On January 2, 2013, the United States 112th Congress officially ran out its term and allowed reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act to die without a vote.
The VAWA, drafted by then-Senator Joe Biden and signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 13, 1994, funded investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, imposed automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted, and allowed civil redress in cases prosecutors chose to leave unprosecuted. The VAWA also established the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice.
The law has been reauthorized roughly every five years, largely without dispute, since its inception, but not in 2012.
Congressional opponents to reauthorization balked at provisions that would extend the act’s protections and resources to approximately 30 million women in the country who are LGBT, Native American or undocumented immigrants.
Evidence indicating that LGBT, Native American and immigrant women need the protections extended by the VAWA is dauntingly easy to find.
In 2011, the same year the current version of VAWA initially came up for reauthorization, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported an 18.3 percent increase in reports of LGBT intimate-partner violence. This increase is in contrast to an overall 60 percent decrease in reported rapes since VAWA was enacted.
The recent death of a 23-year-old woman in India from injuries suffered during a gang rape has prompted government promises to enact protections to assure justice and security for women there. The 112th Congress of the United States has left no such promises.
And yet, a 2010 report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs and the National Center for Victims of Crime found that 94 percent of anti-domestic and sexual violence service providers, law enforcement, and child-abuse organizations had no programs specifically focused on the needs of LGBT people.
One in three Native American women will be raped in her lifetime. Native American women are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted and stalked than any other women in the country. On some Indian reservations, Native women are being murdered at a rate 10 times the national average. Tribal governments currently have no authority to prosecute non-Indians for domestic violence, despite statistics showing that non-Indians commit 88 percent of these offenses. The VAWA that was denied a vote by the 112th Congress would have extended that authority.
In 2012, Human Rights Watch released a 95-page report detailing “rape, stalking, unwanted touching, exhibitionism, or vulgar and obscene language by supervisors, employers and others in positions of power” as workplace norms for America’s female farmworkers, many of whom are undocumented migrants. Due to their status as unprotected residents, these women often declined to report abuses, up to and including repeated rape. Victims feared that speaking out against the crimes would bring them reprisals and deportation rather than security and justice.
The allowed-to-die VAWA would have provided for emergency visas to protect undocumented rape victims.
The recent death of a 23-year-old woman in India from injuries suffered during a gang rape has prompted ongoing street protests across that country and promises from its government to enact protections to assure justice and security for women there.
The 112th Congress of the United States has left no such promises. By not voting on reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, the Congress elected to strip protections and resources from America’s rape survivors and from future victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse.
The Atlantic.com sees reason for optimism in the diversity of the incoming 113th Congress:
The 113th Congress, which gets sworn in today, will be the most diverse in our nation’s history. It will include 19 new people of color, the first Hindu representative and the first Buddhist senator, the first openly gay congressman of color, the first openly bisexual congresswoman, the first openly gay senator, and more female members than ever before. It’s better than what we had before—and where the 112th Congress failed, the 113th very well may succeed.
Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) was a prime mover of the version of VAWA that the Senate passed and sent to the House in April. Murray told the Huffington Post that she would “absolutely” reintroduce the bill in 2013.
No politician who aspires to be considered as sane or re-electable wants to go on record as opposing protecting women against rape. According to Senator Murray, if the congressmen who manhandled the VAWA want to project concern for women, they should “put that concern to action.”
“They have the opportunity to do it now,” Murray said. “They have the opportunity to take up this bill and show women and men that they understand that women’s rights are important.”
And America’s women have the right to demand explanations from and to exact electoral retribution upon lawmakers who have made them wait so long for rights and protections that should be theirs without even asking.
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