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It's Past Time to Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act

This month, Congress returned from its summer break to begin its fall legislative session. While our senators and representatives undoubtedly have many competing priorities before them, there is one that they must no longer avoid: the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

Originally passed as Title IV of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, VAWA significantly improved how our government responds to and supports victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Before its passage, many people viewed matters related to gender-based violence (such as domestic violence) as a private or family that should not involve the police. While some still hold this outdated view, VAWA created an enforcement system for handling these crimes. It simultaneously funded essential social services for victims and survivors of gender-based violence. VAWA must be reauthorized every 5 years.

Since 1994, VAWA has been reauthorized three times. Each time, lawmakers have added new provisions that incorporate new research and the best practices related to gender-based violence. VAWA has always included a change in its language as part of the reauthorization process, evolving along our understanding of the nature of gender-based violence — and growing to increase our ability to respond to and support victims and survivors.

For example, in 2000, the VAWA reauthorization expanded protections for older and disabled survivors of abuse. In 2005, the reauthorization of VAWA encouraged community-coordinated responses that focused on partnerships between law enforcement, community service providers, health care providers, and health care providers. In 2013, the reauthorization added a nondiscrimination clause to protect all victims and survivors of gender-based violence — no matter their race, color, religion, national origin, gender identity, sex, disability, or sexual orientation.

VAWA is again up for reauthorization, as House Resolution 1585 (H.R. 1585). This bill has been passed by the House of Representatives, and is now before the Senate.

The 2019 reauthorization of VAWA would update the law as follows:

  • Enhance Judicial and Law Enforcement Tools to Combat Violence Against Women

  • Creates an audit and survey for the Office of Violence Against Women to track the declination of rape cases

  • Includes a portion of the Dignity Act to improve criminal justice responses to sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.

  • Improves Services for Victims of Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking

  • Clarifies equal emphasis on supporting training and capacity building in disability organizations and eligibility criteria and expands who can receive training and education

  • Provides Services, Protection, and Justice for Young Victims of Violence

  • Specifies that at least 80% of funds for campus grants will go to community-based, culturally specific prevention activities regarding sexual harassment in collaboration with state sexual assault coalitions

  • Includes bullying as an element that can be addressed in programs

  • Adds sexual orientation and gender identity to summary of those served by grants to combat violent crimes on campus

  • Strengthens the Healthcare System’s Response to Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking

  • Increases the ability of healthcare providers to address the needs of sexual violence and childhood abuse survivors through education

  • Improves the capacity of campus health centers to recognize and respond to intimate partner violence and sexual assault

  • Provides Safe Homes for Victims of Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking

  • Ensures that survivors can maintain their housing in the event of a break-up with a spouse

  • Extends transitional housing grant opportunities to organizations serving underserved populations

  • Economic Security for Victims of Violence

  • Authorizes a study to examine the implications of gender-based violence on economic security, and to find solutions for credit issues for survivors

  • Preserves Programs for Communities of Color & Enhances Protections for Native American Women

  • Creates a tribal sexual offender and protection order registry

  • Gives all federally-recognized tribes criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian perpetrators of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, and trafficking

Although we have made significant strides since 1994, VAWA is still necessary. According to an annual census taken by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), on a single day in September 2018, 74,823 victims received services for shelter, housing, transportation, legal assistance, prevention and education, and counseling. On that same day, there were 9,183 unmet requests for services — 76% of which (6,972) were for housing. The 2019 reauthorization of VAWA — which provides increased grant opportunities to organizations that work with underserved populations, like Blackburn Center — would help to change those numbers.

The reauthorization of VAWA is crucial to the safety and well-being of our community. We urge you to join us in contacting your senators today and ask them to support the reauthorization of VAWA. A sample script for an email or fax to your senators is below.

Dear [​your Senator’ s name]​ ,

My name is [​your name]​ , and I am a constituent from [​your location]. ​I am emailing you today to urge you to support a substantially similar companion bill to H.R.1585, the Violence Against Women Act of 2019. The Violence Against Women Act is one of the pillars of the federal response to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. [​Tell your Senator why VAWA has been so important to your community or, if you have a story you feel comfortable sharing, share your experience]​ . Every time VAWA has been reauthorized, it has been strengthened based on our increased understanding of gender-based violence. The #MeToo era, when survivors are clamoring for change, is not the time to roll back important protections or even to maintain the status quo. H.R.1585, which passed the House with strong bipartisan support, maintains protections for all victims, makes vital investments in sexual assault prevention, ensures sexual predators who prey on Native women can be held accountable, protects victims of domestic violence from intimate partner homicide, and increases victims’ access to safe housing and economic stability. As a voting constituent, I look forward to your response and to your commitment to supporting victims and survivors by supporting a bill substantially similar to H.R.1585.

Yours truly, [​Your name]

If calling, you can use the same script, and change the last line to: As a constituent, I urge Senator [​your Senator’s name]​ to support a substantially similar companion bill in the Senate. Can Senator [​your Senator’s name]​ commit to that?

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