For the first time since its inception in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act was not reauthorized by Congress. The measure offered funding for the investigation and prosecution of crimes against women and federal guidance for programs that combat domestic violence.
This year could have marked an important turning point in the national discussion of domestic violence — that same-sex couples are not exempt from this epidemic — but Republicans in the House of Representatives turned down that opportunity. A Senate version passed this spring would have extended VAWA protections to those in same-sex pairings, as well as to undocumented immigrants and Native Americans, but the House approved its own version without these provisions — and by the end of the session last week, failed to reconcile the two measures.
The implications of this immobility are vast.
First, funding. Both the House and Senate version of VAWA would have allocated about $600 million to aid victims of domestic violence. With the law currently — and hopefully temporarily — defunct, it is unclear how and when that money will start flowing to agencies that may have counted on it for years.
Next is the message that the holdup sends to Americans about domestic violence: Political play and partisan ploys are more important than victims’ safety. By not getting the law reauthorized by the deadline, elected officials were essentially telling the public that the issue of domestic violence is not important enough to be addressed quickly and efficiently. With stigma already abounding that keeps many victims from seeking assistance and solutions, our country can’t afford to further promulgate the notion that domestic violence isn’t a supremely serious epidemic.
And finally, the LGBT component. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, reports of intimate-partner violence in same-sex couples increased by more than 18 percent in 2011. Rates of violence are also high among Native Americans and illegal immigrants, who fail to report incidents at much higher rates than other communities. Some Republicans in the House, however, are unwilling to acknowledge that domestic violence comes in all forms and affects people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, races and ethnicities.
Sticking their heads in the sand, however, will not curb violence in these and other communities — but shelving partisan politics to pass a comprehensive, inclusive version of VAWA, and quickly, will.