For the first time since its original passage in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is facing a fight. If you aren’t familiar with the bill, it is an effective and beneficial effort to prevent domestic violence and aid victims of domestic or sexual abuse. Originally written and introduced by then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), the bill has been reauthorized twice, and both times has enjoyed broad bipartisan support. Until now. This time, Republicans have decided to hold the bill hostage. Why? Because of added provisions that expand the classes of victims who would be protected — specifically, Native Americans, the LGBT community, and undocumented immigrants. That’s right, Republicans are opposed to broadening the number of people this country protects from being beaten, strangled, and raped. Attorney General Eric Holder condemned Congress this week, saying it was “inconceivable” that the bill faced opposition. Vice President Biden tore into the Republicans too, saying, “This is an issue that has been something that, at least I hoped and thought we were beyond questioning the need.”
THE OPPOSITION: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has said that the Senate GOP won’t filibuster VAWA. It’s easy to say, since the bill has 61 co-sponsors in the Senate, so it will be able to withstand a filibuster anyway. Instead, the Republicans will undermine the bill in a different way. Once the bill is on the floor, they can offer up amendments that strike out the provisions added for LGBT people, Native Americans, and undocumented immigrants — provisions that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) called, “matters put on that bill that almost seem to invite opposition.” Those amendments will only need 51 votes to pass. So far, the senators have remained fairly mum about their intentions, but they could even add in their own poison pills, unrelated to domestic violence, just to get Democrats to oppose the bill. They may have objected to accusations that they were waging a “War on Women,” but Republicans must realize that domestic violence is exactly that: Every day, a victim of domestic violence wakes up facing her own personal war. It seems only intuitive to expand protection for all of those victims.
HOW THE BILL HAS HELPED: Since VAWA’s passage, the annual incident of domestic violence has decreased (PDF) by 53 percent. Victims are now reporting incidents instead of hiding in fear: reports of abuse have gone up 51 percent. The law has also given hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children access to legal help, health care, and police assistance. VAWA makes special provisions for women who are too often forgotten: The elderly, the disabled, and women in rural areas who can’t easily access help. There’s more to be done though, and some sad statistics show the work we have to do. In 45 percent of cases where a man killed a woman, it was because (PDF) that woman tried to leave an abusive relationship. One in five women (PDF) will be raped in her lifetime, as will one in 71 men. Between one third and one fourth of same-sex relationships has experienced domestic violence. Closing the gaps in the system will help provide greater protection for groups of people who face some of the most difficult situations.
THE NEW PROVISIONS: One in three Native American women will be raped in their lifetime. Indeed, they face the highest rate of domestic violence out of any group in the country — three and a half times the national average. Still, this is one of the new VAWA provisions to which Republicans have voiced particular opposition. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) said that “any American” could be imprisoned by tribal courts. In actuality, the provisions allow tribal members to prosecute non-tribal people who commit domestic violence and who either live or work on a reservation, or are married to a tribal member. In terms of protections for undocumented immigrants, Republicans seem opposed to the fact that the bill would raise the cap on the number of visas that could be extended to undocumented victims. As for LGBT provisions? The expanded VAWA would make it so that shelters cannot discriminate against LGBT victims. Realistically, there’s little to object over. The bill saves lives, and it helps people. If it is expanded to a few more victims, all the better. In the mean time, Republicans should realize that a war against victims of domestic violence is no better than a war against women alone.
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