Don’t Forget About VAWA

Last month, I wrote about my outrage that Republicans were opposing the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which had always had bipartisan support since it was passed in 1994.  Rumor has it that VAWA may be coming to a vote in the Senate this week – Senators discussed the reauthorization yesterday – and Republican opposition continues unabated, as Republican lawmakers are attempting to introduce alternative versions of the bill, to address concerns about government spending and immigration.

To recap, VAWA provides vital protections to victims of domestic violence, and has been incredibly successful in protecting survivors and reducing rates of domestic violence.  Some of the provisions of the bill, S. 1925, presented for reauthorization include:

  • Strengthening federal penalties for repeat sex offenders
  • Preventing rape victims’ sexual pasts from being used against them in trial
  • Continuing financial support for community violence prevention programs, legal and housing aid for survivors, and rape crisis centers and hotlines
  • Requiring that protection orders be recognized and enforced in all states, territories, and tribal areas

Some provisions Republican lawmakers have taken issue with include:

  • Additional tools and protections for women in Native American tribal jurisdictions, including enabling tribal courts to prosecute non-natives on tribal lands
  • Creating programs to address the specific needs of LGBTQ survivors
  • Expanding protection for immigrant survivors, including increasing the number of U-visas allotted (for undocumented immigrants who cooperate in police investigations)

Other versions of the bill submitted by Republican senators would effectively:

  • Eliminate services and protections for communities of color and LGBTQ communities
  • Restricting the number of U-visas, severely restricting undocumented survivors’ ability to come forward and seek justice
  • Strip the new provisions allowing tribal courts to prosecute offenders
  • Weaken the abilities of advocates to address dating violence by reducing the definition of youth from 24-20
  • Eliminate programs that empower men and boys to become anti-violence advocates and prevention education programs in schools.

Republican senators are still complaining that Democrats are intentionally pushing the GOP’s buttons on this issue to add fuel to accusations that they’re waging a War on Women.  They justify the massive cuts to essential programs in terms of limiting government spending, and are accusing Democrats of blocking the passage of the bill by refusing to compromise.  It’s an incredible twist in rhetoric, throwing the Democrats’ War on Women claims back at them while at the same time impeding the progress of a bill that law enforcement official, religious groups, educational organizations, legal professionals, and NGOs have declared to be essential.

Yes, Democrat legislators could probably predict that including provisions for undocumented and LGBTQ survivors would provoke the GOP, but  I’d have to argue that it’s less intentional provocation to make the Republicans look bad, than Republicans actually, legitimately looking bad for letting their bigotry show.  Advocates, law enforcement agencies, and survivors themselves shouldn’t need to be concerned with whether or not reality will make Republican senators uncomfortable.

Make sure the Senate puts the needs of survivors ahead of politics.  Call your senators and make sure they’re voting yes on S. 1925, and not any other bill that calls itself VAWA.


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