Congress is in the process of reauthorizing the 25 year old Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) this spring (April 2019). VAWA expired last fall, when Congress was distracted with other issues. Here is some background on VAWA and on changes to improve it in 2019. Sources at end.
What is going on with domestic violence right now?
- Reauthorization of Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) just passed the US House last week, work in Senate next. It had expired last year, 9/30/18.
- One of our own state lawmakers, Rep. Cody Henson from Brevard/Transylvania County was served with a restraining order a few months ago, and now has had his guns taken away as a credible threat! In Rural NC! It’s a big deal. Yet, still he is a state lawmaker.
- April is #SexualAssaultAwarenessMonth
- The NRA (National Rifle Association) is threatening Congressmen against voting for certain parts of an improved version of VAWA.
What do you know about VAWA?
VAWA made violent crimes against women a federal priority for the first time in history, transforming our nation’s response to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking and serving as a model for the world. Every five years or so, VAWA must be reauthorized by Congress. This means that as of September 30, 2018, we are operating without an updated Violence Against Women Act.
Domestic Violence expert Julie Owens says, ” VAWA must be reauthorized, with the proposed modest improvements. In particular, closing the “boyfriend loophole is essential. The mere presence of a firearm where domestic violence is occurring increases the risk of homicide by 500%. To remove firearms from an abusive husband but not an abusive boyfriend makes no sense. The safety of victims and their children must be our highest priority.”
Why We Need VAWA:
- It provides survivors with essential help, including legal assistance, healthcare, housing, or counseling.
- It has pushed diverse agencies and institutions—such as advocates, police, prosecutors, judges, health care providers and survivors—to work together to address and prevent violence.
- It has been a lifeline for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, covering everything from law enforcement training for working with rape victims, to visas for immigrant women to flee their abusers, to nondiscrimination protections for LGBT survivors of violence, to protections for Native American women victims of violence.
Where is it in the process?
HR1585 is a bipartisan bill to reauthorize VAWA for 5 years. It makes modest yet vital improvements that are necessary to prevent domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking, and to hold offenders accountable.
Reauthorizing VAWA has been a bipartisan issue in the past, and the House bill is sponsored by a Democrat and a Republican. However, the current environment is much more partisan. In addition, outside interests are interfering.
Why do we need to reauthorize VAWA every five years?
First we don’t need to reauthorize all of VAWA – only the grant programs need to be reauthorized. Interstate domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking do not become legal, just because VAWA is unauthorized, nor does special tribal jurisdiction go away. Inconvenient as it seems, reauthorizing programs is actually beneficial, because it allows us to make updates. We learn more every year about the best ways to prevent and respond to gender-based violence and the reauthorization process allows us to make use of that knowledge.
Why can’t we just stay with the VAWA that we have now?
Every time they have reauthorized VAWA, Congress has made vital, and often groundbreaking improvements. We know that victims and survivors need, and we know that they cannot wait 5 more years for those improvements. Although it might seem logical to delay the reauthorization process, the longer we delay, the more people experience domestic and sexual violence. In the #MeToo era, we can and must do better!
Tell me about changes to Congress
In the 2018 election, more women, progressive women, were elected to Congress, changing the balance in the House of Representatives. Reauthorizing VAWA has been a bipartisan issue in the past, and the House bill is sponsored by a Democrat and a Republican. However, the current environment is much more partisan. In addition, outside interests are interfering.
What is in this bill?
HR1585 is based on extensive outreach to survivors, direct service providers and other stakeholders. It meets the needs of diverse survivors by
- Maintaining vital protections for all survivors
- Investing in prevention
- Ensuring victim service providers can use VAWA funding to help victims experiencing a range of DV behaviors, not just physical abuse
- Ending impunity for non-Native perpetrators of SA, child abuse co-occuring with DV, stalking, sex trafficking, and assaults on tribal laaw enforcement officers on tribal lands
- Improving access to safe housing and economic independence
- Protecting dating violence from abusers with firearms
- Improviding the h/c systems and workplace responses to the four crimes, and
- Improving enforcement of court ordered firearm relinquishment
The amendment closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole” by barring those convicted of abusing, assaulting or stalking a current or former dating partner from owning a firearm. According to “House Passes Violence Against Women Act With New Provision Against ‘Boyfriend Loophole’,” 4/4/19, time.com.
Noting past Republican support for the law, Pelosi said, “There should be nothing partisan or political about ending the scourge of domestic violence and sexual assault, which one in three women faces today.”
The NRA feels so strongly about the gun-control provision that it is evaluating the domestic violence law as a “key vote” that will help determine whether it will back a member for re-election. (Time article)
We can’t let the NRA’s empty threats prevent us from passing common sense legislation that will save lives. We must ensure that VAWA is not watered down in the Senate.
More information is available, including
- History: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/04/us/violence-against-women-act-reauthorization.html
- House Passes Violence Against Women Act With New Provision Against ‘Boyfriend Loophole’ – http://time.com/5564467/house-passes-violence-against-women-act/
- National Task Force to End Sexual & Domestic Violence – http://www.4vawa.org/violence-against-women-act-vawa