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Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013

Violence Against Women Act On the Brink

GOP won’t agree to protections for LGBT, immigrant and Native victims of abuse

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Earlier this year, the unthinkable happened.

For the first time in almost two decades, the landmark Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was allowed to expire.

Although VAWA’s funding continues—for now at least—its authorization lapsed in January and is now at the mercy of those in Congress who do not wish to improve its protections for same-sex partners, immigrants and Native American victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking.

When VAWA’s reauthorization came up for a vote in April 2012, the Senate passed the expanded version on a broad, bipartisan 68-31 vote. Wisconsin’s then-Sen. Herb Kohl, a Democrat, supported the bill; Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican, voted against it.

But House Republicans took issue with the Senate version’s expanded protections for victims of same-sex partner violence and vulnerable populations, and passed a limited version of the bill. Wisconsin’s congressional delegation voted along party lines, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats against it.

The bills died at the end of the last session of Congress.

But Democrats—including Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Milwaukee Congresswoman Gwen Moore—have reintroduced the expanded version of VAWA. On Monday, the Senate voted 85-8 to take up the bill, which it is expected to do later this week.

“VAWA’s authorization expired over a year ago, but its programs and services continue to operate under language last updated in 2005,” Moore wrote in a statement released to the Shepherd. “Still, VAWA’s current form is in serious need of the updates and enhancements suggested by the domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy community. Fortunately, the Senate will soon pass this updated Violence Against Women Act. Yet I am concerned about the progress this Act will make in the House. Now is not the time for political posturing. I call on my colleagues in the House to protect all victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Women are waiting.”

Tony Gibart of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence said that while VAWA’s funding will continue for now, its lapsed authorization makes it vulnerable in the long term.

“There isn’t a bright-line deadline but the longer it goes unauthorized, the less stable and certain the appropriations become,” Gibart said.

Since its passage in 1994, VAWA has created a comprehensive effort to protect victims of intimate partner violence and strengthen the criminal justice system’s efforts to prosecute and prevent it.

VAWA funding has trained more than 500,000 law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges; created a federal rape shield law to protect victims’ privacy; mandated that victims are not forced to pay for rape exams or the service of a protection order; and established the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Since VAWA’s passage, the rate of intimate partner violence has declined 50%, reporting of domestic and sexual violence has increased as much as 50%, and all 50 states have reformed laws relating to domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, according to a fact sheet provided by Moore’s office.

Gibart said VAWA transformed the nation’s awareness of and response to the dangers of intimate partner violence.

“The Violence Against Women Act was a really important, landmark piece of legislation that had ripple effects throughout the country and was a catalyst for action at the state and local levels on this issue,” Gibart said. “It had a lot of indirect positive impacts that you can’t find anywhere in the text of the bill. But historically it was something that got the ball rolling in a positive way.”