No more bipartisan wrangling on VAWA
By: Tammy Francois, Lake County News Chronicle
Last Friday, Congress recessed leaving many critical pieces of legislation hanging in the balance. Chief among them is the Violence Against Women Act.
This piece of landmark legislation was introduced in its first incarnation in the 90s by then Sen. Joe Biden after a three year examination of the causes and effects of domestic violence on women. Upon conclusion of the study Biden wrote:
“Through this process, I have become convinced that violence against women reflects as much a failure of our nation’s collective moral imagination as it does the failure of our nation’s laws and regulations. We are helpless to change the course of this violence unless, and until, we achieve a national consensus that it deserves our profound public outrage.”
In 1994, the first Violence Against Women Act was passed by Congress with bipartisan support and was signed into law Sept. 13 of that year. It had been a long time coming. It was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005.
Minnesota was among the first states to provide advocacy services to victims of domestic violence and it has been developing outstanding policies, protocols and services to address sex crimes in recent years. The first DV program in the state — and also one of the first in the nation — was in St Paul, with one soon to follow in Duluth. Minnesota’s place in history was indelibly etched as a leader in the movement against violence when the Duluth Model was developed. It challenged previously held opinions about why men batter and what a community can do to protect women and hold men accountable, and is now used around the world. Our big sister at the other end of the Highway 61 expressway can be proud.
VAWA dollars have been spent to provide services to victims and fund education for law enforcement, prosecutors and judges, social service agencies and hospitals using these best-practice models. They have supported the efforts of communities as they grapple with perpetrators of these widespread crimes and provide ongoing support to victims.
There can be no doubt as to the importance of this legislation or its need. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 1.3 million women are victims of domestic violence each year at a cost exceeding $5.8 billion each year, $4.1 billion of which is for direct medical and mental health services. Sexual violence and exploitation have emerged as much more commonly perpetrated — yet under reported — crimes than anyone imagined. Women and children die every year or bear the emotional scars of abuse in perpetuity. VAWA authorizes only $659 million over five years to improve or maintain programming to serve victims. As a nation we’re still operating at a loss where this issue is concerned, but these funds are crucial, nonetheless.
There’s no excuse for delay on the reauthorization of this bill. It has passed the Senate, with bipartisan support, by a vote of 78-22. A similar bill was introduced in the House — where it languishes and where no GOP congressmen, or congresswomen, have come forth as cosponsors.
What’s it going to take? The life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of 1.3 million women is at stake. The reauthorization of VAWA is a no-brainer. No one deserves to be a victim of domestic or sexual violence.
Maybe the House is just too far removed from the late night sound of cries for help, the despair that overtakes women who are economically dependent on an abuser, 911 dispatchers who field frantic calls and law enforcement officers who enter the fray on behalf of victims.
Or maybe the representatives just needed to take a break — lest they hear those cries that 78 U.S. Senators heard.