by Amanda Reed, Communications Intern at the National Organization for Women
On Feb. 12, the Senate passed an inclusive version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that would include provisions for previously-unprotected groups. Last week, the House revealed its own version of VAWA: a watered-down, non-inclusive bill that cuts out these protections. Sound familiar?
When VAWA came up for reauthorization last year, the House GOP passed a similarly unacceptable version of the bill, refusing to bring the bipartisan Senate version to the floor. This was the first time since the bill’s passage in 1994 that Congress failed to renew VAWA.
This cannot happen again. For nearly two decades, VAWA has aided women who suffer from domestic, dating and sexual violence and stalking. According to statistics from the Department of Justice and the FBI, reporting of domestic violence has increased by 51 percent since 1994. Non-fatal intimate partner violence against women has decreased by 61 percent, while the number of female deaths by intimate partner violence has declined by 34 percent. VAWA and the progress it has made in the lives of women must live on.
In comparison to the Senate VAWA, the version pushed by House Republicans does not cover all women. Provisions for already-protected groups will be weakened, while members of groups who often struggle to obtain services, legal protections and basic justice will continue to be overlooked. If the House VAWA passes:
• LGBT victims of violence, who would be protected under the Senate VAWA, will be left out of the bill’s protections entirely.
• Native American women will be left with weaker protections. A shocking three out of five Native American women experience domestic abuse. In most cases, non-Native attackers of Native American women avoid prosecution because tribal courts are unable to charge the perpetrators, and state and federal law enforcement cannot get involved. The Senate version does a far better job of addressing this injustice.
• Immigrant women will be limited in their ability to obtain U Visas, a law enforcement tool that encourages them to report and help prosecute crimes committed against them. In reporting sexual and domestic violence, these women often face the possibility of deportation, as well as language and cultural barriers.
• The SAFER Act, which helps fund investigations into rape cases, would not be included. This act provides grants that allow prosecutors to conduct audits of rape kit backlogs, which can lead them to the identities of attackers. Government experts estimate that hundreds of thousands of rape kits remain untested in the United States.
Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.
• The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), which extends protections, resources and tools to human trafficking victims, would also not be reauthorized.
In comparison to the Senate bill, the House version of VAWA is discriminatory and inadequate. Gender-based violence is an issue all women face, and none should be excluded from the protections that VAWA provides. The passage of the Senate bill would be a huge step in fighting violence against all groups of women. If the House continues on its path to trim VAWA down, it puts the lives and well-being of many survivors at risk.