Here are the facts: the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), first passed in 1994 and reauthorized twice–each time extending efforts at prevention, education, and responsiveness–expired at the end of 2011. In 2012, Congress failed to reauthorize VAWA, and instead chose to battle over two separate versions of the bill, one passed by the Senate and one passed by the House. In the end, the House succeeded in its efforts to let the bill die. It is now 2013 and a new Congress is in place. Unfortunately, new is not always better, and in this case it looks like representatives in the House are once again set on getting very little accomplished during this legislative session. Newly seated senators, on the other hand, appear ready to move this legislation forward.
The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 was introduced in the Senate on January 22 with two sponsors and 59 cosponsors. This time around, the bill was not referred to committee, and was instead immediately placed on the Senate legislative calendar. The bill passed today by a vote of 78-22 with strong bipartisan support. This legislation extends the act for five years and provides $659 million for VAWA programs–a funding cut of 17 percent from the reauthorization passed in 2005. The Senate bill also includes a provision that would address the backlog of untested rape kits and expedite the process for testing the 400,000 rape kits that now remain untested. In addition, the Senate bill contains an amendment that provides funding to combat human trafficking (USAToday).
However, this legislation is likely to meet stiff opposition in the House. Conservative groups, including FreedomWorks and Heritage Action, have been pressuring both Senate and House Republicans to vote against the reauthorization. These groups assert that men would suffer as a result of the efforts to protect women from violence: “Most notable, perhaps, is the group’s false assertion that men would be hurt by a key tribal provision in the Senate VAWA bill. That piece, which would give new jurisdictional authority to tribal officials in cases involving non-Native men abusing Native women on tribal lands, is largely why House Republicans refused to get behind the more broadly supported VAWA bill last year and remains the biggest obstacle to passing it this time around” (Huffington Post). According to Heritage Action, “the tribal provision would mean that ‘men effectively lose their constitutional rights to due process, presumption of innocence, equal treatment under the law, the right to a fair trial and to confront one’s accusers, the right to bear arms, and all custody/visitation rights,'” (Huffington Post). According to groups like Heritage Action, violence against women should be all about protecting men.
While seventeen House Republicans did send a letter to their colleagues urging quick passage of a bipartisan bill, it is doubtful that their plea will be heard. In a recent speech outlining the Republican agenda for this legislative term, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) expressed concern for immigrants, but he left women completely out of his speech. Later, while responding to criticism regarding his inaction on VAWA, he stated that “as a gentleman I care very deeply about women in the abuse situation” (NBC News). I doubt that women “in the abuse situation” would describe what they are experiencing in such a sanitized way. The House has vowed to present its own version of the bill, which will once again lead to gridlock and no reauthorization.
Perhaps House members have not seen the statistics citing a 67% decline in domestic violence between 1993 and 2010 and an increase in victims reporting domestic and sexual violence to police. I would urge representatives to listen to the advice of the Senate bill’s sponsor, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee: “a victim is a victim is a victim–and violence is violence” (The Washington Post). Stop politicizing violence against women, and do the right thing–reauthorize VAWA.