GOP Obstruction Kills ‘Violence Against Women Act’

The landmark Violence Against Women Act, which has been reauthorized without fanfare since then-Senator Joe Biden spearheaded its passage in 1994, strengthens the criminal justice system’s ability to address domestic and sexual abuse and expands services for Americans who have been victims of those crimes. But it expired in October of 2011 after conservative lawmakers balked at the addition of expanded protections for undocumented immigrant, Native American, and LGBT victims of sexual assault.

Though the Senate approved the VAWA last year with bipartisan support, Republicans in the U.S. House had opposed the legislation because it added new protections for illegal immigrants, LGBT individuals, and Native Americans. The two chambers have butted heads over the bill for the past year—in May, the Republican-controlled House passed a watered down version to strip the protections for diverse populations, and subsequently refused to cede any ground to the Senate. The beginning of 2013 means the 112th Congress has officially failed to ensure protections for rape survivors. VAWA expired on its watch, and there’s no more time to remedy that mistake.

The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network estimates that someone is assaulted every two minutes in the U.S. (although that’s probably an underestimation, since more than 50 percent of sexual assaults still go unreported), but progress has inched forward since VAWA was passed nearly two decades ago. More survivors now report incidents of sexual and domestic violence to the police than they did in the years before the law was in place—and VAWA funds training for about 500,000 law enforcement officials, judges, and prosecutors each year to help ensure that the legal system is better equipped to respond to those reports. The National Domestic Violence Hotline that the law established now receives over 22,000 calls every month. The rate of reported incidents of intimate-partner violence has dropped by more than 60 percent since VAWA was first enacted.

. . . The 113th Congress, which gets sworn in today, will be the most diverse in our nation’s history. It will include 19 new people of color, the first Hindu representative and the first Buddhist senator, the first openly gay congressman of color, the first openly bisexual congresswoman, the first openly gay senator, and more female members than ever before. It still doesn’t come close to accurately representing the country it will govern. But it’s better than what we had before—and where the 112th Congress failed, the 113th very well may succeed.

Sen. Patty Murray, who championed the original version of VAWA in the Senate, plans to reintroduce the legislation in the new session. Perhaps when she is joined by a new Congress and a historic freshman class, expanding the scope of domestic violence resources to include additional American populations won’t spark quite as much controversy, and advocating for diverse communities won’t be such a seemingly insurmountable task.

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