Lame duck imperative: Violence Against Women Act set to expire at end of December

Time is running out on the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  Set to expire at the end of December, VAWA might become the second social-legislation casualty of a lame-duck session in which Republicans seem hell bent on sending a final-hour poke in the eye to women, minorities, and the disabled. And what is it they’re trying to tell us?  First, that they don’t give a damn about the majority who clearly expressed broad-based opposition to Republican governance by returning President Obama to the White House and increasing the Democratic majority in the Senate. Second, that in the House they’ll fight to the last to prevent expansion of programs and protections against domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking to communities whose lifestyles they reject or prefer to ignore.

(Not to be outdone by the stonewalling of their colleagues in the lower chamber, Senate Republicans shamed themselves and damaged American leadership on human rights by recently voting down ratification of a U.N. treaty that would have expanded the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to nations and individuals around the world.)

Bipartisanship gets left behind

Historically VAWA has not been controversial. Originally drafted by Senator Joe Biden and passed into law in 1994 with bipartisan support, the bill easily passed reauthorization with little or no opposition in 2000 and 2006.

This past April reauthorization of the bill, including an expansion of provisions covering the LGBT community, Native Americans, and undocumented immigrants, passed the Senate, again with broad, bipartisan support.  Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, best summed up the case for benefit expansion: “Where a person lives, who they love, or what their citizenship status may be should not determine whether or not their perpetrators are brought to justice.” By the time the 68-to-31 tally was complete, every Republican female senator had the decency to vote her conscience and joined Democrats in assuring all victims of abuse and violence that they will receive the legal support and services they need.

The story couldn’t be more different in the House. On a near party-line vote, the Senate’s expanded version of the Violence Against Women Act failed to gain reauthorization. What is it that’s ruffling the feathers of Republican male members of the House?  What is comes down to is that Republicans have decided to defend their right to exclude LGBT individuals, undocumented immigrants, and Native Americans from legal protections and support services that have proven effective for countless women and men.

 Worse yet, House Republicans chose to ignore the more than three hundred national organizations, including faith-based groups and others spanning the political and ideological spectrum, which lobbied passionately for passage of the Senate version. In May, the Republican caucus proposed its own version that passed on a near party-line vote. According to reporting in the Huffington Post, the House bill  “discourages undocumented immigrant women from reporting abuse without the threat of being deported.  It also makes it harder for Native American women to seek justice against their abusers, and it leaves out protections for the LGBT community altogether.”

Obama gets tough

The truncated House version prompted a vow by President Obama to veto any bill that excludes expanded coverage. The president knows full well what’s at stake. He and compassionate members of Congress know that we cannot in good conscience ignore the horrifying statistics.  Every twelve seconds –in less time than it takes to read this paragraph—another woman somewhere in this country is physically abused by the man who professes to love her.  Every two minutes, a woman is traumatized by the violence of rape. Every day three women are killed by their abusive husbands or partners.

Once again, House Republicans are playing a high stakes game with other people’s lives. If the Senate and House versions of the Violence Against Women Act cannot be reconciled, continued allocation of taxpayer dollars to set up and support programs and services for those who have suffered abuse will be in jeopardy. Those services include community-based violence-prevention programs, rape crisis centers and hotlines, and legal aid for survivors of violence, as well as funds to enable investigations and prosecutions of violent crimes against women.

Programs that work

To the peril of the abused, House Republicans have chosen to ignore that this is one government program that’s yielded extraordinary results. Since 2000 the outcomes of having programs and services in place have been dramatic. Nonfatal partner violence against women has decreased by 53 percent.  The number of individuals killed by intimate partners has decreased by 34 percent for women and 57 percent for men.

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