Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

VAWA’s 19th anniversary

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Friday, Sept. 13, marked the 19th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Drafted by then-Senator Joe Biden, it was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on Sept. 13, 1994.


The initial legislation focused on opening more shelters for victims of abuse, increasing law enforcement awareness of domestic violence, improving the judicial system and its treatment of rape victims, as well as strengthening penalties for repeat sex offenders.

Needless to say, the bill was and is an important tool for protecting and supporting victims and survivors of domestic violence. Since 1994, new provisions have been added in its subsequent reauthorizations, such as providing protections for victims in same-sex relationships and Native American women.

On Thursday, Sept. 12, Vice President Biden held an event at his residence celebrating the act’s anniversary. There, he gave a speech slamming “Neanderthals” in Congress, namely the GOP, for taking months to finally agree to reauthorize the legislation back in February (only, of course, after their own version of the bill failed to pass).

While I don’t think I’d use his exact words, Vice President Biden makes a fair point. The House GOP dragging their feet on a piece of legislation called the Violence Against Women Act is outrageous. And yes, not all legislation with nice-sounding names are actually nice in context (as MSNBC anchor Melissa Harris-Perry points out here)Online only, but VAWA has proven itself successful, being partly responsible for a 64 percent decline in domestic violence since its inception.

Part of the reason the GOP stalled on the reauthorization of VAWA – which, by the way, has been reauthorized twice in the past, both times with overwhelming bipartisan support – was the “cost.” Well, the actual cost of the 2013 bill, even with its new provisions, is $659 million a year over the course of five years, a decrease since the last reauthorization in 2005.

Protecting victims of domestic abuse on a budget certainly sounds like something the GOP could get behind.

So if it’s not the cost that’s the problem, maybe it was the new provisions that provided protections for Native American women and those in same-sex relationships. The GOP version of VAWA that failed to pass also failed to include protections for LGBT victims and American Indians, as well as undocumented immigrants.

Whatever the reasons might be, the GOP’s hesitation to reauthorize VAWA is as alarming as it is disturbing. To let politics get in the way of providing protection for millions of people suffering from domestic abuse sets a bad example for those looking to GOP leaders to serve as representatives of justice. It tells the public that protecting domestic violence victims is just not as important as the GOP’s political gain.

Now, there are very few things in life I care less about than the GOP’s political gain. But to treat the reauthorization of VAWA as an opportunity to flex its political muscle was an entirely new low, especially when your job is to represent American citizens.

Domestic violence was described by head of the World Health Organization Dr. Margaret Chan as “a global health problem of epidemic proportion.” It affects one in three women worldwide, according to a WHO report, which is hardly an insignificant number.

In the United States alone, one in four women are violently attacked by their husbands or boyfriends, and one in five women are victims of rape or attempted rape, half of which were committed by their partners. On the opposite end, two in five victims of domestic abuse are men.

In same-sex couples in the U.S., studies have shown that incidents of domestic violence occur at similar rates to those of straight couples. And for American Indians, the statistics are worse. In a 2008 CDC survey, 39 percent of Native women – a number higher than any other race or ethnicity surveyed – identified as victims of domestic violence.

The consequences of these instances of domestic violence are tragic. Domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and survivors can suffer psychological trauma, depression and other emotional distress, as well as physical ailments. Without help, girls who witness domestic violence are more vulnerable to abuse in their lifetimes, and boys who witness domestic violence are more likely to become abusers themselves

The key words here are “without help.” The cycle of domestic violence can be broken, but not without help. That’s what made the GOP’s reluctance to reauthorize VAWA so confusing and demeaning. By belittling domestic violence, it insults the victims who have suffered through the short-term and long-term physical and emotional pain.

The GOP’s reluctance to reauthorize a bill that provides important and meaningful protections sends a damaging message to victims: we don’t support a bill that is crafted specifically to support you. Most instances of domestic violence are never reported, and this won’t change unless representatives in Congress are unified in advancing legislation that makes it easier and safer for victims to do so.

Jill Correira is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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