30 July 2012
The United States Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was signed into law by President Clinton in 1994. Its provisions protect women from domestic and sexual violence and stalking, and establish better public services coordination and judicial mechanisms for preventing, investigating and punishing such crimes.
The Act, which is reauthorized every five years, is being voted on again this year by Congress. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have come up with versions of the Bill. The Senate bill, passed in April, seeks to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation in federal domestic grant programs, to increase the number of special visas available to immigrant women who are victims of domestic abuse, and to give Native American and Alaskan jurisdictions the authority to prosecute sexual assault by non-natives on native land. The House bill, on the other hand, which was passed in May, removes all these provisions and rolls back the U-visas for immigrant women.
Currently, 58% of sexual assault incidents against Native American and Alaskan women are carried out by non-Native men, one in three will be raped and two in five physically abused at home in their lifetime. For immigrant women in several states, both physical security and civil rights have been curtailed by harsh anti-immigrant legislation that leaves them afraid to report abuse to law enforcement authorities.
Momentum is building for action to be taken quickly on VAWA. But House Republicans now say that they will not vote on the Senate bill and are waiting for the Senate to resolve a glitch regarding a revenue raising provision (The U.S. Constitution prescribes that budgetary laws must originate in the House).
Senate leaders have asserted that the House bill does not protect important vulnerable populations and so should not be voted on. President Obama has also said that he would veto the bill. Advocacy groups say that as the Presidential and Congressional elections approach, the fate of VAWA is becoming increasingly precarious. If the bill is not reauthorized then the existing law will remain as it is and the necessary action to protect women from violence will be impeded.
SPSSI Policy Coordinator
Tips on taking action on legislative issues can be found at the SPSSI Advocacy Center.