Violence Against Women Act: On 18th Anniversary, Time for Democrats and Republicans to Compromise

18 years ago today, on September 13, 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was signed into law after receiving strong bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. The legislation, which improved resources and legal protections for victims of gendered violence including domestic abuse and rape, was written by then-Senator Joe Biden. 

On Thursday, Vice President Biden decried the fact that a divided Congress has not yet reauthorized the law, which is updated every five years.

"VAWA is just as important today as it was when it first became law, and I urge Congress to keep the promise we made to our daughters and our granddaughters on that day — that we would work together to keep them safe," he said.

While both the Senate and the House have voted to renew VAWA for another five years, as of yet no compromise has been reached after Republicans in the House rejected the changes to VAWA proposed by the Senate. These revisions included providing protection to women who are undocumented, Native women, LGBTQ women, and students on college campuses.

The major provisions in dispute are tied to other issues arising within the GOP this election cycle. According to the New York Times, "One would subject non-Indian suspects of domestic violence to prosecution before tribal courts for crimes allegedly committed on reservations. Another would expand the number of temporary visas for illegal immigrant victims of domestic violence. The last would expand Violence Against Women Act protections to gay, bisexual or transgender victims of domestic abuse. "

VAWA has been reauthorized without much issue in years past, but this not the first time the GOP has refused to support VAWA or its provisions. In fact, as early as 1994, House Republicans tried to limit funding to programming authorized by VAWA.

In July, before convening a negotiating body to resolve the differences between the House and the Senate, Speaker John Boehner said,

"Completing work on legislation to renew and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act is critical in our efforts to combat domestic violence and sexual assault. The law has broad, bipartisan support in both chambers, and I’m announcing our negotiators today in the hopes that we can begin to resolve the differences between the House and Senate bills. The House is ready and willing to begin those discussions, and I would urge Senate Democrats to come to the table so this critical legislation can be sent to the president for his signature as soon as possible.”

In the light of Todd Akin's controversial legitimate rape comments, and their efforts to repudiate the GOP's alleged "war on women," House Republicans may feel pressured to reach a consensus sooner rather than later. 

I'm going to have to agree with Joe Biden on this one:

"I know there are fundamental differences between Democrats and Republicans, and I don’t expect those to disappear. But on this issue of basic decency, where there remains so much agreement between us, Republicans and Democrats ought to leave politics at the water’s edge. Because women everywhere are counting on us, and they can’t wait any longer."

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Sam Meier

Samantha Meier serves as the Identities editor at PolicyMic, where she writes on activism, gender, and new media. Sam was profiled in the New York Times for co-founding Sex Week at Harvard, and is currently working on a book about women and underground comix. Originally from Flagstaff, Arizona, she currently lives in New York.

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