Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Raasch: Gender Trends, Politics the Backdrop to Congressional Focus on Sexual Assault, Trafficking

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Raasch: Gender Trends, Politics the Backdrop to Congressional Focus on Sexual Assault, Trafficking

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON * Both say it is about the policy, but in pursuing different avenues on legislation targeting violence against women, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Rep. Ann Wagner, R- Ballwin, may find it difficult to avoid election-year gender politics.

Turnout in the Nov. 4 elections will determine control of Congress in Barack Obama's last two years as president. The president won re-election in 2012 with the biggest gender gap since Gallup began keeping track, winning women by 12 percentage points while losing men by 8, a gap of 20 points.

The gender gap has been a powerful undercurrent in electoral politics for several decades. Now, with a record number of women serving in Congress, gender is increasingly a factor in policy focus.

In 1966, one million more women than men voted. In the last three elections, that gap has been more than 5 million, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. In 2010, 50.6 million women reported voting, to 45.4 million men.

This is why the Democratic efforts to confront sexual assault in the military and on campus, with McCaskill playing a lead role, can't be seen in a political vacuum. The same can be said for Republican efforts to take on human trafficking, which victimizes women and children the most. Wagner has sponsored a bill that would criminalize human trafficking, part of a Republican multiple-bill effort on the issue scheduled to come for a vote in the House of Representatives this month.

Wagner portrays the GOP efforts on trafficking as the fruits of an educational effort within her male-dominated Republican caucus in the House, which has 19 women among 234 members.

McCaskill said she hoped the push for a tougher response to sexual assault on campuses would stay "on the policy and not the politics."

The issues of violence against women and human trafficking are not new. The Pentagon's Tailhook scandal, which involved widespread assault at a convention in Las Vegas, happened 23 years ago.

When the Tailhook scandal exploded in 1991, there were four women senators and 28 women in the House. Today, there are a record 20 women senators, 16 of them Democrats, and a record 79 female members of the House, 60 of them Democrats. …

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