Enacted in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) established federal programs and policies to combat the harmful and persistent impact that domestic violence, sexual assault, and dating violence has on our society. Startling statistics demonstrate the need for these protections – nearly one in four women are the victims of rape or abuse by a partner during adulthood, with young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experiencing the highest rate of partner violence. One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18, half of which are victims of incest.
Through VAWA, the federal government streamlined programs to support the needs of victims and provided law enforcement, judges, and prosecutors with the resources they need to hold offenders accountable.
The bipartisan-passed VAWA works, standing as an example of meaningful and successful legislation. Since 1994, reporting by victims of domestic violence has increased by as much as 51 percent, while the number of individuals killed by an intimate partner has dropped by 34 percent for women and 57 percent for men. Victims of domestic violence, dating violence, and sexual assault are now able to access critical services. In just the first six years after enactment, VAWA saved an estimated $12.6 billion in net averted costs for medical and legal services and lost earnings. VAWA has prompted states to enact important protections for victims of stalking and strengthened rape laws.
As with most federal initiatives, VAWA must be periodically revised and updated. Given its success, VAWA has been reauthorized twice on a bipartisan basis. Earlier this month, the Senate voted on a comprehensive bill to reauthorize VAWA that included important new protections for immigrants, LGBT individuals and Native American women. The legislation passed by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 68-31.
But instead of moving forward with the Senate version, Republican leadership in the House betrayed the longstanding bipartisan tradition of VAWA and brought forward an incomplete bill, H.R. 4970, to the floor. They did so under what is called a closed rule, which prevented Democrats from offering constructive amendments, including amendments to provide protections similar to the Senate bill. In addition, the House version would actually weaken protections in current law for migrant victims of violence, leaving immigrant victims without meaningful access to protection and harming the ability of law enforcement to investigate serious crimes such as human trafficking. Ultimately, I could not support a version of this bill that deliberately excluded protections for vulnerable, underserved populations.
Congress must pass a strong Violence Against Women Act reauthorization. The House bill falls well short of that critical necessity. Our collective priority should be ensuring that every woman in the United States is protected from violence and abuse.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.