Congress Has Another Chance to Vote No on Violence Against Women Act

A newly introduced Violence Against Women Act could bring good tidings to women all across America, but not the undocumented ones.

Members of the the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Task Force to End Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Against Women and other groups hold a rally to support the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) on Capitol Hill  in Washington, D.C., way back on June 26, 2012.  (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Jan 25, 2013
Sara Benincasa is a blogger, comedian, and author of 'Agorafabulous!: Dispatches From My Bedroom.'

Turns out American lawmakers might actually disapprove of domestic violence, after all.

Though elected representatives failed to reauthorize the 1994 Violence Against Women Act last year, it’s not dead in the water. A group of legislators led by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) will attempt to revive the bill despite past objections by House Republicans over protections for LGBT individuals and Native American women.

The original version of the law, introduced by then-Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) in 1994 and signed by then-President Bill Clinton, established the Office on Violence Against Women, mandated that no woman, regardless of income level, should ever have to pay for a rape exam or for service of a protection order; funded the training of more than half a million law enforcement officers and court officials per year; established the National Domestic Violence Hotline; and created a federal “rape shield” law intended to prevent an offender from using a victim’s past sexual conduct against her in a court of law.

The law was reauthorized in 2000 and in 2005 without obstructive controversy, and a good thing too, if statistics count for anything: According to the White House, reported domestic violence rates dropped by 60 percent between 1994 and 2012.

Despite the VAWA’s quantifiable success, Vice President Biden celebrated the 18th anniversary of the law in September 2012 by a cautioning that domestic violence is still a problem in the United States, saying, “Three women still die every day as a result of domestic violence. One in five women have been raped, many as teenagers, and one in six women have been victims of stalking.”

In any sane version of reality, reauthorizing a law with protections against rape, stalking and abuse sounds like an easy feat. But VAWA supporters found the opposite to be true last year, when House Republicans blocked a move to advance the bill even after the Senate had voted in favor of it.

“Three women still die every day as a result of domestic violence. One in five women have been raped, many as teenagers, and one in six women have been victims of stalking.”

House objections probably (as in, definitely) centered on expanding the law to specifically protect undocumented immigrants (for example, increasing the number of visas given to battered undocumented women), Native Americans and LGBT individuals. House Republicans proposed their own version of the bill, which excluded protections for those three minority groups. It went nowhere.

In an effort to make sure House Republicans don’t let the 2013 version of the VAWA fade away, Sen. Leahy has engaged in a crafty bit of legislative strategy:

The biggest change is that their [new] bill nixes a proposal to increase the number of available U visas; that is, visas for immigrant victims of violence. The provision was a key piece of Leahy’s bill last year, but his decision to take it out was strategic: It means House Republican leaders can no longer accuse him of having a “blue slip” problem. The term refers to an obscure practice the House can use to kill a bill that originates in the Senate if it raises revenue. The Constitution requires that all revenue-generating bills originate in the House.

In the case of VAWA, House Republican leaders argued last year that the Senate bill was dead in the water because it would generate revenue by imposing a fee for those new visas.

Not this time, Leahy says.

Or perhaps Leahy’s strategy was simply to cave in to objections to protections for undocumented women, none of whom have the right to vote in a U.S. election or benefit from lobbyist representation.

Women, and people who care about women, around the country are watching with invested curiosity to see if House malcontents will be more amenable to passing the legislation this time around. But after the public backlash that ensued when the House failed to advance the Senate bill last year, or even bring the measure up for a vote, the lower house may be feeling a bit more VAWA-friendly this time around.

What protection will you miss most if the Violence Against Women Act is not reauthorized? Remember it well in COMMENTS.

Show Comments ()

More on TakePart

Aaron Neville: Why I Take Part in Rebuilding New Orleans