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(WOMENSENEWS)--Women's advocates are seeking an apology from Tennessee Republican Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. after his Feb. 19 comments about the Violence Against Women Act, which failed to pass Congress in 2012 and is waiting for House approval.
"Like most men, I'm more opposed to violence against women than even violence against men, because most men can handle it a little better than a lot of women can," Duncan told The Times Free Press.
The activist group Ultra Violet is pressing Duncan apologize, branding the comments "offensive, sexist and ignorant."
The National Organization for Women is using the episode to press House lawmakers to vote on reauthorizing the funding measure in the next two or three weeks, "before all the rancor over sequestration and budget fights go into high gear."
In the same interview Duncan branded VAWA as having a misleading "motherhood-and-apple-pie" title. "If you voted [based] on the title, you'd vote for every bill up here. If we'd all done that, the country would have crashed a long time ago," he said.
Last year Congress failed to reauthorize the bill for the first time since its inception in 1994.
The current version, which passed the Senate on Feb. 12, includes extra protections for LGBTQ individuals, Native American women and immigrant women. The bill is now stalled in the House of Representatives The Huffington Post reported.
Doug Heye, spokesperson for Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said that the House intends to release its own VAWA reauthorization bill, according to Politico. "We're going to continue to work with VAWA advocates and Senate Democrats to reach agreement so we can protect all women from acts of violence," Heye is quoted as saying.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., pressured the House to pass the more inclusive version of VAWA, saying lawmakers couldn't "pick and choose" which victims to protect under the bill.
"A victim is a victim is a victim," Leahy told reporters at a press conference
"And violence is violence is violence."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he expects the lower chamber to act soon, though no decision has been made over whether to take up the Senate bill or let the House introduce its own version.
"Our leadership [is] continuing to work with the committee of jurisdiction, looking at finding ways to deal with this legislation," Boehner said at a press conference
last week. "We're fully committed to doing everything we can to protect women in our society, and I expect that the House will act in a timely fashion in some way."
United Nations rights experts are calling on Congress to reauthorize VAWA: "Since its enactment in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act has played a crucial role in providing guidance to state and local level governments, and in facilitating their adequate responses to violence against women," Rashida Manjoo, UN special rapporteur on violence against women, said in a press statement. "It has steadily expanded funding to address domestic violence and, with each reauthorization, it has included historically underserved groups."
Victoria Fitzgerald is a freelance writer in New York City.