In 1994, Congress passed, and Bill Clinton signed, a landmark piece of legislation called the Violence Against Women Act. The act provides needed money to states to help with domestic violence prosecution and, for the first time in history, it gave female victims of domestic abuse access to the federal courts. In 2000, it was overwhelmingly reauthorized and again in 2004. This year, Republicans are trying to stop it because it’s been amended to protect LGBT, Native American and immigrant victims.
The 2012 version of the bill was co-sponsored by the Senate Justice Committee Chair, Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Mike Crapo (R-ID). From Think Progress:
The objections, led by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and a few conservative organizations, are not over the VAWA as a whole, but over a few new provisions in the reauthorization — specifically, protections for LGBT individuals, undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic abuse and the authority of Native American tribes to prosecute crimes.
The Leahy bill enumerates protections for LGBT victims of domestic violence,forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by VAWA grantees.
The VAWA reauthorization also expands the availability of visas for undocumented immigrants who have been victims of domestic violence and may be reluctant to come forward because of the risk of deportation. VAWA has always protected this group of individuals, but the reauthorization would raise the cap on visas for battered women and sexual assault victims from 10,000 to 15,000. The additional visas would come from recaptured visas in previous years that haven’t been utilized.
In this Presidential election year, the right-wing of the Republican party (and every GOP Presidential candidate) have offered nothing but dangerous pandering to the most hate-filled members of society. Grassley and his cohorts see grandstanding on this bill as a symbolic gesture, one that will appeal to the anti-gay, anti-immigrant branch (root?) of the Republican party. While Grassley’s tactic might win him political points, it will undoubtedly cost lives.
The passage of the Violence Against Women Act was not just a political gesture. Since 1994, it has demonstrated real and conclusive results:
VAWA’s effectiveness is evident in the progress that has been made since implementation. We know that local, state, and national laws are changing; programs, businesses, and communities are responding to victims’ needs; and studies show that rates of violence and reporting of crime are changing. Consider these highlights from 10 years of VAWA:
• States have passed more than 660 laws to combat domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. All states have passed laws making stalking a crime and changed laws that treated date or spousal rape as a lesser crime than stranger rape.
• Since 1996, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has answered over 1 million calls. The Hotline answers over 16,000 calls a month and provides access to translators in 139 languages.
• Businesses also have joined the national fight against violence. Hundreds of companies, led by the model programs established by Altria, Polaroid, Liz Claiborne, The Body Shop, Aetna and DuPont, have created Employee Assistance Programs that help victims of domestic violence.
• More victims are reporting violence: among victims of violence by an intimate partner, the percentage of women who reported the crime was greater in 1998 (59%) than in 1993 (48%).
Unfortunately, it’s not comprehensive enough. Large segments of society were left without a voice to defend themselves against domestic violence. Native Americans experience the highest incidents of domestic violence in the US, but courts often feel their hands are tied with jurisdictional confusion between local and federal law enforcement agencies. An estimated 25% of LGBT relationships involve violence, yet gay people are often intimidated by a local law enforcement system that is uneducated and often prejudiced against same-sex couples. Undocumented immigrants face even more dangerous circumstances. The victims themselves fear law enforcement, leaving them with little to no recourse other than to suffer (or die) in silence.
The 2012 version of the bill would give greater voice to all victims and would allow for extended Visas for immigrant victims of domestic violence. The United States has a long history of offering refuge to victims of violence and to those in imminent danger. Grassley and far too many Republicans would like compassion stripped from the ethos.
Fortunately, it does look like there is enough Republican support to allow the bill to pass, including Scott Brown (MA), Susan Collins (ME), Mark Kirk (IL) and Lisa Murkowski (AK).
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