Congress Does Something Right: House Finally Passes VAWA!

Elizabeth Field

Victims of domestic and sexual violence recently went over 500 days without critically important protections sanctioned by the Violence Against Women Act, first established in 1994 by then-senator Joe Biden and renewed ever since. Well, ever since 500 days ago.

In April 2012, the Senate passed a similar bill with a wide majority, which later failed in the House due to added measures which extended existing protections to Native American victims in tribal communities, immigrant victims and victims that identify as homosexual, bisexual or transgender. House Republicans denied this bill and instead proposed an alternative which limited these groups from receiving assistance after abuse, which also did not pass. The originally-proposed bill was once more approved in the Senate by a large majority and brought again to the House floor.

Restoring my faith in humanity and our governing system, this measure finally has passed, and was voted on last Thursday to send the bipartisan measure on to President Obama. The newly-passed legislation creates and expands federal programs and initiatives that will assist state and local communities with law enforcement and aiding victims of sexual or domestic violence.

This legislation passed on a vote of 286 to 138, and *surprise* it passed with the vote of EVERY woman despite party loyalty or allegiance. You would think after the GOP lost by an 11-point margin among women voters last fall they would start focusing more attentions on the needs of their female voters and constituents. Instead, we’ve been struck with multiple ignorant and offensive remarks from conservative males regarding abortion or rape that make everyone—reaching across party lines—cringe. Since nearly all potential 2014 Senate Republican candidates voted against the VAWA reauthorization, it seems like Senate Democrats may have just won some fresh ammunition to use in the upcoming election.

But this isn’t—or shouldn’t—even be a political issue. It is an issue relating to the single, central role of our government, which is to provide protections for its citizens. By denying the reauthorization of this bill, we are failing to assist the needs of the majority of our citizens—women! Instead, our dominantly male Congress retains power for themselves instead of considering the needs of the constituents they represent. (It is in this week’s UNH Toilet Talk that women only hold 17 percent of House and Senate seats). It has established after many years of activist efforts that the laws need to help provide protections for vulnerable people.

We know that historical inequalities that prevail to modern times put women, immigrants, Native Americans and those identifying as LGBT at risk. According to the CDC, 35 percent of heterosexual women have reported rape, physical violence or stalking by a significant other, while being reported by 44 percent of people identifying as lesbian and 61 percent as bisexual identifiers. I am proud to be a citizen of a country where these persons will no longer fall by the wayside in regards to protective legislation. U-S-A!