Congress Needs to Pass the Violence Against Women Act
By Karen Stone, Legislative Affairs Manager, Planned Parenthood Action Fund
Women’s health was a decisive issue in the election last week. Americans voted to ensure that women have access to affordable health care and can make their own medical decisions. But protecting women’s health goes far beyond the doctor’s office. We must do everything we can to be sure that women are safe and healthy in their homes, schools, and workplaces by improving our nation’s response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. When a woman is in an abusive relationship, the effect is much broader than just the physical and emotional damage inflicted on her and her family. It creates real public health challenges.
Understanding this reality lead to the initial development of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994. Once a bill with strong bipartisan support, it expired nearly two years ago. It’s time for Congress to act and send a strong VAWA bill — like the bipartisan version that the Senate passed in April — to the president’s desk before the end of the year. Contact your member of Congress today!
VAWA has had a profound impact on the fight to end violence against women. According to the Justice Department, reporting of domestic violence has increased as much as 51 percent since the bill’s initial passage. States have strengthened rape laws, and all states have passed laws making stalking a crime.
Despite this significant progress, much work remains to ensure VAWA meets the needs of ALL victims. VAWA has been reauthorized twice without major objection, and each time, it has been strengthened and expanded to provide greater protections. Those expansions have included provisions for cyberstalking and dating violence, and a greater emphasis on protecting immigrants. The latest version, passed in 2005 and signed by President Bush, also added cultural and language-specific services that the Justice Department expanded to include same-sex partnerships.
But this year, opponents in the House sought to discriminate against who qualifies for these vital protections: the House bill would arbitrarily limit the number of immigrant women who can seek relief from violence, impose substantial barriers when the victim is Native American but her abuser is not, and ignore violence against gay, lesbian, and transgender victims. These arbitrary rollbacks further stigmatize particular populations, and they do nothing to help women get the counseling, shelter, and other services they need to escape abusive relationships.
Planned Parenthood health centers see firsthand the struggle of individuals who have experienced intimate partner violence. Planned Parenthood health centers proactively screen and refer for intimate partner violence in a safe setting, and are committed to their roles as confidential and trusted health services providers. That’s why, across the country, Planned Parenthood staff and supporters work in their local communities on sex education that includes important conversations about healthy relationships, and will continue to be there for women whenever they need help. Planned Parenthood opposes any efforts to limit which people can benefit from VAWA’s vital protections.
Contact your member of Congress today and demand that they pass a strong VAWA bill that meets the needs of all victims of intimate partner violence before the end of the year to help millions of women live a life free from violence.