The US Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization in a gender-split vote of 78-22 today. Every female senator voted to pass the bill. All 22 opponents of the bill were Republican men, most notably Senate Minority Leader 62 cosponsors, passed not merely along party-lines, but also -- and significantly -- along gender-lines.(R-Ky.) and Sen. (R-Fla.). The bill, which had garnered a filibuster-proof
The bill that the Senate passed, S. 47, is equivalent to bipartisan legislation introduced by Sens. Leahy and Crapo in the last Congress. Advocates say it will improve VAWA programs and strengthen protections for all victims of violence.
What the Senate VAWA does
The bill improves the criminal justice response to sexual assault, to domestic violence homicides, to housing needs of crime victims and to on-campus victimization. The Senate’s reauthorization bill also maintains enhanced protections for tribal, LGBT and immigrant victims. These provisions received overwhelming bipartisan support last year in the Senate and were identified as critical priorities by advocates across the country.
To smooth Senate passage of reauthorization, a modest increase in the number of U visas available to immigrant victims of crimes who cooperate with law enforcement was removed from last year’s bill. That increase prompted a technical objection from House Republican leaders, who allowed VAWA to die with the close of the 112th Congress. Senate bill authors instead intend to focus on increasing the U visa allotment as Congress addresses comprehensive immigration reform legislation.
A new provision of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, the SAFER Act, S. 80, will ease the backlogs of sexual assault evidence collection kits, colloquially referred to as “rape kits.” Kits facilitate acquiring evidence needed to prosecute offenders and also help law enforcement solve cold cases.
Female senators of the 113th Congress
In the history of Congress the US has elected nearly 2,000 senators , but only 44 of them have been female. Swearing in 20 female senators, the 113th Congress made history as its opening gavel sounded in January. But, while the number sets an historic high, the percentage of female senators is still only 20 percent.
Vice President still not high enough., author of the original Violence Against Women Act of 1994, is clear that—record or not–the number of female senators is
"The only thing that needs to change is get to the point where there are 51 women in the Senate," Biden said at a reception for the then-newly elected Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). "You know why? Not because you all are better or worse. Because everyone's going to figure out there ain't no difference, that everybody is qualified. It doesn't have a damn thing to do with gender."
Republicans and the vulnerable
While gender may not limit qualifications, it’s nevertheless an important lens through which a human experiences and perceives the world. Women leaders have risen to positions of power although handicapped by a culture that is predominantly male-dominated and patriarchal.
In a world in which one of every three women is at some point in her life beaten or sexually assaulted, these female senators, if not survivors themselves, know and have formed bonds with other women who are survivors of assault.
Political action for the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization now moves to the House. Last year House Republicans hid behind legislative maneuvering to stop VAWA. As a result, “American women paid the price,” stated Nancy Zirkin of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
“Instead of passing a bill that included important advancements to protect women who are most at risk, House GOP obfuscated the facts and politicized the needs of students, immigrant women, LGBT people, and women on tribal lands to justify their obstruction.”
A smaller percentage of women occupy seats of leadership in the House, close to 18 perecent. The reauthorization of VAWA faces a tough battle there, due especially to protections it affords to tribal women.
Perhaps, if more women served in the House of Representatives, the path to VAWA passage would be less encumbered.
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