily autonomy and make them somehow more deserving of violence. Sexual and domestic violence is not something that should be permitted to happen to anyone, ever, no exceptions,” Maness said.

VAWA helps fund organizations that provide services such as treatment and counseling for those who have suffered domestic violence and sexual abuse.  One such organization is Our VOICE, Buncombe County’s rape crisis center.

“I think that VAWA is very important,” said Leah Rubinsky, client services coordinator at Our VOICE.  “I know that it is really important that it is reauthorized because it allocates a lot of funding and is very necessary for services for women who are experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault.  Sexual assault is a huge public health problem for women and men, mostly women.”

“We have about six payed staff and the rest of the work we do, we rely on our wonderful volunteers. We offer various different services to survivors of childhood sexual assault or rape or any kind of sexual assault, whether it be a past incident or event or something more recent,” said Rubinsky.

Organizations such as One Billion Rising and its annual event V-Day are also trying to end violence against women.

“V-Day promotes creative events that increase awareness and raise money for both local and global organizations with similar aims. V-Day campaigns allow local volunteers and college students to produce annual performances of ‘The Vagina Monologues,’” said Maness.

“‘The Vagina Monologues’ are a series of transnational narratives that seek to communicate female sexual experiences, though certainly not capturing all of them, from a stance of empowerment,” said Maness.

On Feb. 14, One Billion Rising calls for women and supporters to strike, dance and rise to end violence.

“One Billion Rising is a reference to the fact that one in three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. One billion women violated is an atrocity. But one billion women dancing is a revolution,” said Maness.

One Billion Rising has deeply affected many women, such as Ciesco.

“Something happened inside of me and I remembered, not that I had ever forgotten, but I remembered certain things that had happened to me in the past, like sexual abuse and also a date rape in college.  I realized if I was going to support this movement and be part of the event, then I needed to be OK with what happened to me.  And while I worked through it, it definitely healed a lot of the aspects of it. What I experienced in my own life was not terribly violent. It was psychologically and emotionally effecting, so what I like about One Billion Rising is that it doesn’t really matter what you’ve experienced.  They’re working with all kinds of levels of experience for women, whether it’s incest, or date rape, or any kind of rape, or female genital mutilation, all these things that are happening all over the world,” said Ciesco.

Participants of V-Day are being asked to wear red and black on Feb. 14.  V-Day UNCA will be writing letters to Congress members asking them to reauthorize VAWA.

There will also be a One Billion Rising event at the Asheville YWCA on Feb. 14 at 7 p.m.

UNCA’s production of “The Vagina Monologues” is scheduled for Feb. 15 at 8 p.m.  Tickets are $5 for students and $7 for community members.

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