Feminism

“Put Women’s Safety First”: Why the House Must Reauthorize VAWA Now

Rep Gwen Moore at VAWA rally image by Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights via Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/lccr/7456898524/)

Originally published at Fem2pt0.

I used to volunteer at a domestic violence hotline. I spoke with women scared for their lives and for the lives of their children. They were hurt, angry and confused. Some needed legal counseling or refuge from an abusive partner. Others just needed someone to listen.

If it hadn’t been for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), these women probably would have had no one to turn to and nowhere to go.

VAWA helps protect and aid domestic violence survivors. But VAWA has expired and time is running out to reauthorize it. Each of the 12 Democratic women senators signed a letter this week addressing all 25 of the House Republican women, “urging them to unite as women and press House GOP leaders to take up the Senate-passed VAWA bill” before the end of the year.

“As mothers, daughters, grandmothers, and women intent on protecting the inclusive and bipartisan history of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), we are reaching out to you to ask for your help,” reads the letter. “With only a matter of days remaining in the 112th Congress, we are asking that you work with your leadership to take action and finally pass the Senate’s bipartisan Violence Against Women Act reauthorization. With your leadership on this issue we will resolve this matter in a way that puts the safety of all women ahead of partisan politics.”

The Senate already passed a bi-partisan reauthorization of VAWA. For 18 years, VAWA has been reauthorized under bi-partisan support. Until now. Earlier this year, the GOP-controlled House passed their own modified version, the Cantor/Adams VAWA. Sadly, the House version excludes support for LGBTQ survivors, Native American women and visas for undocumented immigrants who are domestic violence survivors — that’s 30 million people.

The House spouted some bullshit myths and excuses for opposing the bipartisan VAWA legislation. Some fools think VAWA will cause an increase in immigration due to special visas for domestic violence survivors (but it doesn’t). Some believe LGBTQ discrimination doesn’t happen in VAWA grants or in shelters (it most definitely does) so a measure protecting LGBTQ survivors from discrimination is unnecessary (it’s vital). And jerks are angry VAWA will allow Native American tribes to prosecute non-Native people for domestic violence and sexual assault as it supposedly violates due process (no, it doesn’t).

Abusers are getting away with targeting Native American women. Charon Asetoyer, Executive Director of the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center in Lake Andes, S.D, said:

“We have serial rapists on the reservation — that are non-Indian — because they know they can get away with it. Many of these cases just get dropped. Nothing happens. And they know they’re free to hurt again.”

Are we really quibbling over which victims need protection? Do conservatives really believe some people are more deserving than others? LGBTQ survivors, immigrants and Native American women should not be omitted from protection or stripped of their rights. How dare the House GOP treat them as disposable. Everyone deserves safety and protection.

Now time is running out. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA.) held a meeting with all House Republican women on Wednesday to discuss VAWA. The House must reconcile the Senate’s version of VAWA with its own before sending it to President Obama, who said he would most likely veto the House version. If VAWA doesn’t get reauthorized by the end of the year, new legislation will have to be drafted “starting at ‘square one.’”

Why is VAWA so important?

Under federal law, VAWA mandates domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault as federal crimes. VAWA funds programs and services such as domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers, legal aid programs, violence and rape prevention programs, sexual assault prevention on campuses, protection for survivors evicted due to domestic violence or stalking, and specific programs for survivors who are immigrants, women of color and women with disabilities. “VAWA has trained 500,000 law enforcement officers and judicial officials, and provided a national crisis hotline that served 264,000 victims.”

In addition to housing, domestic violence shelters often provide counseling, legal aid, job training, daycare and transportation. All of that costs money which VAWA helps cover. Domestic violence survivors need the law to provide a safety net.

VAWA also provides funding towards “investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, imposed automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allowed civil redress in cases prosecutors chose to leave unprosecuted.”  VAWA also established the Office on Violence Against Women which provides grants and financial assistance to programs working to aid survivors and end domestic violence and sexual assault.

But VAWA doesn’t just help adult women. VAWA helps kids too. 67% of sexual assault victims are children under the age of 18. Ending VAWA ends programs aiding them too.

VAWA makes a significant difference. Statistic shows VAWA effective in reducing intimate partner violence. This year the Bureau of Justice Statistics released a report indicating a 64% decline in domestic violence from 1993 to 2010 due to VAWA which passed in 1994. Since VAWA’s passage, the number of women killed by intimate partner has decreased by 34%. And for those heartless conservatives who only care about money, it’s estimated VAWA has also “saved $12.6 billion in social costs of medical care, law enforcement, and lost wages.”

Still need more proof we need VAWA? Here are 50 more reasons to pass it.

As Kim Gandy, President and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said:

“The difference between today and 1993 is remarkable…VAWA is truly the foundation of our nation’s response to domestic and sexual violence, stalking and dating violence. It is effective and cost efficient. It is saving people’s lives and reducing violence against women.”

I’ve shared with you all before my own struggles with domestic violence. I know firsthand what it’s like to be trapped in an abusive relationship and to be stalked by a former partner. The cruciality of funding for domestic violence programs cannot be understated. We need to help domestic violence and sexual assault survivors. Not hinder, stigmatize or shame them.

Too many in the media have treated the recent horrific murder of Kasandra Perkins, a domestic violence victim, as an isolated tragedy. It’s not. Perkins’ death shines a spotlight on the insidious prevalence of domestic violence which escalates over time.

Everyone needs to realize that domestic violence is an epidemic.

In the U.S., one in four women will face domestic violence in her lifetime. Three women die every day due to domestic violence. One in five women have been raped. One in six women have been victims of stalking.

Violence against women affects us all. It’s time we stopped hiding from that fact and start doing something about it.

So what can you do to help pass VAWA? Call Speaker Boehner’s office (202) 225-0600 or (202) 225-6205 and House Majority Leader Cantor’s office (202) 225-2815 or (202) 225-4000 as soon as possible.

Image of VAWA rally by Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights via Flickr and the Creative Commons License.

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