Special delivery for mail-order brides

Violence Against Women Act now aims to prevent abuse by their American husbands-to-be.

By Lynn Harris
Published December 28, 2005 12:45PM (EST)

As Broadsheet noted last week, Congress recently took time out from whimpering about wiretapping to extend the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) by five years, to the tune of nearly four billion dollars. Cool Beans and Pandagon would like to draw our attention to one of VAWA's most promising new elements: the International Marriage Broker Act (IMBA), which attempts to provide a safety net for "mail-order brides" who find themselves abused by their American husbands or husbands-to-be. Think about it this way: it's hard enough to get help if you speak English and know how to Google "women's shelter" and catch a bus. Now imagine, as Pandagon points out, that you know no one, have no money and nowhere to go but back to Manila -- and your abusive husband has your passport.

The IMBA was originally introduced in 2003. Its main sponsors were Sens. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Rick Larsen, both Democrats from Washington State, where a 20-year-old mail-order bride from Kyrgyzstan had been murdered by her husband.

As Pandagon writes, "The IMBA seems mostly to be interested in helping women determine before the wedding if they are fixing to marry someone with a violent history, by making the agencies who arrange these marriages responsible for disclosing background information on the men to the women." Some of the requirements:

-- The prospective husband must disclose any criminal background, including "domestic abuse crimes." (Info will be passed along to the bride.)

-- The government will distribute a domestic violence packet to all foreign fiancies and spouses.

-- Marriage brokers can't give clients full info on a prospective bride -- excuse me, "pen pal" -- until the broker has done due diligence, including: a background search, disclosure to the woman of any unsavory data, providing her with the pamphlet, and getting her written consent to share her information.

Of course, as both Pandagon and Cool Beans point out, this legislation goes only so far. For one thing, it's not even close to failsafe: not every potential abuser will have an existing criminal record. And it doesn't begin to address the "selling points" that may attract, or offer justification to, the fellas who are looking for someone "submissive," and aim to keep her that way. (Here's a gem from Chance For Love: "The Russian woman's attitude about herself is feminine. She expects to be treated as a lady, she is the weaker gender and knows it. The Russian woman has not been exposed to the world of rampant feminism that asserts its rights in America.") Finally, of course, the real way to protect mail-order brides is to help improve the impoverished conditions that lead them to seek escape in the first place. (And seem to spawn mail-order husbands, too.)

But it's a start.

Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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