Unfinished Business

Victims of Abuse Suffer Each Day an Inclusive VAWA Reauthorization is Delayed or Weakened

By Avril Lighty, The Leadership Conference Communications Associate

It is a proven fact that the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) saves lives. From the time VAWA was first passed 1994 to 2010, the rate of intimate partner violence decreased by 64 percent.  Any delay in its reauthorization puts millions of people who face abuse every day in jeopardy.

The reauthorization of VAWA is critical for protecting the civil and human rights of Americans to be free from domestic violence. These protections are especially important for Native Americans and people of color, who experience the highest rates of domestic violence and sexual assault. It is essential that these protections be extended to all instances of intimate partner violence, including for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

This is why it is unacceptable that the version of VAWA House Republicans recently introduced drops protection for LGBT individuals and weakens the ability of tribal courts to prosecute non-Native perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence. Nationally, Native women are raped and assaulted at 2.5 times the national average. Nearly one out of four individuals in same-sex relationships has experienced domestic violence, but too many LGBT victims who seek help are denied access to domestic violence shelters and legal protection due either to state law or a lack of training for authorities on how to handle same-sex situations of abuse. While domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking occur in all parts of the nation and affect people of all backgrounds, a staggering 46 percent of American Indian or Alaska Native women and 45 percent of American Indian or Alaska Native men experience intimate-partner victimization, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We know that VAWA-funded programs have dramatically improved the national response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The annual incidence of domestic violence has decreased by more than 53 percent since VAWA became law in 1994 and reporting by victims has also increased by 51 percent. It is deplorable that Congress failed last year to reauthorize VAWA for the first time in eight years.

If we are to be a global leader on assuring the rights of all women, then we must start with unequivocally protecting all victims of violence and abuse. On January 30, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum to the heads of all departments and agencies on the Coordination of Policies and Programs to Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women and Girls Globally. This presidential directive notes the far-reaching steps taken by the administration to date, and recognizes the exemplary leadership of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to “advancing the status of women and girls (as) a central element of our foreign policy.”

Republican leadership claims to support VAWA, yet blocks it from including the communities that most need it. It is imperative that the House take up S. 47, the bipartisan, inclusive bill that passed the Senate 78-22. Any effort to weaken or delay VAWA does not reflect the will of our country, of our Congress or the desperate need of victims in our homes and communities all across the nation. Survivors of violence cannot wait any longer!

This blog is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival on the Violence Against Women Act.