On March 7, just a day before International Women’s Day, President Obama signed a bi-partisan bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The bill was passed through the Senate with a vote of 78-22 and in the House with a vote of 286-138.
VAWA, initially passed in 1994, was the first form of legislation to formally recognize domestic violence and sexual assault as crimes at the federal level. The legislation also provided resources at the local level, for “community-organized response” – safety shelters and rape crisis hotlines (“The Violence Against Women Act Renewal,” 2013).
Reauthorized in 2000 and again in 2005, VAWA expanded to include dating violence and stalking, while recognizing teenagers and children as victims as well. Necessary discussion was prompted in its expiration in 2011, regarding what was next for VAWA. There was intense recognition of the critical portions of the population that had been overlooked in the past.
As the Senate passed a broad, inclusive version of the bill, they sent it the House of Representatives for a vote. When the House GOP got wind of the inclusive nature of the Senate bill, they drafted a reauthorization bill of their own. Striking down the GOP version with a vote of 166-257, controversial debate peaked with a discussion of what version, if any, the Senate was to pass (Cohen, 2013).
With ardent support from the female population in the most recent election, President Obama understood the significance and the importance in reauthorizing VAWA. The version passed expands to include Native women, LGBT victims, immigrants, college students, and public housing residents (“The Violence Against Women Act Renewal,” 2013.
For Native American women, previous to VAWA, victims of sexual or domestic violence were not able to seek justice because tribal courts were unable to prosecute non-Native offenders. This was true even if the act occurred on Native land. This is especially problematic as an estimated 86% of rape and sexual assault of Native women are perpetrated by non-Native men (U.S. Department of Justice). The reauthorization serves to close this loophole, giving tribal courts a larger role in holding offenders accountable.
The reauthorization also aims to include LGBT individuals under its protection, acknowledging the victimization of these persons. Often facing discrimination when seeking justice or safety from immediate harm, VAWA now prohibits the discrimination of LBGT individuals in instances of sexual or domestic violence.
For immigrant women, the violence perpetrated against this population is a result of multiple issues. In many instances, women are coerced into staying with their abuser because their citizenship is contingent upon their partner. This is especially prevalent in relationships based on power dynamics, including intimate partners or employer-employee relationships. The reauthorization strengthened multiple provisions, including the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act and continued support of the U visa program, giving victims of sexual or domestic violence temporary legal status and automatic work eligibility for up to four years (“U Visas Hit s Ceiling,” 2012).
For college students, reauthorization requires schools to present prevention plans and provide resources for victims. Additionally, VAWA has implemented a process of recording incidences of dating violence of any sort on collegiate campuses.
Additionally, in the past VAWA has prevented evictions of domestic violence victims from public or assisted housing. In its reauthorization, VAWA expands to all federal subsidized housing and allows for an emergency option for victims moving from one subsidized location to another to escape a harmful situation.
In his Inaugural Address of 2013, President Obama speaks to the realities of equality and the pursuit of happiness, but remains conscious of the struggle ending with complacency.
“What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:
‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’
Today we continue a never-ending journey, to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing…” (Klein, 2013).
As the President points out, just because everyone is entitled to equality and the pursuit of happiness, does not mean that everyone is equal, nor happy.
Just as the Violence Against Women Act exists as legislation, the carrying out of this legislation is not concrete. We are not guaranteed the inclusivity of reauthorization will reach each and every corner of the United States, or that people with empathize with the struggles of women to enact change. What we can guarantee is that we will continue to push the bounds of inclusivity. We will continue to empathize and listen, and hope that others will do the same.
This reauthorization, rolling off the victory for women in the last presidential election, notes the rising influence women have in federal level politics. Now, it is up to the every day women of different races, sexualities, and ethnic backgrounds to continue to use their voting influence and hold not only Congress, but also those carrying out the law, accountable for their actions – to ensure that VAWA makes the difference that it should.
Tori Whitworth, NOW Intern
Cohen, T. (2013, February 28). House passes violence against women act after gop version defeated. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/28/politics/violence-against-women
Klein, E. (2013, January 21). Transcript: President obama 2013 inaugural address. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/21/transcript-president-obama-2013-inaugural-address/
Parker, A. (2013, February 28). House renews violence against women measure. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/01/us/politics/congress-passes-reauthorization-of-violence-against-women-act.html?pagewanted=all
"The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Renewal Passes the House and Senate and Signed into Law." National Network to End Domestic Violence. National Network to End Domestic Violence, n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2013. <http://www.nnedv.org/policy/issues/vawa.html>.
U visas hit a ceiling. (2012, September 3). New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/04/opinion/special-visas-for-abused-women-hit-a-ceiling.html