Unnoticed, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) died quietly with the closing of the 112th Congress in 2012. VAWA is a law that defends women from domestic violence and allocates both funding and resources to agencies that protect women who suffer abuse. VAWA changed the landscape for victims who had previously suffered in silence. VAWA, first enacted in 1994, was always reauthorized routinely and without any controversy.
But in 2012, the re-authorization process failed, making VAWA itself a victim. What happened?
House Republicans chafed at reauthorization efforts to expand VAWA by extending its protections to more women: immigrants, the LGBT community and Native Americans. They specifically objected to a modest expansion of the U visa provision. Rather than approve a slightly expanded proposal, Republicans allowed the law to expire by refusing to bring it to a vote, even though it had already passed the Senate with a bipartisan supermajority.
Programs and services have not closed yet, but they are clearly endangered. The “fiscal cliff” deal delayed across-the-board cuts to federal programs until early March. However, budget crises at the local, state and national levels could effectively cut that funding at any time.
Nearly 200,000 victims of violence will lose services if another agreement is not made, according to analysis from the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women. Ending VAWA makes increased cruelty towards women and children much more likely.
A lifesaving measure
VAWA-funded programs “unquestionably improved the national response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking,” according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence. Since its enactment, many more victims stepped forward to receive services that helped them escape crisis and move into stability.
The criminal justice system also improved its ability to keep victims safe and hold perpetrators accountable. Since VAWA was first passed in 1994:
Hope for VAWA
All is not lost (yet) for VAWA. Last week, Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Michael Crapo (R-Idaho) introduced S. 47, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. Strong and bipartisan, their offering closely resembles the bill the Senate passed during the previous Congress. Not only would it reinstate VAWA, it would improve VAWA programs, and extend and strengthen protections for all victims of violence.
The Leahy-Crapo VAWA bill protects all victims of violence, including students, racial minorities, tribal members, immigrants and members of the LGBT community. It provides for campus safety. It sets all-state minimum funding formulas for key grant programs to ensure that small, rural states can access the VAWA victim services grants. The improved version of VAWA also provides law enforcement with tools to reduce the nationwide backlog of sexual assault evidence collection kits, or “rape kits.”
To facilitate passage of the Senate VAWA bill, this year’s measure doesn’t include that modest increase in the number of U visas immigrant victims could access. Leahy plans to work instead to pass this provision as part of comprehensive immigration reform.
“In the interest of making quick and decisive progress, we introduce the bill today without that provision in order to remove any excuse for House inaction,” Leahy said upon introduction of the bill. “We have retained other important improvements for immigrant victims in the bill we introduce today as part of our commitment to ensuring that all victims are protected.”
House VAWA bill
Also last week, Reps. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced a companion bill in the House, H.R. 11. It is identical to last year’s successful bipartisan Senate bill.
The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act will set up a five-year authorization for VAWA programs. But it will reduce authorized funding levels by more than $135 million, or 17 percent, from the law’s 2005 authorization.
The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, at the forefront on the issue, is calling on the House to work together exercising bipartisanship to reauthorize VAWA “as a matter of priority.” They encourage constituents to contact their Senators and Representatives to advocate passage of VAWA reauthorization.
Lives will depend on it.
The Washington Post: The Violence Against Women Act Is on Life Support
National Network to End Domestic Violence: Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act
Wikipedia: Violence Against Women Act
The Maddow Blog: House GOP Blocks Violence Against Women Act