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New and Improved VAWA Passes (But There’s Still Room for Improvement!)

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March 4, 2013

The Violence Against Women Act serves to protect and assist survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Last Thursday, the House finally approved the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) – “the good version” – sending off a bipartisan Senate decision to the President’s desk.

The legislation passed on a vote of 286 to 138 with 199 Democrats and 87 Republicans supporting reauthorization of the landmark 1994 law.  Last month, the Senate passed the measure with 78 votes; those votes include every woman, every Democrat and just over half of the Republicans.

In 2012 House Republicans officially allowed VAWA to expire until the next Congress, and for over a year they effectively stalled the re-authorization of VAWA.  This marked the first time since its conception that VAWA was not renewed with bipartisan support.  

What changed in past months to delay VAWA’s renewal? Protecting survivors of domestic and sexual violence has become a partisan issue. The reauthorization passed Senate in the spring of 2012 but was met with much resistance from Republicans.  This resistance was due in part to added protections and services for LGBT, Native American and immigrant survivors.

House Republicans passed a “watered down version of the bill,” as it has widely been called.  This alternate removed added protection for the above-mentioned groups. This version of the bill was met with scrutiny by Democrats, women’ rights groups and human rights groups for eliminating “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from a list of demographics that are more likely to face barriers to services for sexual abuse and violence.  The bill would also take away services regarding American Indian women on reservations.

As has been widely discussed, this “good version” of the bill broadened protections to for LGBT, Native American and immigrant survivors.  But this bill also expanded protections to students on college campuses – where rape can be at epidemic levels. The new VAWA will require that colleges and universities create prevention programs for students and have greater transparency in reporting and better services for victims. This is a huge victory towards bringing more safety and justice to campus life.

But this is a bittersweet victory.  Since its creation, the annual incidence of domestic violence has decreased by 53 percent. However, the Centers for Disease Control report that “nearly one in four women report experiencing severe physical violence by an intimate partner, and nearly one in five women will be raped in their lifetime. VAWA provides important protections, but with rate of violence this high there must still be room for improvement.

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