Aside from presents, way too much food, and time spent with loved ones, your holiday season was undoubtedly filled with debates about Congress and the looming “fiscal cliff”. If your family is anything like mine, I am sure those were very lively dinner table discussions. But with the fiscal cliff dust settling, you may not have heard that Congress failed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.
Since 1994, the landmark Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), has been charged with improving our nation’s ability to prevent and respond to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Nineteen years ago, then-Senator Joe Biden pushed Congress to promote a national strategy that would protect women from violent crimes and hold offenders accountable, in what is now a very historic piece of legislation.
Advocates, law enforcement, prosecutors, rape crisis centers, and domestic violence programs have all worked tirelessly to ensure that this legislation was not created in vain. Managed by the Office on Violence Against Women, VAWA programs provide states, territories, local governments, tribal governments, and nonprofit organizations with critical resources to stop violence against women. Since 1994, VAWA has provided over $4.7 billion for training police, prosecutors, health care providers, and other professionals on how to handle cases concerning sexual violence, domestic violence, stalking, and other related issues. VAWA’s impact has been significant: intimate partner violence declined by 67% between 1993-2010. However, advocates and victims across the nation have worked to bring attention to the many people who are left out of VAWA’s protections.
After years of feedback, suggested improvements were made to the 2012 VAWA bill that included changes to campus and sexual assault provisions as well as dedicated programs for communities of color, immigrant, tribal, and LGBT victims. VAWA was once a non-partisan issue, with virtually discussion-free reauthorizations from 1994 through 2005. Unfortunately, it is now a highly politicized topic, resulting in VAWA’s expiration in 2011 and lack of reauthorization in 2012.
But what went wrong? The newly added protections for three particularly vulnerable groups — undocumented immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community, and Native Americans — caused quite the divide in Congress. The Senate passed a bipartisan bill in April with the additional protections, but House Republicans passed their own bill in May that omitted those three provisions. Ultimately, the House and Senate could not reach a compromise and the 112th Congress simply did not discuss VAWA before they left office.
So, what can we all do now?
Although you will not likely see your local sexual assault and domestic violence agencies being forced to close their doors, these crucial services are still under a real and continued risk of losing funding that was previously appropriated for victims. While we continue to operate under the 2005 provisions, the budget crisis at the local, state, and national level continues to prompt more cutbacks with daily implications.
However, your voice can still be heard. With the swearing in of the 113th Congress, you can help to get a stronger, more inclusive VAWA passed.
- Find your new legislators and call, email, and write letters encouraging them to pass an inclusive VAWA bill.
- Post, tweet, and blog to keep the conversation about VAWA going. Use hashtags #VAWA, #RealVAWA, and #ReauthorizeVAWA.
- Visit www.4vawa.org for fact sheets, press coverage, support letters and updates.
Shamecca Q. Bryant is our Executive Director. She also serves on the board of directors for the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault.