Congress Fails to Reauthorize Violence Against Women Act

By NCLR Law Students for Reproductive Justice Fellow Laura Nixon and NCLR Policy Counsel Ashland Johnson

The National Center for Lesbian Rights joins our colleagues at organizations allied against violence against women in their astonishment and outrage that for the first time since 1994, the United States House of Representatives failed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act before the end of the 2012 congressional session. The House of Representatives’ failure to reauthorize this landmark legislation jeopardizes important preventative, legal, and support services (like rape crisis centers) for women who have survived the kinds of violence that were tolerated in our society for far too long.

The Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) is a federal law that allocates significant funds toward the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes that disproportionately impact women, imposes certain mandatory penalties on the offenders, and allows women and other victims access to civil remedies if their perpetrators are not criminally prosecuted. In addition, it established the Office of Violence Against Women in the Department of Justice. The Act was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, and has been reauthorized without much argument in the years since then.

However, earlier this year, the United States Senate approved VAWA for reauthorization and included crucial new provisions to support communities that have been especially marginalized and have specific vulnerabilities to violence including LGBT, Native American, and immigrant victims of domestic violence.

The Senate’s version of VAWA reauthorization provided critical expansions and support for VAWA services for LGBT victims in recognition of the fact that intimate partner violence (IPV) significantly impacts the LGBT community. According to a recent survey, lesbians, gays, and bisexuals were more likely to experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime as compared to heterosexual women and men and LGBT people of color remain especially vulnerable to intimate partner violence as they are four times as likely to experience intimate partner violence. Further, in a recent survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 19% of Transgender respondents reported experiencing domestic violence at the hands of a partner based on their gender nonconformity. NCLR has made efforts to bring attention to the devastating impact of this violence on the LGBT community. This October, we observed Domestic Violence Awareness Month by partnering with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to create a training on domestic violence in the LGBT community and its relationship to housing discrimination. We also created educational infographics about this important subject in partnership with our colleagues at the Human Rights Campaign.

The Senate’s reauthorization of VAWA contains other important provisions for underrepresented communities. It would support Native American women by closing a legal loophole that prevents non-Native American men from being prosecuted for domestic violence in most courts. In addition, it would support immigrant women by expanding the number of temporary visas for undocumented women who are victims of sexual abuse or domestic violence. However, because many members of the House of Representatives object to these new protections, the House failed to reauthorize the VAWA bill that passed the Senate before the end-of-the-year deadline.

To learn more about VAWA and how these important new provisions would support victims of violence who have suffered for far too long because failures of law and lack of support services through this most recent report at The Nation. Members of this new 113th Congress will now have to start from scratch to reauthorize VAWA, and we urge them to do so, keeping new protections for vulnerable people as a first priority.

Media Contact: NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office:415.365.1324 | EOlvera@NCLRights.org

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