The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is in jeopardy, and no one seems to care, even though October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In fact, the issue has barely been mentioned at all by any political candidate running for office or seeking re-election. Joe Biden is the one exception. The Vice President did address the issue during his debate with Congressman Ryan, and that only makes sense, since Joe Biden authored the original legislation that was first passed in 1994 and has been reauthorized with bipartisan support ever since–until now. Today the reauthorization of VAWA is in jeopardy, because in the current political environment violence against women has become a political issue. Federal funding to prevent violence against women is suddenly debatable. As a result funding for victims could be cut, and if it is, more women are going to die.
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 this time around, 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 last few days alone, the news has been filled with stories of violence against women, including the murder of 21-year-old Whitney Heichel of Oregon, who was taken by a neighbor at gunpoint, assaulted, and shot to death (abcnews.com), and the murder of Zina Haughton and her co-workers in Wisconsin, who were all shot and killed by her estranged husband, a man who was under a court order to stay away from her and to give up his weapons (CNN). Yet according to our current senators and representatives, violence against women is not a priority, and passing legislation that will save lives is not their concern. They are more concerned with gaining a political edge in the upcoming election. Think about that when you head to the polls.