Violence Against Women Act Blocked: Activists Protest Congressional Hold Ups

ByEmily Pedowitz

On Wednesday, people across the nation took part in a day of action for VAWA. Citizens tired of Congress's lag in re-authorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) mobilized, calling their senators and representatives and speaking out about the importance of this act.

VAWA, drafted by Joe Biden, was originally passed by then-President Clinton as a federal law on September 13, 1994. The act gave $1.6 billion in order to improve judicial and community responses to issues around sexual assault and violence, in addition to initiating the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice.

VAWA has been amended in 2000 and 2005 to more effectively protect individuals from gendered violence. (Despite the name, you don’t have to be a woman to have access to services funded by VAWA.) VAWA provides services and programs related to violence prevention programs, funds support services for survivors, protects under-served groups such as immigrants, Native Americans, and the disabled, and offers legal aid to survivors. The act also established new federal crimes related to domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

However, VAWA's provisions expired over a year ago, as the bill was not successfully reauthorized in 2011.

Now, VAWA is in standstill as Congress deliberates over two very different versions of the act: VAWA HR4970, passed by the House of Representatives, and VAWA S.1925, passed by the Senate. While the act passed by the Senate includes additional protections for college students, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and tribal women, the act passed by the House omits these protections. VAWA has previously been amended in order to better serve the diverse American population. I would love to see this progressive tradition continue by the passing of S.1925. In the words of Vermont Senator Leahy, “A victim is a victim is a victim. They all deserve our attention and access to services our bill provides.”

However, as the House and Senate slowly attempt to reconcile their two versions, the re-authorization of any VAWA in 2012 is becoming frighteningly questionable.

This act is effective. Since its enactment, the percentage of Americans killed by their intimate partner has drastically decreased by 34% for women and 57% for men. In its first five years, VAWA is credited with increasing the percentage of individuals reporting domestic abuse by 51 %. Since its passing, states have passed more than 660 laws to fight gendered violence including stalking laws and dating and marital rape laws. VAWA is also economical. From 1994 to 2000, the act is estimated to have saved $12.6 billion in social costs of medical care, law enforcement, and lost wages.

The social and economic improvements since VAWA are undeniable. Yet, such improvements might easily deteriorate if this act fails to be passed in 2012. The legislation of VAWA can’t wait. Programs around sexual assault and domestic and dating violence will not be able to access the funds and support that they deserve until this bill is made into law. The economic hardships that many Americans currently face stand as an additional barrier to combating sexual and domestic violence. Organizations need the re-authorization of this act, as they face leads budget cuts and new limits in the services that they can provide.

Organization have used social media to reach out to concerned citizens and mobilize them to act. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a non-profit organization, created a Facebook album #passVAWA2012 to showcase support for VAWA. Activists posed with posters saying what VAWA meant to them and why VAWA needed to be reauthorized now. One woman held a sign that read, "VAWA means Safety. Justice. Shelter.” Seems like an act we’d want to have around.

The website also riled the crowds, providing a tool kit describing ways to mobilize movements. They urged individuals to reach out to their legislators to support VAWA.  The website offers personal stories attesting to the importance of this act and offers an awesomely lengthy list of organizations that support the prompt passing of VAWA. Love is suggested five ways that individuals could advocate for the reauthorization of VAWA. (One of the tips is to call your local representative. To do so, you can visit this site.)

Celebrities have gotten involved in the cause as well. Ashley Greene supported the passing of VAWA by posing on the cover of Glamour to support domestic violence and dating abuse organizations. Greene emphasizes the importance that VAWA protects young people: “In 2005, VAWA was reauthorized again, this time including four specific programs to address dating abuse. We need this protection for our callers, chatters and texters.”

The immense support that people have expressed for the reauthorization of VAWA speaks to its importance. Hopefully, legislators will listen.

In the midst of difficult economic times, we cannot afford to postpone the enactment of VAWA, and we cannot afford to pass a regressive version of this act. Violence isn’t limited to a political party, a gender, an age, a race, a sexual orientation, or any other identity. Violence affects us all and if we have any hopes of combating it, the cure needs to involve everyone.