Today, Congress finally voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, a traditionally bipartisan bill which provides assistance to victims of domestic violence. For the first time since the bill was first introduced in 1994, Congress allowed the Violence Against Women Act to expire at the end of 2012 because House Republicans opposed new provisions which would improve care and access to services for LGBT people and Native American women.
Their resistance is especially ironic, given that the whole purpose of the Violence Against Women Act is to ensure that no victim of sexual assault or domestic violence be denied access to the support, assistance, and protection that they need, especially among underserved communities. It has also become increasingly clear that LGBT people fall into the category of “underserved.”
LGBT Americans face the roughly the same rate of domestic violence as their straight counterparts — one out of four to one out of three same-sex relationships has experienced domestic violence compared to one in every four heterosexual woman who will experience sexual violence in her lifetime. Moreover, nearly 62 percent of LGBT and HIV-positive victims were denied access to shelters in 2011, due in part to the unwillingness to accept gay men in these facilities. Additionally, authorities often lack the knowledge of how to handle domestic violence cases involving two people of the same gender. The current system fails to adequately address domestic violence in the LGBT community.
Here is how the progressive, newly improved Violence Against Women Act better protects LGBT people:
- VAWA now contains a nondiscrimination clause that prohibits LGBT victims from being turned away from services like traditional shelters on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
- VAWA now explicitly names LGBT people as an underserved population, which allows organizations serving LGBT victims of domestic violence to receive funding from a grant program that focuses specifically on underserved populations.
- VAWA now allows states, at their discretion, to use certain grant funds to improve responses to incidents of domestic violence among LGBT people. This bolsters law enforcement, prosecution, and victim service efforts within states.