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This Women’s History Month, Reauthorize VAWA

On December 21, 2018, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) expired. As of this writing, VAWA is unauthorized. While grantees under VAWA — including organizations like Blackburn Center— can continue to receive funds through the Office on Violence Against Women, the future of the law remains uncertain.

The Violence Against Women Act was originally passed in 1994. Since then, it has been reauthorized three times. Each time it was reauthorized, VAWA was expanded and updated to better meet the needs of victims, survivors and advocates.

VAWA expired during the government shutdown. The government has since reopened, but Congress has failed to reauthorize it. Representatives Karen Bass and Brian Fitzpatrick introduced the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization of 2018 (H.R. 1585). According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), this bill would not only maintain the current protections of VAWA, but also:

  • Invest in prevention;

  • Protect underserved populations;

  • Provide access to justice for Native American victims of domestic and sexual violence;

  • Provide better housing options for survivors who need to leave their abusers;

  • Ensure survivors have access to vital economic supports;

  • Support alternatives to a criminal justice system response in accordance with the wishes of the survivor;

  • Promote robust enforcement of court orders; and

  • Provide stronger protections for victims under federal firearms laws.

Some politicians do not support all of the expanded protections in the 2019 version of VAWA. which may be why VAWA has not been reauthorized. Some of the provisions in H.R. 1585 that have drawn fire include those that:

Significantly increase funding for local rape prevention work;

  • Provide for removal of firearms from domestic abusers who are not legally allowed to own them;

  • Improve tribal access to Federal crime databases and protocols for use in response to cases of missing and murdered Native American women;

  • Grant tribal jurisdiction over non-Native Americans in cases of sexual violence, sex trafficking, stalking, violence against children, and violence against tribal law enforcement responding to these violations; and

  • Provide grants for alternative justice to hold perpetrators of violence accountable outside the traditional criminal justice system.

We believe that each of these provisions is important to meet the needs of victims and survivors. This is particularly true when it comes to protecting Native American women from domestic and sexual violence. According to statistics from the Department of Justice, Native American women experience domestic violence and physical assault at a rate that is 50% higher than the next highest victimized population. More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence, and 1 in 2 have experienced sexual violence.

VAWA needs more than to simply be extended, or for funds to be provided. It should be reauthorized and expanded so that all victims of gender-based violence get the protections that they deserve. This Women’s History Month, we can make that happen. Contact your representative today and tell them to sponsor H.R. 1585. Then contact your Senators and tell them that the Senate needs to introduce a bill with the provisions in H.R. 1585. Let’s work together to make a difference!

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