While India Moves Forward on Addressing Rape, U.S. Slips Backwards

India is moving toward making important changes in its rape laws—why is the United States not doing the same?

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India, under international criticism and tremendous domestic pressure from fed-up women, is moving toward making important changes in its rape laws. A government panel—acting on some 80,000 suggestions from the public—has recommended getting rid of humiliating exams of rape victims and battling political influence in rape cases. The ideas seem like no-brainers in the United States, where rape—while still wildly under-reported and underpunished—is no longer the stigma against women it once was. While blaming the victim has not vanished as an attitude toward sexual assault victims, it is no longer as commonplace. India, reeling from a horrific case in which a young woman was attacked on a bus in broad daylight, raped, and beaten (dying from her wounds), is finally moving towards a more just system.

That's progress. So why have U.S. lawmakers allowed the landmark Violence Against Women Act to expire?

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

The Violence Against Women Act, passed during the Clinton administration, imposed mandatory restitution on those convicted of certain crimes, and allowed victims to sue for civil damages when prosecutors chose not to pursue a case. The Senate approved an extension of the law, but lawmakers in the House balked. Their concerns were not about the perpetrators of domestic assault and rape, but on provisions that allow undocumented immigrants who are victims of sexual assault to obtain temporary visas so their cases could go forward. Without that provision, the (mostly) female victims without proper documentation are easy marks for spouse abusers and rapists. Other lawmakers are also unhappy about a provision that applys  to same-sex couples.

One would think that the results of November's elections would make the Republican Party a bit more sensitive about a few issues. Rape, for one. Mishandling of that topic cost them two Senate seats. Immigration policy didn't help with Latinos, and cost Mitt Romney a good chunk of votes. And gay rights is a concept that is gathering steam across the nation—except among hardliners in the GOP.

India is way overdue in reforming its antiquated, antifemale criminal justice system. We should expect more from the United States.

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