The year is coming to a close and the highly debated Violence Against Women Act has yet to be renewed. The act has been expired since September 2011, halting much-needed funds and services to protect victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Despite the title of this bill, it has successfully served to protect both women and men.
In previous congressional sessions, the bill has passed with overwhelming support across partisan lines. As Senator Claire McCaskill passionately argued to Republican House representatives, “Last time the bill was passed, do you know what the vote was? 981 to 5.” However, support for the bill is now divided between parties due to added protections in the Senate version of this bill passed in April. The bill includes the particularly vulnerable populations of immigrant and tribal people, the LGBTQ community, and college students. In May, the Republican-dominated House passed their own version excluding these important provisions.
With time running out, both parties are looking towards House Republican women, who may be the deciding factor in both whether VAWA is passed and which VAWA is passed. In particular, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, vice chair of the House Republican congress may be key in the ultimate decision.
Before Eric Cantor, who is a central negotiator in VAWA and is advocating for the House’s version, held a meeting with all the House Republican women, women senators gave a courageous and impelling speech on why VAWA matters and why it can’t exclude 30 million vulnerable individuals. For as Senator Patty Murray urged, “where a person lives, their immigration status, who they love, should not determine whether perpetrators of domestic violence are brought to justice.”
One argument these brave women explained was that the passing of an inclusive VAWA is not a partisan goal but a human rights necessity. Senator McCaskill spoke about the previously un-contentious nature of VAWA. Until this year, VAWA did not spur any partisan divide.
Further, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota spoke of her experience as a chief prosecutor and the common occurrence of immigrant women being preyed upon due to their vulnerability. Perpetrators would know that immigrants were afraid of being deported and that they would be unlikely to come forward. She urged that VAWA be passed, “So that they will not become victims over and over again.”
Senator Barbara Boxer concluded the speech, suggesting that Republicans may gain needed support from both American women and minorities by passing the Senate’s bill. Thus, excluding 30 million vulnerable individuals from VAWA would be both regressive to America and damaging to the Republican Party. As Senator Patty Murray argued, “If there was a message in this election, it was that every American counts.”
Despite the efforts of these brave senators, the 112th Congress, which ends in early January, will not reauthorize VAWA before the year ends. It will be up to the 113th Congress to allow the bill to do exactly what it was intended to do and protect everyone.