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Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Dies in House Hands

by Terri Harel, published

The House let the Violence Against Women Act, which supports critical rape and domestic violence counseling programs and other violence prevention strategies, silently expire this week.

Earlier this month, Democratic senators wrote to female Republican House representatives, urging them to push the legislation within their party. The women indicated they were open about the Senate’s broader Violence Against Women Act reauthorization bill, which incorporated provisions extending protections and services to 30 million more women in the LGBT and Native American communities.

Democratic Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) has been an active proponent of the Senate’s provisions and says she plans to reintroduce the legislation in 2013.

Vice President Joe Biden had been working closely with House majority leader Eric Cantor to strike a deal, but House Republicans wouldn’t budge without the removal of the American Indian protections.

The Senate provisions provide critical protections to vulnerable female demographics, and without their passage the bill leaves out a huge number of women from governmental protections against violence. The contested provision regarding American Indians gives tribal authorities power to prosecute perpetrators of violence, even if they are non-Indians.

According to a study by Amnesty International, 86% of Native American women who have been raped or sexually assaulted had non-Indian perpetrators. Tribal lands often have limited access to non-tribal authorities, making it critical for tribes to have full jurisdiction over criminal activities committed on their land and against tribe members.

The House passed a less inclusive version of the bill, H.R. 4970, back in May and the Obama administration openly opposed the move, calling it regressive for women’s rights. The statement of disapproval read:

"The Administration urges the House to find common ground with the bipartisan Senate-passed bill and consider and pass legislation that will protect all victims.  H.R. 4970 rolls back existing law and removes long-standing protections for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault – crimes that predominately affect women.  If the President is presented with H.R. 4970, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill."

After nearly 20 years in action, with plans to extend its benefits, it is baffling that VAWA died in the House. The Senate-proposed reauthorization had passed with strong bipartisan support in April. While each party points fingers as to the fault of the bill’s death, millions of women will be denied life-saving services and counseling. Hopefully the important bill can be reinstated in 2013, but legislators who refused to budge on the provisions should reflect on the opportunity costs of bolstering political careers – it comes at a high price to women’s rights.


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