The Role the Mail-Order Bride Industry Plays in the Battle Over the Violence Against Women Act

What Women Really Think
May 17 2012 11:43 AM

Who Are the Opponents of Domestic Violence Protection for Immigrants?

Domestic violence protest.
Picture of 166 silhouettes representing French women victims of violence in 2007, taken on Nov. 25, 2010 in Le Mans as part of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Photo by Jean-Francois Monier/AFP/Getty Images.

The House passed a watered-down version of the Violence Against Women Act, and in doing so, they've turned the spotlight on some of the lobbyists who have pushed hard for stripping away protections against rape and domestic violence. It's a motley crew of Christian conservatives who believe domestic violence is the result of women's lack of faith in Biblical subservience, at least one convicted wife-beater, mail-order bride companies, and secular "men's rights" activists that want to make it harder for women to leave abusive marriages. Anna North at Buzzfeed highlights one of the more unsavory characters involved in this effort, Bill Ronan of the National Coalition for Men and the misleadingly named Domestic Violence Legislative Project at Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, a group that actually seeks to shield abusive homes from police intervention.

Ronan lobbies heavily against laws that give immigrant women married to American men the right to leave abusive husbands and get green cards anyway. He and his cohorts claim that foreign women are luring men into marriage, making false claims of abuse, and getting that "free" citizenship, and that the only cure is to eliminate laws that allow for abused women to seek green cards without spousal sponsorship. That this means that abusive men can use the threat of deportation to control their victims doesn't appear to bother Ronan.

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There are reasons to be strongly skeptical that the activists of SAVE and other groups lobbying against protections for immigrant women are disingenuous in their claims to be opposed to fraud, instead of simply supportive of legal loopholes that allow abusive men to obtain hapless victims through mail-order bride services. If these activists believed foreign women were running a scam on American men, they would denounce the mail-order bride industry for exploiting men and seek to shut it down. But despite their claims that the women who turn to mail-order bride services are gold diggers and frauds, SAVE is very supportive of the industry. SAVE's treasurer founded a mail-order bride company called Encounters International, which matches up Russian women with American men. If they sincerely believe men are being defrauded, why are they making money feeding supposed victims to these defrauders?

The reality is that the mail-order bride industry markets itself by feeding into a racist, misogynist narrative that holds that "Western women" have been rendered unmarriageable by feminist teachings about egalitarian marriages. (Lots of fun examples of this theory available for perusing here.) The pitch is that men who want an old-fashioned (read: submissive) wife need to look outside of the country, preferably toward countries where economic distress is pushing women into desperate situations. I don't think it's much of a leap to suggest that men with abusive tendencies might just find such a pitch enticing on its surface, and even more so if they discover that the industry has a political arm aimed at making sure that should you feel the need for some physical discipline of your newly obtained old-fashioned wife, she can't leave you without facing deportation.

Of course, the dishonesty coursing through the claims of Ronan, SAVE, and other opponents of protections for immigrant women is most evident in Ronan's insistence that a woman who marries and divorces a man she met through a mail-order bride service got her citizenship for "free."  If Ronan really does believe that women are making up abuse accusations to get citizenship, then the easiest solution that would both allow abused women access to services and prevent fraud would be to allow all women who went through a mail-order bride service to get their citizenship without having to show evidence of abuse. After all, they cooked for, cleaned up after, and had sex with the kind of guys who turn to these services. That level of sacrifice is really payment enough.

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.

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