It’s a shame that an issue as sensitive as domestic violence has Democrats and Republicans playing election-year politics. Up until now, reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has always passed with strong bipartisan support. But this year it has become enmeshed in partisan bickering that rages on in Congress.


 

It’s a shame that an issue as sensitive as domestic violence has Democrats and Republicans playing election-year politics.


Up until now, reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has always passed with strong bipartisan support. But this year it has become enmeshed in partisan bickering that rages on in Congress.


This issue isn’t and shouldn’t be political.


VAWA is an important piece of legislation that helps to keep women safe. Since its enactment, annual incidents of domestic violence have dropped by more than 50 percent.


Background


It all began back in the '80s and '90s when law enforcement agencies, prosecutors’ offices and the courts urged Congress to adopt significant legislation to address the increasing problem of domestic and sexual violence.


Originally written by Vice President Joe Biden when he was a senator, VAWA was signed into law on Sept. 13, 1994, by President Bill Clinton.


The act provides more than $600 million annually to 25 programs that help prevent and respond to violence against women.


In addition, VAWA raises awareness, removes legal obstacles to enforcing protection orders across state lines, and bars accounts of victims’ past sexual experiences from being used against them in most legal proceedings involving sexual violence.


VAWA has been reauthorized twice - both times with unanimous support and added improvements.


The first time Congress reauthorized VAWA, in 2000, it expanded the reach of the law to better meet the needs of older victims and disabled individuals.


A second renewal in December 2005 brought programs for teen victims of domestic and sexual abuse.


Following the renewal in 2005, the ACLU stated in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee: “VAWA is one of the most effective pieces of legislation enacted to to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. It has dramatically improved the law enforcement response to violence against women and has provided critical services necessary to support women in their struggle to overcome abusive situations.”


The current authorization expired last year, but programs have been funded through the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30. This bill, if signed into law, would reauthorize the programs for the next fiscal year.


So what’s the problem?


Although the bill passed in the Senate 68-31, a political fight still looms in the House, where Republican women are launching their own proposal.


They want to remove controversial new provisions, and add potentially harmful provisions, including:


* Change the definition of youth from 24 to 20, taking away funding and services from college-aged youth.


* Strip the Office on Violence Against Women of its authority, reducing accountability and raising costs.


* Add manatory sentences that The American Bar Association and the Judicial Conference of the United States fear would harm reporting of abuse.


Democrats hailed the recent Senate-passed bill, which included provisions to protect under-served groups of people.


For example, the bill increases the number of visas available to victims of domestic violence who are undocumented immigrants, it bans discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) victims of domestic violence, and it gives more authority to Native American tribes to address domestic violence.


These provisions were added based on nationwide research to gauge the effectiveness of domestic and sexual violence programs. More than 2,000 individual responses from local, state and federal programs were analyzed to find the most pressing issues for survivors.


Results showed a lack of service to GLBT victims, barriers to services for undocumented victims and continually high levels of violence against Native American women.


A report released in October by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs shows double-digit increases in intimate partner violence in the GLBT community, including the severity of the violence and the frequency with which they are turned away from shelters and denied protection orders.


The need to do more to protect Native American women is also supported by research. A regional survey by University of Oklahoma researchers showed that 3 out 5 Native American women had been assaulted by their spouses or partners. Another nationwide survey found that one-third of all Native American women will be raped in their lifetime.


Does it matter if someone is gay or straight, man or woman, legal or undocumented, or lives on a reservation? Shouldn’t everyone be protected against domestic abuse and sexual violence?


Even though the bill with these provisions passed the Senate, Republicans are focusing their efforts on supporting their version in the House. If both pass, a battle to reconcile the two versions will ensue, likely requiring compromises that strip the legislation of its teeth.


A final vote is expected mid-May.


The solution


Contact your representatives and urge them to support the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act 2012.


Weekly Citizen of Gonzales, La.