22 Male Senators Fail to Defeat Violence Against Women Act

The Violence Against Women Act that helped to reduce rape and domestic violence in America is halfway to reauthorization—but now faces opposition in the House.

Violence Against Women Act

Senator Patrick Leahy says hello to Roya Knock, age 5, as he arrives at a rally for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)—back in June of 2012. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

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

And then there were 22.

On Tuesday, 78 senators voted in favor of reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, the law originally signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994 and reauthorized without controversy in 2000 and 2005.

In 2012, the Senate voted to reauthorize the bill, but House Republicans blocked it in protest of provisions that addressed the needs of LGBT women, Native American women and women who are undocumented immigrants. This year, the Senate introduced a 2013 version of the VAWA, to the approval of all but 22 senators.

The newest version of the VAWA provides $659 million in funding over five years to VAWA programs, seeks to reduce a backlog in rape kit processing, addresses sexual assault prevention and offers the aforementioned protections to LGBT women and Native American women with additional provisions for undocumented immigrant women.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the bill’s chief sponsor, added an anti-human trafficking amendment. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) added an amendment to ensure child victims of sex trafficking are eligible to receive financial assistance.

The new bill continues to provide protections for victims of intimate partner violence, rape and stalking.

So why, exactly, would John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), John Thune (R-S.D.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.). all vote against the VAWA?

TakePart contacted the offices of all 22 senators. None of them agreed to an interview. Two senators’ offices did respond with some information.

By way of explanation, Senator Cornyn’s office pointed to the following statement:

This is a bill that could do so much good in the battle for victims’ rights. Unfortunately the bill that passed today would take away fundamental constitutional rights from certain citizens in order to satisfy the unconstitutional demands of a few. I hope this will be corrected in the House.

Senator Cornyn, the former attorney general of the state of Texas, believes that the current version of the VAWA includes an unconstitutional section: Language that permits Native American tribal courts to try non-Natives on charges of violence against women.

A significant portion of U.S. senators disagree with the proposition that Native American women should have recourse to tribal courts when assaulted by non-Natives on Native land.

Senator Grassley’s office pointed to his previous statements on this same issue, including this letter from last week:

Mr. President, the key stumbling block to enacting a bill at this time is the provision concerning Indian tribal courts. That provision raises serious constitutional questions concerning both the sovereignty of tribal courts and the constitutional rights of defendants who would be tried in those courts.

Marco Rubio, who gave the Republican rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, released a statement that pinned his opposition to the bill on “the diversion of a portion of funding from domestic violence programs to sexual assault programs,” as well as the Native American issue.

The bill is expected to face opposition in the House, where some conservatives are still unwilling to extend legal protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals. And the disagreements over tribal courts and immigrant protections will likely loom larger in the House than they did in the Senate.

Vice President Biden, a sponsor of the original 1994 law, said in a statement, “Delay isn’t an option when three women are still killed by their husbands or boyfriends every day...the House should follow the Senate’s lead and pass the Violence Against Women Act right away.”

Do you think removing protections for undocumented immigrant, LGBT or Native American women from the Violence Against Women Act weakens the law’s moral authority? Make a case in COMMENTS.

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