Editorial: What Really Happened with the Violence Against Women Act?

May 25, 2012 - As the Executive Director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence it is ironic that I recently had to oppose the House version of the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). What has traditionally been a very effective piece of bipartisan legislation has turned into a mechanism for partisan politics. While there were many attempts by members of our own delegation to work toward a version of the reauthorization that will benefit ALL victims, in the end two very different versions of VAWA have been passed, and the future of this vital program is in jeopardy. In this battle there are no winners, and, unfortunately, it is victims of crime who will suffer.

The Coalition supported the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act, which passed by a vote of 68 to 31 on April 26. Both Senators Shaheen and Ayotte co-sponsored and voted for this bill. Senator Shaheen went above and beyond, advocating on the Senate floor and in various press conferences, reaching out to her colleagues to demonstrate the impact of these funds. She visited Bridges Domestic and Sexual Violence Services in Nashua and the Strafford County Family Justice Center, and she spoke with survivors and advocates, bringing their stories to Washington.

Last week the House of Representatives took up their own version of VAWA, a piece of legislation with many differences from the version passed by the Senate. This legislation was pushed through extremely quickly, and the bill sponsors chose not to listen to the 325 organizations who opposed it. These organizations include everyone from the National Association of Evangelicals to Planned Parenthood.  When asked about these opposition groups, Representative Adams, the bill’s sponsor, simply said, “Shame on them.”

The House sponsored a version of VAWA that undermines lifesaving housing protections, lowers reporting standards for violence and stalking on college campuses, fails to provide additional protections for native American women, and fails to include language that would prohibit discrimination against LGBT victims.

Previous versions of VAWA included provisions that protect immigrant women, yet the House removed these provisions which in the past received near-unanimous Congressional support. It was only this year that they became controversial. These provisions protect immigrant victims of serious crimes, such as trafficking, who want to help law enforcement put dangerous criminals behind bars. In addition the House version weakens critical and longstanding provisions that allow battered immigrant spouses of US citizens to escape abusive relationships and obtain the permanent immigration status to which they are already entitled.

Supporters of the House version touted new provisions to VAWA: one to crack down on fraud identified in the immigration program and another to increase the auditing requirements to make sure tax dollars are spent effectively. On the surface these provisions may make sense, but in reality they were included without any studies or reports to back up any claims of fraud or misuse of funds.

The Department of Justice has reported that “VAWA grants are being used effectively for their intended purpose.” If the provision to create more oversight of grantees is included, it will not only create bigger government, it will also divert 5% of the entire VAWA grant funding from direct services to pay for this increased bureaucracy.

The Coalition would like to thank Congressman Charlie Bass for being one of the few members of his party to not only vote against this bill but also for speaking out against it. In a press release the Congressman stated:

"After studying this legislation carefully and working with New Hampshire organizations that assist victims of violence, I could not support this particular bill. I have serious concerns that H.R. 4970 does not adequately protect all victims. I am also troubled by the direct impact that this legislation would have on the crisis centers in New Hampshire that helped hundreds of victims in our state last year alone.”

We expect our delegation to do what is right for ALL victims. During a time of great need, we should be expanding cost-effective, proven protections rather than weakening them.

The next step in the reauthorization process has yet to be clearly defined, but we hope this process will produce a stronger version of VAWA which will benefit ALL victims of crime. This is not about politics, it’s about good public policy.

Kim France
Executive Director
New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

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