WASHINGTON - Rep. Gwen Moore, the veteran pro-worker Democratic congresswoman from Milwaukee, has never ducked being a victim of sexual assault and often credited a network of women with helping her escape domestic abuse. But she has never elaborated on her own lifelong experience with sexual assault and rape as she did in a House floor speech on March 28 supporting the previously bipartisan Violence Against Women Act.
The fact the act was being treated as a political football because it expanded to protect more women clearly angered her into speaking out that all women need protection.
Unions have been long and strong supporters of the Violence Against Women Act. When its renewal came up in the Senate in February - and the GOP turned it into a partisan issue there, too - the Steelworkers' Janet Hill, a Coalition of Labor Union Women activist, shot back in a blog entitled "Hey, Congress, how about giving half the population some love?"
"The Network to End Domestic Violence estimates that more than 3.5 million violence survivors were turned away due to inadequate funding and staffing of VAWA programs," Hill wrote. "So when you make that call to your senator, let them know that you think it's wrong and costly to turn away violence victims.
"VAWA not only provided training to youth and boys to help prevent violence, it also provides assistance to local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute crimes and to assist survivors with transitional housing, legal assistance, and supervised visitation services. It provides tools to help police, the courts, and other providers to help identify those at high risk of homicide" from perpetrators, Hill added.
To support her premise and express her mystification at the nearly universal resistance within the GOP, Moore provided explicit details as well as earnestness.
She related personal episodes about her childhood experiences with sexual assault by a distant relative, a life of sexual attacks and demeaning incidents, being targeted for conquest in high school, and losing a court case largely because of attitudes toward women decades ago. Apparently, those decades-old attitudes were curiously being resurrected by the congressional Republicans.
Like many women, Moore says, her lifetime dealings and actual victimization, including beatings, rapes, and abusive relationships, are not distant from the norm.
Violence is as "American as apple pie" and seems to particularly appeal to the male psyche, Moore said on the House floor, deliberately for the record. "I think that men, boys, see it as a rite of passage to have sex with girls. Lovers feel it is their right to dominate women in that way. That has been my experience."
Moore, now 60, has emphasized in interviews how the Violence Against Women law wasn't around to help her, though it has since helped thousands of women. So it needed renewal and expansion because it is working for women of all backgrounds and political ideologies, she noted. She was clearly perplexed and even angry that this bill is now part of partisan gridlock because it was expanded.
The law, first passed in 1994, was renewed in 2005 nearly unanimously. Now funding has become contentious because of new provisions covering gays, lesbians, undocumented women, and tribal women attacked without penalty by nontribal men.
All eight Republican men on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted against it in February, prompting CLUW activist Hill's blog on the issue. Moore told interviewers: "Once again, for some reason in this 112th Congress, there has been a preoccupation with putting women in their place."
How, she asks, is this a political stunt -- as even GOP women are claiming -- since after years of recognizing its value, suddenly not a single Republican was supporting the bill?
Expansion was clearly filling in gaps in the law, Moore said. That led her to conclude the opposition this time smacks again of the idea that anything that President Obama supports, the GOP is against.
While retaining her composure and seeking to keep larger emphasis in her floor speech on the repellent and atypical GOP opposition, Moore moved the gallery and the online video world with an account that a remarkable number of viewers empathized with when she talked about her high school experiences; they were chilling.
She described "having boys sit in a locker room and sort of bet that I, the egg-head, couldn't be had...and then the appointed boy, when he saw that I wasn't going to be so willing, completed a date-rape and then took my underwear to display it to the rest of the boys. I mean this is what American women are facing."
"It is pathetic and it is disappointing that it's come to this. Violence against women in this country is not levied against just Democrats, but Republicans as well...not just rich people or poor people. It knows no gender, it knows no ethnicity, it knows nothing."
But Moore's speech apparently didn't move her colleagues. The male-dominated House didn't even take a vote on the Violence Against Women Act.
Photo: Female protesters in Georgia demonstrate as part of Occupy Atlanta. Jason Getz/AP