Why is Congress dragging its feet to end violence against women and reauthorize VAWA?

By Kaitlyn O’Shaughnessy, Women’s Human Rights Thematic Specialist for Amnesty International USA

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is set to expire on December 7, 2018 unless Congress passes the VAWA Reauthorization Act before then. VAWA was originally signed into law in 1994 and, because of its effectiveness, has been reauthorized in 2000, 2005, and 2013 with bipartisan support. Rates of domestic and sexual violence in the United States have declined since VAWA was originally passed.

In late July 2018, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2018 (H.R.6545) was introduced in the House of Representatives, yet both the House and Senate punted VAWA reauthorization past its original expiration to deal with after elections. Now, unless Congress acts soon to reauthorize VAWA, it will expire. Failure to reauthorize VAWA will deprive women of protections from domestic and sexual violence and deprive survivors of critical services.

Each time VAWA is reauthorized, its components are evaluated and revised to improve its effectiveness, particularly helping address the many women who remain at risk of violence, especially women of color, Native women, and other marginalized populations. The current reauthorization bill would, among other things:

• 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

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

These improvements mean more women can seek services and safety — they mean more work to end violence against women. So why is congress dragging its feet?

While the House has introduced a strong VAWA reauthorization bill in H.R. 6545, there have also been attempts to introduce watered-down bills that protect fewer women — and the Senate has failed to introduce a reauthorization bill at all. Pushing reauthorization past election day is a worrying move that at best leaves domestic violence service providers in a bind as they wait to learn their future, and at worst signals a coming battle over VAWA, much like there was in 2012–2013, when conservative Republicans opposed extending VAWA to Native, gay, and immigrant women.

Violence against women is a violation of human rights and a public health epidemic. Ending gender-based violence must continue to be a US priority.

AIUSA recommends U.S. Representatives cosponsor the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 6545) and U.S. Senators introduce and cosponsor a companion Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization.

Call your representatives at 202–225–3121 and tell them to support reauthorization of a strong VAWA. Women’s rights are human rights, and all women deserve to live free from violence