Since 1994, the Violence Against Women Act has been reauthorized by Congress without too many hitches. The act has historically funded investigations into violent crimes against women. However, this time, the act arrived in the Senate with a less unified vote between both parties. Republicans and Democrats have rewritten their own versions of the act to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. After reviewing both versions of the act, the committee voted on party lines for their respective versions of the bill. A decision has still not been reached about the renewal of the act.
The existing act has three parts with which Republicans do not agree.
The first gives Native-American tribal courts jurisdiction over non-tribe members who have committed crimes of domestic abuse against Native Americans. Supporters of the bill describe the Republicans’ rationale as being similar to saying that a woman who is abused in Michigan by someone from Ohio could not appeal to courts in Michigan.
Next, Republicans have qualms with the wording on LGBTQ rights. The bill, as it is written now, says organizations that receive federal grant funding should not discriminate against anyone on the grounds of sexual orientation. While Senate Republicans say they agree with this statement, they do not think that it needs to be written into the bill.
The third reason for Republican aversion to the bill is the stipulation for immigrants. Currently, the bill states that undocumented victims of domestic abuse can apply for a visa to obtain legal status. Having this status allows victims to work in the United States, becoming independent of their abuser. In the past two years, the Obama administration has met the limit of 10,000 visas per year, which shows the effectiveness of the act to give victims opportunity and a chance at survival.
Over spring break, I had the opportunity to travel to San Juan, Texas and visit many different community grassroots organizations that campaign for immigrants’ rights. One of the agencies I visited was the South Texas Civil Rights Project. Their mission is to promote social, economic and racial equality in educational and social services for those who are least able to defend themselves. The South Texas Civil Rights Project conducts much of its work through the VAWA.
While in San Juan, I heard the stories of women who had survived horrible, life-threatening situations because of the VAWA. I heard testimonies from women who had been physically or sexually abused, or who had experienced human trafficking. With the VAWA, these women were able to seek the legal help they needed to become legal residents, without the knowledge or approval of their abusers. The South Texas Civil Rights Project, just one of many organizations of its kind, has helped hundreds of women to seek the assistance they needed to escape an abusive relationship.
The VAWA is still under debate for reauthorization. However, if Senate Republicans strike down the bill, thousands of victims of domestic violence each year will continue to suffer in their current state. It’s important for this bill to be passed to ensure continuous protection of the women who need help the most. While these women may not have the voice to defend themselves, it’s necessary for those of us with a voice to show our support for the VAWA.
Michelle Fedorowicz is an LSA freshman.