A re-authorization of the Law Against Violence Against Women (VAWA) has been officially passed in the House of Representatives and is now going to the Senate, where it is ready to face strong Republican opposition over the gun control measures it contains.
This legislation makes critical changes to VAWA, the first federal law to comprehensively combat violence against women, including domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, by providing grants to combat and investigate these crimes.
First authored by then Sen. Joe Biden and the late 1994 MP Louise Slaughter, VAWA, has been updated several times since then to best meet people’s current needs. In 2013, for example, the legislature implemented changes that would extend the statutory provisions to same-sex couples.
In the latest reauthorization, lawmakers want to strengthen protection for women exposed to sexual violence by ensuring that non-tribal offenders in tribal countries can be held accountable and by closing the so-called “friendship gap” that everyone would rule out who was convicted of stalking receiving a firearm. In addition, the bill includes funds for housing vouchers so that survivors in federal government-sponsored apartments can move quickly if necessary. It also guarantees that people can take out unemployment insurance if they have to leave their jobs for safety reasons.
“As a survivor and a member of Congress, I want to use my power to protect other people from what I’ve experienced,” said Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), one of the law’s co-founders, in a statement. “With domestic violence on the rise during the pandemic, we need the law against violence against women, which is now signed into law.”
There has been a sharp rise in domestic violence cases over the past year as people have been forced to stay at home, leading organizations to offer more flexible support, including text messaging services as well as housing benefits. A recent report from the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice found an 8 percent increase in reports of domestic violence since home orders were issued, and research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts also found an increase in the number of emergency patients with injuries through such incidents.
“Domestic violence is referred to as a pandemic within the Covid-19 pandemic. Increasing evidence shows that the conditions of the pandemic have escalated intimate partner violence and, in some cases, caused more serious injuries,” Biden said.
Although the last VAWA reauthorization expired after lawmakers passed a brief extension in 2019, Congress in the meantime has continued to allocate adequate funding to the programs it covers, meaning those who use them will not be able to do so due to the delay Have seen gaps in reporting. However, lawmakers have prevented major new changes and safeguards from being implemented by focusing on this re-authorization that the Senate prevented in its last term.
“This re-approval would significantly increase funding for rape prevention programs,” said Allison Randall, vice president of politics for the National Network to End Domestic Violence. “The longer it takes, the more survivors don’t benefit.”
What’s in the bill
The VAWA reauthorization would continue to fund a number of existing programs it covers – including legal assistance to victims, programs to prevent and reduce dating violence, and support for medical care – while expanding the protection the law provides.
Here are some areas where reauthorization would change:
Closing the “friendship gap” for buying firearms: The bill would prevent anyone convicted of stalking or domestic violence from buying a firearm. Currently, this restriction only applies to partners who are married, live together, or have children with the victim.
Increases accountability for incidents in tribal areas: Currently, Native American tribes are not responsible for prosecuting certain acts of violence against women by non-tribal members, including sexual assault, which limits the legal accountability of some criminals. This calculation would change that.
Additional funds for culture-specific services: Legislation allocates $ 40 million for the Department of Health and Human Services to tailor programs specifically to meet the needs of color communities, including improving language access.
Additional funding for the Rape Prevention and Awareness Program: Funding to prevent sexual assault, including state grants and community-level initiatives, is increasing. Renewal would allow $ 110 million per fiscal year for these programs.
Senate Republicans intend to offer their own version of the legislation and have already cited the law’s gun control provisions as a potential stumbling block to both party support in the upper chamber.
“Certainly we’ve encountered hiccups on some gun issues, and that’s a big problem for some of us. We shouldn’t neglect people’s constitutional rights,” said Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) author of the GOP bill, said recently Lindsay Wise of the Wall Street Journal.
Since the 50-member Democratic caucus in the Senate needs 10 Republican votes to hit the 60-vote threshold required to pass upper chamber re-approval, the two parties may need to work out a compromise, or the one VAWA could be blocked again this year.