No More Setbacks: The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Must Be Revived
The gang rape and death of a young woman in Delhi, India, has sparked protests throughout India and the region this week. The 23-year old woman was attacked on a bus on her way home from the movies with a male friend. She died of multiple organ failure after two weeks in the hospital.
Since that time, authorities have arrested the six men involved in her death, including the bus driver. This woman’s story is a tragic one but by no means unique. One in three women worldwide will be physically, sexually, or otherwise abused during her lifetime, with rates reaching 70 percent in some countries. American women suffer nearly five million partner-related physical assaults and rapes every year.
Given these harrowing statistics and with the tragic story of this Indian woman still the focus of national attention, one would think that it would be a no-brainer for Congress to finalize an outstanding piece of legislation that would expand protections against violence for women in the U.S., the Violence Against Women Act. But that’s not what happened last week.
First passed in 1994 with bipartisan support and reauthorized twice, each time with greater expansions, VAWA has created incredibly successful programs that have reduced national rates of intimate partner violence. Why then could our legislators not come to the simple agreement to continue their support?
The opposition to reauthorization focused on provisions that would support prevention and response services for immigrant and Native American women and in the cases of same-sex assaults. As we have said on this blog before, the arbitrary discrimination against these populations only serves to stigmatize women in accessing the counseling, shelter and other services they need to prevent violence and escape abusive relationships. No case of violence is acceptable – and no individual should be discriminated against in accessing services. Yet when the 112th Congress concluded earlier this week, it did so without providing the protection women and all people need and deserve.
Despite the lack of action by Congress, we have seen important progress by the Obama administration on this issue. Early last year the Department of Justice updated its criminal definition of rape for the first time since the 1920s and this past summer the State Department released the first-ever United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally.
Yet when we hear stories like the young woman in India we are reminded that the progress is too little – and the delays and setbacks unacceptable.