By Miri Cypers, JWI Senior Policy and Advocacy Specialist
The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is receiving a great deal of national attention as S. 1925, a bipartisan reauthorization bill comes to the Senate floor for a vote this week. With the media focused on the politics and partisanship surrounding VAWA, the truth can get easily left behind. What does VAWA mean for victims of violence and communities around the country? How does reauthorizing VAWA illustrate Congress’ commitment to ending violence against women? The facts speak for themselves.
VAWA, first passed in 1994 by then Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), was the first piece of federal legislation that acknowledged domestic violence and sexual assault as crimes and provided federal resources to respond to and prevent violence against women. Through subsequent five year reauthorizations, VAWA has been expanded upon and improved to meet the needs of victims of dating violence, stalking and to provide programs and services for Native American women and immigrant, rural, disabled, and older victims. VAWA has always been a bipartisan effort of Congress and the current reauthorization bill is no different.
Millions of victims have benefitted from VAWA programs and services. Since 1994, reporting of domestic violence has increased as much as 51% and the number of individuals killed by an intimate partner has decreased by 34% for women and 57% for men. VAWA programs are effective and far-reaching. VAWA established the first National Domestic Violence Hotline which receives over 22,000 calls each month. VAWA funds train over 500,000 law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges and other personnel each year. And more victims are coming forward than ever before to receive lifesaving services.
So why the difficulty when it comes to passing a bipartisan reauthorization bill with over 61 co-sponsors that enjoys the widespread support, from State Attorneys General to faith-based organizations to victim service providers? Some oppose changes to the bill which they claim are outside the scope of VAWA. But we view them as critical improvements. These changes include improving access to law enforcement and services for Native American women, immigrant women who fear deportation if they report violence, and LGBT victims. An excellent Washington Post editorial published today sums up these changes perfectly, “No one — gay or straight, man or woman, legal or undocumented — should be denied protections against domestic abuse or sexual violence. The proposed changes are by no means radical.”
As the Senate takes up S. 1925 this week for debate and a floor vote, reauthorization of this lifesaving law just makes sense, demonstrating Congress’ commitment to ending widespread domestic and sexual violence. To paraphrase Vice President Biden’s remarks at a White House event on VAWA last week, “This shouldn’t be so hard.”
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