WASHINGTON (BP) — Enacted into law as landmark legislation, the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 has received bipartisan support every time it has needed reauthorization, but not this year.
A 10-8 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee produced division along party lines over the act — known as VAWA — and its protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights; undocumented immigrants; and Native American authority.
“There are provisions in the bill before us that have never been part of VAWA before. They’re not consensus items,” Sen. Charles Grassley, R.-Iowa, the panel’s lead Republican, said in a press release before the vote.
Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land and two dozen other conservative leaders urged the Judiciary Committee to reject the bill.
They said in a Feb. 1 letter VAWA would harm the family while maintaining programs that are ineffective. They acknowledged the “very real problem of violence against women and children” but said VAWA “encourages the demise of the family as a means to eliminate violence.” The signers also said the latest version of VAWA would add expensive programs, including one that would have the effect of re-educating “school children into domestic violence ideology.”
The letter quoted Angela Moore Parmley, a Department of Justice official who wrote in 2004, “We have no evidence to date that VAWA has led to a decrease in the overall levels of violence against women.”
Other signers of the letter included Penny Nance, president of Concerned Woman for America; Tom McClusky, senior vice president of Family Research Council; Phyllis Schlafly, chairman of Eagle Forum, and Mathew Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel.
Opponents disagree with parts of VAWA, not with the intent of VAWA. “If all S. 1925 did was reauthorize the valuable programs that VAWA authorizes, I’d be an original cosponsor,” Grassley said.
VAWA would extend the power of Native American tribes “over all persons” in the special circumstance of domestic violence, allowing them to open and operate rape crisis centers with grant money from the measure.
For undocumented immigrants, visas would be extended to those who are victims of domestic violence if they meet all the requirements in the bill.
The bill would make grants available to programs that serve those in the LGBT community who are victims of domestic violence. It also prohibits discrimination in funding based on gender.
VAWA — enacted in 1994 and reauthorized in 2000 and 2005 — has produced a domestic violence hotline (two million calls a year) and new federal and state laws (660) to improve help for victims and punish perpetrators.
The law has many defenders.
VAWA has changed the definition of domestic violence, stalking and the prosecution of these crimes, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
“Domestic violence in America is down 50 percent since the passage of the Violence Against Women Act,” Vice President Joe Biden said in September. He originally drafted VAWA in 1994.
Stats show that “nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 75 men in the U.S. have been raped at some time in their lives,” and a majority of the victims knew the perpetrator, according to a 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey done by the Centers for Disease Control.
VAWA’s co-sponsors are Sen. Patrick Leahy, D.-Vt., and Sen. Michael Crapo, R.-Idaho. Leahy is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Esta Solar, president of Futures Without Violence, said, “We are grateful to Leahy and Crapo for introducing this important piece of legislation that has set the standard for our national response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.”
The legislation will need 60 votes to pass in the full Senate. Even if VAWA is not reauthorized, it will still be funded, Grassley said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee vote was Feb. 16
Mark Norton is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.