The Violence Against Women Act -- Reauthorize It

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The Violence Against Women Act

This week the US Senate voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  It did not pass unanimously -- 22 senators voted ‘nay.’  Yes, 22.  If you are wondering who they are, here you go: (from the Senate’s official vote count.)

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Office on Violence Against Women
145 N St., NE, Suite 10W.121
Washington, D.C. 20530
202-307-6026

NAYs ---22

Barrasso (R-WY)
Blunt (R-MO)
Boozman (R-AR)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Cruz (R-TX)
Enzi (R-WY)
Graham (R-SC)
Grassley (R-IA)
Hatch (R-UT)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Johanns (R-NE)
Johnson (R-WI)
Lee (R-UT)
McConnell (R-KY)
Paul (R-KY)
Risch (R-ID)
Roberts (R-KS)
Rubio (R-FL)
Scott (R-SC)
Sessions (R-AL)
Thune (R-SD)

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is back in the news.  It was originally enacted in 1994 but was not renewed in 2011 due to concerns about new provisions granting protections for same sex couples, the granting of temporary visas to immigrants who were the victims of domestic violence and enforcement on Native American reservations.  While the Democratic Senate is likely to pass reauthorization, the sticking point is the Republican House, which opposes the new provisions.  This is unfortunate for a number of reasons, not most notably that the GOP had signaled a willingness to be more open to issues that concern women and immigrants.

Why was this act needed in the first place?  To strengthen protections for victims of domestic violence and rape.   The act has been pretty successful on both of those fronts.  According to the White House fact sheet, the following have all happened since the landmark bill was signed into law.

  • VAWA has created positive change. Since it was signed into law:

  • Fewer people are experiencing domestic violence. 

  • Between 1993 to 2010, the rate of intimate partner violence declined 67%;

  • Between 1993 to 2007, the rate of intimate partner homicides of females decreased 35% and the rate of intimate partner homicides of males decreased 46%.

  • More victims are reporting domestic and sexual violence to police, and reports to police are resulting in more arrests.

  • States have reformed their laws to take violence against women more seriously:

  • All states have reformed laws that previously treated date or spousal rape as a lesser crime than stranger rape;

  • All states have passed laws making stalking a crime; 

  • All states have authorized warrantless arrests in misdemeanor domestic violence cases where the responding officer determines that probable cause exists;

  • All states provide for criminal sanctions for the violation of a civil protection order; 

  • Many states have passed laws prohibiting polygraphing of rape victims;

  • Over 35 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have adopted laws addressing domestic and sexual violence, and stalking in the workplace. These laws vary widely and may offer a victim time off from work to address the violence in their lives, protect victims from employment discrimination related to the violence, and/or provide unemployment insurance to survivors who must leave their jobs because of the abuse.

Perhaps more significantly, VAWA show cased an increased awareness of the problem. No one should be afraid in their own home.

Some key provisions (from the same fact sheet) are:

VAWA has ensured that victims and their families have access to the services they need to achieve safety and rebuild their lives by:

• responding to urgent calls for help by establishing the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which has answered over 3 million calls and receives over 22,000 calls every month; 92 percent of callers report that it’s their first call  for help;

• improving safety and reducing recidivism by developing coordinated community responses that bring together diverse stakeholders to work together to prevent and respond to violence against women,

• focusing attention on the needs of underserved communities, including creating legal relief for battered immigrants so that abusers cannot use the victim’s immigration status to prevent victims from calling the police or seeking safety, and supporting tribal governments in building their capacity to protect American Indian and Alaska Native women.

Back in 1994,VAWA passed with bipartisan support but needs reauthorization but that looks unlikely given Republican opposition to several new provisions such as expanding   coverage to same sex couples, granting battered immigrants access to temporary visas and adding protections for American Indians living on reservations.

The original bill passed the House by 235–195 and the Senate by a vote of 61–38 but this isn’t the first time it has attracted controversy. In 1995 Congress voted to defund it and in 2000, the Supreme Court struck down a provision allowing women to sue their attackers in federal court (that was later struck down as violating states’ rights.

In 2012, the Senate voted to reauthorize the act and the House did the same minus the new provisions.  The future of the act is now in question because of procedural tactics.

This is an important law and Congress needs to reauthorize it. We live in a safer country. And if you were wondering who crafted it, it was Joe Biden.  Thanks, Mr. Vice President!

In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions issued this report on the topic.  You can view a list of National Hotlines here.