Domestic violence is one of the most common forms of violence endured by women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one-fourth of U.S women will endure an abusive relationship, while some 1,300 people are killed each year by intimate partners. Thankfully, we have come a long way since the 1970s, when laws did not directly prohibit domestic violence, police often failed to respond, and few resources were available to victims. Yet we stand at the brink of losing much of that progress if Congress does not act now to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
First enacted in 1994, VAWA was the first federal legislation to acknowledge domestic violence and sexual assault as crimes. It provides federal resources to encourage community-coordinated responses to address these issues, including support for victim services and training of law enforcement. In 2000, VAWA was reauthorized and included several new provisions, including legal assistance for victims, expansion of the definition of the crimes to cover dating violence and stalking, attention on trafficking of persons and assistance to trafficking victims through T and U visas.
Another reauthorization occurred in 2005, which added new provisions specifically aimed at helping immigrant victims. It allows undocumented immigrant victims who have endured abuse at the hands of an intimate partner to self-petition for residency status. This critical provision was incorporated because many times abusers bring victims to the U.S. and promise to complete the required paperwork yet instead use their victim’s status as yet another tool of power and control. These victims often remain in dangerous situations out of fear of deportation or loss of child custody. The self-petition provision of VAWA lets these victims obtain documentation that allows them to legally drive and work. Given that many victims stay with abusers because they cannot financially support themselves, the ability to drive and work means these women and men can be independent.
Despite its name, the provisions of VAWA help men, women and children. Administered by the Office of Violence Against Women (OVW), an estimated 250,000 victims are served annually through VAWA.
VAWA works, according to advocates in the field. The White House notes that the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which was established through the VAWA, has received over three million calls, with more than 22,000 each month. For 92% of callers, it is the first time they have called anyone for help. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, between 1994 and 2010, rates of intimate partner violence decreased 64%.
I am Board Chair for No More Tears, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that provides individualized assistance to victims of domestic violence. Based in South Florida, No More Tears has, since its inception in 2006, helped 254 survivors and more than 600 children escape from abuse. The organization offers numerous supports for victims and their children as they seek to remain safe and independent. One of the most important resources that No More Tears’ victims have utilized is VAWA.
No More Tears’ staff and board members have seen first-hand the impact of VAWA. Several victims the organization assisted who received the benefits of VAWA have pursued educational opportunities and are working in careers of their choice. They are financially stable, and, most importantly, they and their children are safe. Other organizations have noted the same impact of VAWA, which is why hundreds of organizations across the nation are encouraging Congress to reauthorize VAWA.
The time is now. Congress is debating VAWA and despite widespread support (with all of the women in the Senate except Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE) co-sponsoring the legislation) some still oppose it. Opposition rests largely on the fact that VAWA provides assistance to undocumented immigrants and to Native Americans and LGBT persons. This partisan squabbling is appalling in so many ways, not least of which is the fact that failing to reauthorize VAWA is a huge step back, a return to times when victims had little choice but to endure their partner’s violence. On February 4, 2013, eight Senators voted against moving to debate on the bill: Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT), Tim Scott (R-SC), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Rand Paul (R-KY), Pat Roberts (R-KS), and James Risch (R-ID).
This is an opportunity for Congress to promote justice—for victims and for communities. Please don’t let Senate Republicans stand in the way of safety and a better life for those who have been harmed by the very people who are supposed to love them. Contact these Senators and implore them to reauthorize VAWA. Do it today. And tell everyone you know to do it. It just might save the life of someone you know and love.