It is unbelievable that the Violence Against Women Act is still in debate. If over 20 House Republicans are supporting the bipartisan bill passed by the Senate, how is it that it still won’t go through? How can Republicans halt this non-partisan issue and historically bipartisan bill and still feel good about representing their constituency?
For those who are focusing on this issue for the first time, the reauthorization of VAWA was allowed to defunct. The bill this year is asking for it to be reestablished and added provisions that address concerns and gaps still in existence. These additions are not really new but rather adding a defined focus to groups of women who are even more marginalized and at risk for violence: undocumented victims of domestic violence, LGBTQ victims of violence, and Native American victims of violence. What the House Republicans are specifically objecting to are that; the bill increases the number of visas available to undocumented victims of domestic violence, the bill proposes to deny grant money to organizations that discriminate against LGBT victims of domestic violence, and the bill allows Native American tribal courts to prosecute non-tribe members who are accused of abusing their Native American partners.
The Senate did address one item in advance of sending it to the Hill: Senate Democrats removed the section of the draft VAWA that would have granted more visas to undocumented victims of domestic violence who cooperate with police against their abusers. Republicans are charging that increasing the number of visas available would lead to fraud; although it is clear that law enforcement determines whether an individual has been helpful in an investigation and is therefore eligible for such a visa. The clarification of what fraud would happen is not clear. The National Congress of American Indians has stated that these changes (requiring the tribal courts to gain permission of the US attorney general before prosecuting a non-member) make it harder to prosecute non-tribe members and harder to protect victims of violence. Additionally, the protections that have been in place up to now (courts can issue civil protection orders) will now have additional barriers in place to request and process these protection orders, by requiring a that a criminal threshold be met in order to exercise civil authority. The National Congress of American Indians opposes this an unnecessary burden placed on tribal courts and an increased barrier to prosecuting perpetrators for victims.
However, this compromise was made and it passed the Senate with 78 votes. Even with this compromise, House Republicans are still not willing to support reauthorizing protection for victims of domestic violence. And they still are failing to fully protect under-served survivors who identify as LGBTQ by removing “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from the list of populations who encounter barriers to services and failing to require grant funded programs to provide their services to every victim of violence, regardless of orientation and/or identity. To further negatively impact LGBTQ victims of violence and increase their barriers to services, the bill excludes the LGBTQ community from the largest VAW grant program, STOP. (The Centers for Disease Control has found that same-sex couples experience domestic violence at the same rates as heterosexual couples.)
Help us get VAWA passed to ensure protection for all victims of domestic violence.