The Violence Against Women Act has only a single week of life support left. If Congress doesn’t act, essential protections for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault could be lost.
The law, which funds responses to a variety of crimes, including sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking, was set to expire at the end of September, but Congress agreed to a short extension. That extension ends Dec. 7.
For those who don’t remember the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, became law in 1994. Then-Sen. Joe Biden said he drafted it in the wake of the Anita Hill hearings. In the years since the law has undergone changes, nearly all with the intention of protecting survivors of domestic assault and sexual abuse.
When the law was reauthorized in 2013, for example, Congress included provisions that allowed nontribal members who commit offenses on tribal property (dating violence, sexual assault, protection order violations, etc.) to be held accountable by tribal governments. Although the advancement was resisted by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who unsuccessfully advocated for a more limited version, it was an important step forward since more than 80 percent of Native American women have experienced such violence, and 96 percent of those offenses were committed by people outside of the tribe. Government statistics showed that nearly 70 percent of such violence committed on tribal lands went unprosecuted.
Yet this past July, when U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, introduced a measure to reauthorize VAWA, not a single Republican came forward as a co-sponsor before the law’s expiration. (Iowa’s 2nd District Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack became a co-sponsor Sept. 6.) Instead, 46 congressional Republicans wrote a letter to leadership, urging reauthorization. The only member of Iowa’s congressional delegation to join the letter effort was 3rd District Republican Rep. David Young.
The temporary extension finally came as part of a late September stopgap spending deal.
The law sets aside funding for investigations into violent crimes associated with domestic and sexual violence designed to end violence against women. VAWA also finances legal aid, funds shelters for victims, provides federal grants for advocacy groups helping domestic violence survivors and has toughened federal charges for abusers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 3 women in our country and 1 in 6 men experience sexual violence during their lifetime. Programs authorized and funded under VAWA serve the victims of those crimes, increase prevention efforts, expand educational opportunities and awareness among first responders and coordinate efforts to end sexual violence.
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While much work remains to be done, VAWA has dramatically improved response to sexual violence. It has sent a message that sexual violence will not be tolerated, and that by working together we can improve the lives of those who have been harmed. These are not partisan goals.
VAWA must be fully reauthorized. Call Congress.
• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, firstname.lastname@example.org