On Tuesday, the US Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act by a 78-22 margin, sending it to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives for a vote in the coming weeks. While VAWA may have made its way through the Senate with bipartisan support, its fate in the House is still decidedly uncertain.
With a name like the “Violence Against Women Act,” one may find herself wondering why the measure is as contentious as it is. VAWA was developed and passed in 1994, after the previous year’s World Conference on Human Rights and Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women incited a grassroots effort to pass significant legislation to address domestic and sexual violence. Drafted by then-Senator Joe Biden, the Act sailed through Congress with support on both sides of the aisle. VAWA included a federal rape shield law, community violence prevention programs, and a wide array of victim assistant services.
In 2012, the Act’s renewal was opposed by conservative Republicans taking issue with several provisions, including protections for LGBT victims, Native American women on reservations, and undocumented immigrants.
That the bill’s most controversial components are those affecting minority groups should be unsettling, for our guarantee of sexual equality and safety is inextricably tied to our race, immigration status, sexual orientation, and class. Native American women, for instance, are more than twice as likely to be victims of violence as the rest of the population, yet are significantly less likely to have access to legal help. LGBT intimate partner violence is an all-too-common phenomenon as well, occurring with increasing frequency.
Barring many of America’s most vulnerable populations from protection against sexual violence is inexcusable. Indeed, VAWA must be renewed immediately, if not sooner.