Violence Against Women Act

Refusal to extend protections to every woman endangers us all.

Bronwyn Miller

One in four American women experience violence at the hand of an intimate partner. Women ages 16 to 24 experience rape at a rate four times higher than all women do.

Statistics like these are the reason we have dedicated October to Domestic Violence Awareness since 1987. It’s a time for remembrance of victims, celebration of survivors and a tribute to those who fight for this cause. However, the atrocities faced by so many women are presently being ignored as our elected officials refuse to renew the Violence Against Women Act. This year’s month of recognition is undermined by our representatives’ failure to grasp the magnitude of the issue.

In 1994, VAWA was passed with bipartisan support. Since then, its laws have provided a vast range of grants and services, including support for programs like funding for victim assistance services, rape crisis centers and hotlines, legal aid for survivors of violence and community violence prevention programs, just to name a few. Annual rates of domestic violence have dropped by more than 60 percent since passage of the bill — a truly impressive statistic.

VAWA has breezed through renewal without controversy twice since its inception and is now in need of being renewed once again. But members of Congress have parted ways until after the election, leaving VAWA very much expired. The Senate and House — with Democrat and Republican majorities, respectively — passed separate bills in the spring and have since been unable to reconcile their versions. In failing to do so, the 112th Congress illustrates a critical lack of consideration for women and human rights in general. Shouldn’t the protection of women cross party lines?

The majority in the House doesn’t see it that way. In April, with the support of 15 Republicans, Senate passed a version of VAWA that extended the protections for women who are Native American, college students, LGBT or undocumented immigrants. But the Republican version omitted these provisions in the bill the House passed a month later.

The Senate’s inclusion of these particular groups was not an accident. These are the groups that are suffering the most. Native Americans experience the highest rates of domestic violence in the country and are ten times more likely to be murdered than other American women. A 1978 Supreme Court ruling prevents the prosecution of non-native people. This means that non-Indian men who abuse their wives or girlfriends currently go unpunished. The Senate’s provision would provide tribes the authority to hold these perpetrators accountable for their crimes, regardless of their race.

The plight for the other specified groups is similarly disturbing. As college women, we should be outraged by the House’s decision to remove the critical components in the Senate’s bill that would implement more measures to reduce violence on college campuses. Sexual assault still occurs at high levels in this country. We undoubtedly have a long way to go, and the House’s bill simply does not lay the proper groundwork.

No victim should be forced to sit and wait to be acknowledged while Congress bickers. These are our elected officials, and they are failing us in what is very often a true matter of life and death. Throughout Domestic Violence Awareness month, many of us will spearhead our own awareness and prevention efforts, but the ignorance of our politicians will sting each and every day. To be shown by those in power that the struggles we face are not political priorities damages not only the psyche of victims but women everywhere. Ignoring any particular group of women demoralizes every one of us.