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National NOW Times >> Fall 2012  >> Article

Will VAWA Survive Election Year Politics?

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As Congress heads back out to campaign for re-election, it is difficult to predict whether the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization will be finalized. Women's rights advocates and our champions on Capitol Hill have worked round the clock to reauthorize this lifesaving legislation, only to be blocked by House Speaker John Boehner.

In April, the Senate passed a VAWA reauthorization bill that managed to both reduce costs by consolidating programs and include needed protections for underserved populations, including immigrant women, Native American women, LGBT survivors, women on college campuses and women in communities of color. Despite last-minute objections from some conservative senators, the bill passed with bipartisan support, 68 to 31.

But over in the House of Representatives, where Tea Party extremists wield outsize power, it was a completely different story. The House passed a very bad version of VAWA reauthorization (H.R. 4970) that not only eliminates the improvements found in the Senate bill but even rolls back important protections in current law. The House bill barely passed on a party-line vote (222 to 205) with virtually no Democratic support and 23 Republicans voting against it. Despite this failure, Speaker Boehner is now doubling down on partisanship, relying on a procedural tactic to insist that his House bill must prevail over the bipartisan, inclusive Senate bill.

H.R. 4970 is so bad that it:

- Fails to incorporate new protections for battered immigrant women, exposing them to further abuse by requiring that abusers have access to their victims' self-petition process and adding layers of bureaucracy;

- Fails to provide lifesaving assurances that LGBT persons are entitled to receive shelter and safety services; note: the LGBT community faces domestic violence at the same rate as other communities, yet 80 percent of LGBT victims report being unable to access services;

- Fails to clarify tribal jurisdiction to allow prosecution of non-Native perpetrators; note: Native American women experience violent victimization at rates twice that of non-Native women, often at the hands of non-Native men;

- Fails to provide for culturally-specific services that would ensure safety resources for women of color, who encounter dramatically higher rates of domestic violence, rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner than do other women; and

- Fails to include the Campus SaVE Act, which enhances reporting of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking on campus and improves procedures followed when cases are reported, as well as boosting safety measures for students and holding perpetrators accountable.

The House bill, however, does contain one good idea: through the Campus Safety Act, it would establish a national center to identify effective practices, streamline information and implement training programs. On the whole, though, H.R. 4970 adds provisions that complicate the grant process, decrease accountability and exclude expert input. Additionally, the House bill undermines rules for emergency housing transfers for survivors of violence and notifying victims of their rights.

The final blow the House bill deals is the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences on certain crimes, which would have counter-productive and costly consequences and are opposed by NOW, the American Bar Association, the Judicial Conference of the United States and every major organization focusing on criminal justice.

A one-day census in 2011, conducted by the National Network to End Domestic Violence, found that there were 10,581 unmet requests for emergency shelter, housing, transportation, child care, and legal representation in just that one day. Most domestic violence programs (64 percent) report that the majority of unmet requests are for emergency shelter and transitional housing, but 43 percent report that they do not have enough staff to handle all requests. Multiplied out over a year, unmet requests total more than two million! All the more reason to vote for candidates who will work to pass the bipartisan, inclusive Senate version of VAWA reauthorization.

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