It’s been a long time coming and it’s funded at fewer dollars than in 2005, but it got passed. Earlier today the U.S. House of Representatives, by a vote of 286 to 138, passed the bipartisan Senate-approved version of the re-authorization bill for the landmark Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
The act now goes to President Obama who has said he will sign the law. The bill authorizes up to $660 million be spent annually for the next five years for programs that assist victims of rape and domestic violence. That is a drop of 17 percent from the 2005 authorization. The House and Senate approved bill does, however, expand VAWA’s coverage. Discrimination against gay, bisexual or transgender victims in programs funded by VAWA is now barred. The bill also expands the authority of tribal courts to prosecute nonnative American men charged with domestic and sexual violence crimes on Indian reservations.
At its fundamental core, VAWA provides funding for programs helping in the prosecution of sexual assault and domestic abuse, and it also assists victims of these crimes. Battered women’s shelters, victim advocate programs and similar causes receive funding because of VAWA. Programs just like these are supported annually in Women of the ELCA’s grants program.
The reauthorization of VAWA, originally enacted in 1994, had come before the last session of Congress when the act expired in October 2011. The House and Senate versions were never reconciled, and VAWA was not renewed.
It’s scandalous to imagine it took 16 months for the House and Senate to agree on this support for victims of rape and domestic violence. The 57th Commission on the Status of Women, convened by the United Nations, begins on March 4 with a focus on the “elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.” Imagine how the U.S. would have looked to the rest of the world if passage of VAWA had not occurred now.
As Lutheran Christian women who are called to bring about healing and wholeness in the church, the society and the world, we’ve taken seriously our work of raising awareness about and preventing domestic violence throughout our 25 years. Although it took too long in the making, the House and the Senate set aside political differences and finally did the right thing. We thank God for that.
Linda Post Bushkofsky is executive director.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1.800.799.SAFE (7233).