Goodbye, VAWA

Posted on Jan 21, 2013

In 1994, the U.S. Congress passed—and President Clinton signed—the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This federal law was later renewed in 2000 and 2005, and was scheduled to be renewed in 2012.

Even though the Senate and the House of Representatives passed competing bills reauthorizing the law, the two bodies never coordinated to develop a compromise bill that would be able to pass both chambers. By the end of the year, no bill was ready to be sent to President Obama for signature, and the program died.

It will be missed.

Why mourn a law that no longer exists?

There will be some cynics who find it odd a North Carolina criminal defense law firm would favor a federal law that has been endorsed by prosecutors and police. The simplest answer to that is that VAWA was a good example of fair federal legislation that acted for the common good, and we’re not so shortsighted that we would ignore that. Over its lifetime, the law has sharply reduced the number of lives lost to domestic violence. It’s not perfect, but VAWA has done much more good than ill.

Domestic violence and spousal abuse is, even today, a significant social problem—yes, even right here in North Carolina. It’s not an equal-opportunity offender, however: even though men can be physically and sexually victimized, the majority of cases are hurt women by far. That’s why the Violence Against Women Act was essential. It was the first federal program to concentrate its resources on domestic violence incidents affecting the most frequent targets. Among VAWA’s accomplishments were:

  • Violence prevention programs in communities across the United States
  • Funding for rape hotlines and rape crisis centers
  • Targeted programs for special populations of women, such as immigrants, specific ethnic groups, and the disabled
  • Anti-stalking resources, including tougher sentences for stalkers under federal law
  • Legal assistance for women victimized by violence

Blame politics

The 2012 Senate bill reauthorizing VAWA tried—perhaps a little too ambitiously—to increase the scope of the law by providing broader protections for Native American women, undocumented immigrants, and sexual minorities. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R – Virginia) strongly opposed this expansion and worked to pass the House alternative bill, which omitted these expanded protections. There was no effort to reconcile the two bills, and the legislation died when Congress adjourned at the end of the year.

Given that Vice President Joe Biden was the chief developer of the 1994 law while he was serving as U.S. Senator from Delaware, some political commentators say that the failure to renew VAWA was a deliberate Republican insult to the Obama-Biden administration.

Supporters say there are plans to reintroduce the legislation in the new 113th Congress. We hope our Washington delegation can put aside partisan differences and support a renewed Violence Against Women Act that continues to provide protection for some of our most vulnerable citizens.

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