VAWA for Valentine’s Day

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With Valentine’s Day around the corner, it may seem that women around the country are hoping for chocolates or flowers. But not this Valentine’s Day. Thousands of women’s rights advocates have voiced their demands for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) which is up for debate this week in Congress.

VAWA is a US federal law originally constructed and signed into action on September 13th, 1994. It was a landmark piece of legislation that sought to improve criminal justice and community-based responses surrounding the issues of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, and sexual assault. Its greatest strength is the emphasis on coordinating community initiatives by integrating legal, public health, and private bodies. VAWA provides new programs and services to protect victims of violence by increasing funding, enhancing training programs on prevention, establishing a National domestic Violence Hotline, and creating new laws to standardize national responses to these crimes. By putting these issues at the forefront of the national agenda, VAWA has been immensely successful. The hotline receives over 22,000 calls every month, suggesting that more victims are reporting sexual violence. States have also passed over 660 new laws addressing sexual violence. Intimate partner violence has decreased a stunning 67%.

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VAWA has been reauthorized with new provisions in 2000 and 2005. However, the law expired in 2011 and the attempt to reauthorize it last year failed due to controversy over the added provisions. The first was extending protections to illegal immigrants who are victims of abuse. Under the new act, these individuals can petition for temporary visas to be afforded equal protections and greater independence from their partners. The second was to protect Native American women from being abused by their non-native American partners by having these perpetrators be tried in a tribal court, separate from the American legal system. The final provision extends equal rights and protections to all individuals of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community.

Opponents of the act are stating that the new provisions are unconstitutional, not within the jurisdiction of the federal government, a superfluous use of federal funds, and unnecessary expansion of the original legal document. However, the numbers tell the story of how vital these expansions really are. A study in New York showed that 51% of intimate partner homicide victims are foreign born. Immigrants are more likely to be stuck in violent homes because they are not able to seek immediate or full legal recourse. Native American women are victims of rape or sexual assault at more than double the rate of any other racial group. According to a study by amnesty international, 86% of Native American women who have been sexually violated have been at the hands of non-Indian perpetrators. The Center for Disease Control’s first nationwide study on sexual and intimate partner violence among LGBTQ individuals reported that gays and bisexuals were 2-3 times more likely to be victims of sexual violence than their heterosexual counterparts.

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The senate is expected to vote on passage of the act today (2/11/2013). The House of Representatives will then take up the legislation later this week. The law has failed to reauthorize in the past due to partisan conflict over these issues in the House. Republicans need to realize the positive impact the law has had on American women and the need to extend these protections to the most vulnerable groups. These populations have been discriminated against for far too long. Everyone deserves to be safe from abuse.

We have come a long way since the VAWA introduction in 1994 but still have a long way to go. I hope that the two parties can put aside their differences and allow for VAWA’s reauthorization. The fate of women’s safety and security are in the hands of our representatives on Capitol Hill this week, we just hope they can deliver the gift of equality for Valentine’s Day.