Violence Against Women Act Renewed
Editor’s note: President Obama signed the bill into law Mar. 7. Read the full story here.
The House of Representatives passed the Violence Against Women Act yesterday, after a year-and-a-half delay due to Republican objections to certain minority groups being included in the bill’s protections.
All House Democrats and 87 Republicans backed the bill, which had previously passed the Senate. President Obama has indicated that he will sign the measure into law as soon as it reaches his desk.
About 1.3 million women are assaulted by an intimate partner every year, and 25 percent of women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
VAWA originally passed in 1994, creating a National Domestic Violence Hotline, funding victims’ shelters, providing financial assistance for prosecution and increasing penalties for abusers. Male victims of domestic violence or sexual assault are also covered by the bill.
The law expired in 2011 and had been stalled for a year and a half due to partisan disagreement as to its scope. Republicans attempted to put forward a similar bill that lacked specific protections for Native Americans, undocumented immigrants and the LGBT community, but it was defeated in both the House and the Senate.
Advocates were perplexed at the opposition to the bill. “At the time it was passed, it received bipartisan support. Since that time it has gone on to assist so many victims to go on with their lives and remain safe,” says Susan M. Finegan, a pro bono partner at Mintz Levin who has worked extensively on sexual assault and domestic violence issues. “It’s quite surprising that there was opposition to the bill over the last year or so, but it’s terrific that it was reauthorized.”
In the updated version of the law, Native American tribes will have more power to prosecute sexual crimes against tribe members even if they weren’t committed by another Native American. The protections for domestic violence victims will be extended to people in same-sex or other LGBT relationships, and undocumented immigrants who are abused can seek temporary visas while seeking justice against perpetrators.
“I think any advocates realize that this issue is not one limited to same-sex couples and partners. LGBT violence happens,” Finegan says. “And lots of studies have been done that demonstrate that undocumented immigrants are at great risk. The abuser will use the fact that they are undocumented to hold over the victim’s head, like if they do go to the police, they might be deported.”
Supporters of the overall bill note that it has been a resource for people to escape violent situations and get help before it’s too late. “By increasing reporting by women, and men, that actually helped so much in terms of being able to intervene at an early stage and provide safety for people,” says Finegan. “If people haven’t reported to police or prosecutors or hotlines it could really lead to escalated violence and fatalities.”
The bill has also been updated to address technological advances, with provisions to protect against spyware and video surveillance.
“Having this reauthorized will provide for safety for the future for both woman and men who are victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking,” the attorney says.
Victims can call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline 24 hours a day at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).