The V Word

Advocating to end sexual and domestic violence



Good News: VAWA and the Safer Act passed today.

Finally, all the work and advocacy for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and the SAFER Act came to fruition as both bills passed the House today.  Both are now heading to the President to be signed into law.  Thanks to the many advocates around the nation who poured in their support through twitter, emails, phone calls, blogging, letters and visits to their representatives to send the message to pass these bills for the increased protection of victims of sexual and domestic violence.  It has been a long road getting VAWA reauthorized and the SAFER ACT passed. 

VAWA will extend protections to victims of violence and add new protections more specifically to LGBTQ victims, tribal victims and undocumented victims.  These provisions, although really a non-political issue and really ought to be nonpartisan, ended up in a partisan split and were hard fought to be passed.  VAWA was introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID).  It passed the Senate earlier this month but struggled with the House Republicans. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) was lead sponsor of the House bill. It renews dozens of anti-sexual violence and domestic violence programs, including funding for local services and training for law enforcement.  

The SAFER ACT will set in place provisions to eliminate the backlog of untested DNA evidence from unsolved rape cases and work faster to remove rapists from the community.   The bipartisan SAFER Act was led by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). It reallocates existing spending to ensure that more goes directly to testing cases. It also requires that states and cities that receive SAFER funds audit and publicly disclose their backlog for the first time.

This is exciting and a huge victory to not only get VAWA reauthorized but to have the proposed provisions added on for LGBTQ and Tribal victims of violence.  This work has been a uniting goal for the many national and state coalitions public policy staff over the last few years.  Global activisim events like One Billion Rising were also instrumental in raising awareness, educating the public on the issues, and organizing communities to act.  

VAWA is stalling in the House

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.

Why doesn’t Virginia consider violence related to sexuality and gender identity a hate crime?

Recently there was a brutal attack against a transgender woman in Fredericksburg, Virginia that occurred on May 21, 2011.  It appears there was an interaction with her earlier, she was then followed or spotted at a local 711 and then attacked.  One excellent bystander intervened by putting himself between her and the attackers. 

It’s appalling that these crimes happen and yet they happen frequently.  Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender identified individuals continue to be an invisible minority, yet have a higher rate of crime targeted to them.  While there are scholarly articles being written, studies being done, and programs striving to address violence against the LGBTQ community, there is much to be done to address continued homophobia in our society, the perseverance of myths about sexuality, and the amount of violence directed against those who are marginalized.  The impact of societal neglect and the lack of support have great consequences not only for LGBTQ on health, social and educational issues but for the greater community as well.  How do we continue to live with each other with such walls between us?  How do we continue to justify the cost of crime, which can be prevented?  As a therapist, I watch my own field continue to come up with ways to use diagnosis and treatment as a means to address gender identity and sexuality and see it only a means to further segregate a group from the mainstream.  I see this use of labeling being used to move members of our community further out on the fringe where they are in fact more at risk for violence, health consequences, developmental delays, and shortened life-spans. 

I feel the two-sided impact of cultural homophobia every day.  I feel the division between myself and my peers every day.  I suffer the aloneness that comes from not being able to have a full conversation with someone because I am seen as heterosexual and white and therefore an enemy from the privileged mass.  I feel that wall of fear and suspicion every day of who I really am and what I really mean.  I feel engulfed by the barriers that keep me from people I love, people I work with, and communities I work in and live in, and people I serve. 

While I run an anti-violence agency that focuses on sexually violent crimes, I stand with my community to put a voice out against violence toward anyone.  Violence in our community effects us greatly; all of us; every day.  It costs us in all spectrums of our lives: interpersonally, socially, spiritually, and financially.  I hope more people in my communities will stand with me and add your voice to ending violence.

 Please contact the Virginia Anti-Violence Project and check out their website for information and services for LGBTQ in Virginia. 


 articles regarding the assault

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