While more Republicans voted against it than supported it, the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) finally passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 286-138. A total of 87 Republicans and 199 Democrats voted in favor of the reauthorization, the first time the measure has passed in the House since VAWA expired at the end of 2011 (Washington Post). It is believed to have passed this time because Republicans realize they need to improve their image among female voters.
VAWA was first passed in 1994, and has been reauthorized twice with little fanfare. Each time that VAWA has been reauthorized, additions to the act have been made. The original act and subsequent legislation created new federal interstate domestic violence, stalking and firearms crimes, strengthened federal penalties for repeat sex offenders, and required states and territories to enforce protection orders issued by other states, tribes and territories. VAWA also created legal relief for battered immigrants that prevented abusers from using immigration law to control victims, and it established the toll-free National Domestic Violence Hotline. In addition, VAWA authorized funds to support battered women’s shelters, rape prevention education, domestic violence intervention and prevention programs, and programs to improve law enforcement, prosecution, court, and victim services responses to violence against women (ncdsv.org).
When the act was reauthorized in 2005, it took a more holistic approach. In addition to enhancing criminal and civil justice and community-based responses to violence, VAWA 2005 created notable new focus areas such as developing prevention strategies to stop violence before it starts, protecting individuals from unfair eviction due to their status as victims of domestic violence or stalking, creating the first federal funding stream to support rape crisis centers, developing culturally and linguistically specific services for communities, enhancing programs and services for victims with disabilities, and broadening VAWA service provisions to include children and teenagers (www.nnedv.org).
Yet when VAWA came up for reauthorization last year, 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 (csmonitor.com).
In the November 2012 election the Republicans suffered a number of defeats that were directly tied to their stance on women’s issues, so when the new Congress began work in January and VAWA was once again on the table, it became clear that in order for the Republican party to make gains with women, they had to stop politicizing issues that matter to women. In the end, while the total amount of funding has been cut by 17 percent from the last reauthorization, the legislation does expand services to include new protections for the GLBTQ community and Native American women (Washington Post). We can hope that today’s vote is a step in the right direction, and that Congress will stop politicizing other issues that affect women, like health care, contraception, and reproductive rights. However, that might be too much to ask for.