Unlocking Gridlock for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

by Kayla Abing

Domestic abuse, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking.  In 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was constructed by many “national, tribal, state, territorial and local organizations, as well as individuals committed to securing an end to violence against women”, and was passed into law to combat the previously mentioned crimes of violence.  The act has always been reauthorized with a bipartisan bill every five years and with little trouble.  However, some believe that this election year has turned VAWA reauthorization into a political battle.  In the meantime, many victims and potential victims are living in fear without protection from crimes of violence.

Earlier this year the Senate submitted a bipartisan VAWA reauthorization bill that included protection for vulnerable populations like immigrants, Native Americans, LGBT community members and college students.  Unfortunately this version cannot pass into law because it violates the Constitution by proposing the raise of revenue; a task that must come from the House of Representatives.  The House Republicans then passed their own version of the bill which excluded the vulnerable populations, removed protection for some victims of violence, and changed the language to be gender-neutral so as not to promote discrimination against men.  The House Republicans have submitted their bill to the Senate whose Democrats are now asking for the House to revise their bill to not exclude certain populations.  The House and Senate are currently in the process of forming committees to collaborate on a bipartisan bill.  However, since lives are under the threat of violence during this impasse, I would suggest another route.  I propose that the House keep all previous protections of the act, include the vulnerable groups mentioned by the Senate, make the language gender-neutral and possibly change the name of the act.

Supporters of the House bill, like Janice Crouse, argue that this version will reduce the false accusations and suspicion of men on accounts of abuse.  She provides knowledge of men whose home, social, financial and emotional lives fall apart from being falsely accused and arrested.  Men lose their children, lose their jobs, lose their friends and lose their happiness as a result.  She also cites statistics to show a marginal difference between the rates of violence between men and women (6.3%).  However, the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence notes that studies that reflect such equal or near rates of victimization use a very flawed scale for measurement.  Crouse and others also argues that men receive little financial assistance from domestic violence funds.  There is another claim that the original VAWA excludes men from its benefits in 60 passages of the act.  However, Republican Congressman Poe notes that men can still apply for offered services as the act is available for men and women.  In fact, the rate of domestic violence against men declined 54% after VAWA was enacted (Bureau of Justice).  The congressman and former judge also mentions that he is open to changing the name of VAWA to Domestic Violence Act.  If this is, for them, primarily a matter of gendered language and semantics, perhaps a name change to Domestic Violence Act should be considered as it would include all victims of violence.

Among the groups alienated from the benefits of VAWA by the House bill is that of immigrants.  Non-legal citizens who are victims of violence are threatened to silence with deportation.  VAWA gave these victims a way of escape and helped them to quietly obtain citizenship.  Latino organizations have recently voiced their support of a bill that includes the protection of immigrant victims.  Yet the House bill removes this previous protection.  They wanted to eliminate this section of the law because it allows immigrant women to gain citizenship under the guise of victimization.  House Republicans are only tainting their image by seemingly comparing the price of protecting a life to the price of accepting another citizen, as if granting legal status was paying too much for possibly saving a life.  Native American victims also suffer from exclusion from VAWA because their abusers are often non-Native.  The current law and House-passed VAWA bill lack the tribal protections necessary to eliminate loopholes for non-native abusers in Indian Country.  On the other hand, the provisions of the Senate bill “give tribal courts and police jurisdiction over non-Indian domestic violence offenders and strengthen federal authority to address violence on reservations.”  The rate of violent crime that Native American women suffer is three and a half times the national average, demonstrating the highest rate of violence of any group in the United States (Department of Justice).  If the House could include these provisions in their bill, they could stop the trend of violence on Indian reservations.

The LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community also suffers from exclusion from the House-passed reauthorization bill.  The Senate bill used language that protected specific groups like these.  Many are pushing for an LGBT-inclusive VAWA since it would allow more grant money for LGBT victims of violence.  Also, more than 50% of these victims are denied protection orders when requested.  A LGBT-inclusive VAWA would mean service providers would no longer be able to refuse them based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  It is argued that the House Republicans are not consenting to this provision because of their far-right views that oppose this particular community.  However, I must say that even for those who do not support homosexuality and various violations of traditional gender norms, the value of a life must still be taken into account.  I’m sure there are many non-supporters of the LGBT community and lifestyle that would still advocate for an LGBT-inclusive VAWA as no one deserves to be a victim of violent crime.  To exclude these American citizens from protection from violence is like watching someone get brutally beaten by a bully (or raped, assaulted or stalked) while idly standing by to observe; it’s just not right.

Although the ball is in the Senate court, they have declared congressional gridlock because the House bill does not meet the Democratic Senators standards.  They do have a few options though.  They could eliminate the sections pertaining to raised revenue on their bill and put the bill to another vote. Attorney Robert Franklin, however, believes Democratic Senates are avoiding this method in order to avoid having the VAWA dirty laundry (fraud and waste) aired in competition with another bill proposed by two Republican Senates that has not yet gone to vote.  They could also accept passed-House Republican bill (which is not likely), or not accept any bill (as Democratic Senator Patty Murray would rather do).  Luckily the two sides are willing to work out a compromise bill, but that seems to be taking quite awhile.  If, as I proposed, the House Republicans simply return the previous protections of VAWA, include all groups of victims, use gender-neutral language, and change the name of the act to something more all-encompassing (and quickly) more victims will come forward sooner for help and less people will feel or be threatened by violent crimes.





2 Comments to “Unlocking Gridlock for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)”

  1. I’m confused. So without this VAWA law I can sexually abuse Native American women, beat up gay, lesbian, or transgender people, and murder an immigrant without any reprocussions? Weren’t they covered under the Rape/violence laws that already exist, or am I missing something?

  2. I think that there should be one law that equally protects all people regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation. No one should be subject to violence, and these special bills are all sectioning out certain people to be protected and not others. That isn’t right. All people should be protected. There’s no compromising on the issue of violence. Anything that hurts another person is violence. Our politicians should not be compromising, but they should be working together.

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