Congress fails to reauthorize Violence Against Women Act

While the end of 2012 saw the country obsessed with whether or not we were going over the fiscal cliff, no one seemed to care that the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) would not be reauthorized. There was little, if any media coverage of the failure to pass this vital piece of legislation, and that speaks volumes regarding the priorities of Congress and our nation.

VAWA was first passed in 1994, and has been reauthorized twice with bipartisan support. Yet when VAWA came up for reauthorization this time around after expiring at the end of 2011, and the Senate proposed expanding the act to include gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans, the House balked. The House also balked at a Senate provision that would allow Native American women to take American citizens who abuse them to court within the tribal legal system. And finally, the House took issue with the Senate’s proposal of a path to citizenship for illegal women who have been abused and agree to cooperate with the police investigation of the crime. In fact, the House proposed lowering the cap on temporary visas offered to women cooperating in legal investigations to 10,000, below the Senate’s increased 15,000 level (

Each time that VAWA has been reauthorized, it has been expanded to include additional communities of women. Yet in 2012 that suddenly wasn’t acceptable to the House of Representatives. According to Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington): “But for the leadership in the House of Representatives, passing a bill with life-saving protections to these new communities of women was simply not politically acceptable. So just weeks after the Senate passed our bill, in a purely ideological move, House Republicans passed a bill that specifically stripped the new protections for immigrants, the LGBT community and tribal women, and even removed protections that exist under current law. Surely, we should all be able to agree that where a person lives, their immigration status or who they love should not determine whether or not perpetrators of domestic violence toward them are brought to justice. Surely no police officer should ever have to ask the sexual orientation or immigration status of a woman who lies bruised and battered at the scene of a crime. Yet, the House bill drew those lines” (CNN).

Congress chose to politicize violence against women, and as a result, they allowed this bill to expire, leaving countless women with nowhere to turn. Just one headline in today’s news illustrates the consequences–“San Francisco woman set on fire by her boyfriend, police say” (NBC). An intimate partner poured flammable liquid on his girlfriend and then set on her fire: “‘Most of her face is burnt,’ the victim’s sister, Precious Craig, told KGO-TV in San Francisco. ‘Just a little bit of hair is still there, but most of her face is burned'” (NBC). As the new Congress begins work, and as this woman fights for her life, we should send a clear message to our representatives: protect as many women as possible, and pass VAWA now.

Diane DeBella

As a writer, teacher, and speaker Diane has spent over twenty years examining women’s issues. She is the author of the collective memoir *I Am Subject: Sharing Our Truths to Reclaim Our Selves*, and editor of the anthology *I Am Subject Stories: Women Awakening*. As a long-time faculty member at the University of Colorado, she received the CU Women Who Make a Difference Award and the CU-LEAD Alliance Faculty Appreciation Award. Through her organization I Am Subject, Diane helps us understand how we—as women—are impacted by the society in which we live. By claiming ourselves as subjects of our own lives, we become empowered and also provide strong role models for other women and girls. In healing ourselves we help others—a beautiful way for women to create nurturing, supportive communities.

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