If the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) were a person, yesterday it would have become a legal adult. If you’re wondering what the VAWA is and why it’s important, it’s pretty much all in the name, but here are the details: It was drafted by then-Senator, now-VP Joe Biden and signed into a law by Bill Clinton, and it provides protection for women who are victims are domestic violence, rape, and assault. Among other things, it created a federal rape shield law, which means that a victim’s sexual history can’t be used against them during cross-examination. Lots of other important work was done because of this law as well. In a way, it brought the dangers that women live with into the public eye. When Jill Biden introduced her husband at the DNC, she said “when he started working on the Violence Against Women Act, domestic violence was often treated her as a private family matter rather than the crime is.” Did you know that stalking wasn’t illegal until VAWA was passed? It made stalking a federal crime, and it also provided funding for rape crisis centers, legal services for victims, and hotlines.
In fact, the National Domestic Violence Hotline was established under VAWA, and it is now one of the leading resources against domestic violence and abuse in the country. It offers information about the definition of and signs of abuse, directs victims to services in their area, and is a community message board for people to share their stories. One of the best things is that they have a specific page on their website for people who suspect that they themselves are abusers.
The best way to prevent any form of abuse, violence, or attack, is not to abuse or attack people. Often this gets lost in the shuffle when we as women try to protect ourselves from rape or assault, but it shouldn’t, because teaching defense as the only form of prevention puts the responsibility on the victim. And of course, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has a 24/7, 365 days a year hotline that operates in 170 languages and provides support via email or phone. They have received over 3 million calls in their 15 years of operation, and 92% of callers say that it’s the first time they’ve asked for help. Imagine how powerful something like that is.
Joe Biden released a statement today honoring the anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, saying “Eighteen years ago today, the landmark [VAWA] was signed into law. It was founded on the basic premise that every woman deserves to be safe from violence, and since its passage, we have made tremendous strides towards achieving that goal.” He’s correct in saying that: many states have passed laws strengthening their policies on rape and the protection of victims of domestic violence; cases of domestic violence have dropped 60%; and 500,000 government employees are trained in the recognition and response to domestic violence. But this life-saving law could be in danger.
Though it has passed for renewal in the Senate, the Republican-controlled House Of Representatives have been dragging their feet. Representatives like Mitt Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan are opposing extending the benefits of VAWA to gay, transgender, immigrant, and undocumented women. Are these women more deserving of violence or less deserving of federal protection just because of their sexuality, gender, or status in this country? In what’s perhaps the strongest argument for renewing VAWA with those inclusions, a men’s rights group has supported the Republican’s hesitation because “opposing versions, by omission and lack of specificity generally exclude men, particularly heterosexual men.” So we can either protect the poor heterosexual men from the Violence Against Women Act, or we can protect women who are victims of abuse. I am in no way saying that men are all abusers or that they can’t be victims themselves, but denying abused women necessary services in no way benefits abused men. It’s as simple as that.
As Vice-President Biden said to close his statement, “While women and girls face these devastating realities every day, reauthorization of a strengthened VAWA languishes in Congress. 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.” Let’s hope Congress listens.
What do you think of the VAWA and the hesitation on the part of the House of Representatives? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Written by Marlena Carcone
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