The most recent tactic in conservatives’ war on women is their unprecedented attack on legislation to reauthorize the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Some Senate Republicans have derided the measure as politically motivated, accusing Democrats of initiating a Machiavellian scheme to “invite opposition” by adding to the bill proposals that Republicans could not support in order to accuse Republicans “of not being supportive of fighting violence against women.” The reauthorization bill, theViolence Against Women Act of 2011 (S. 1925), was introduced by Democrat Patrick Leahy (VT) and Republican Mike Crapo (ID) and has gained support on both sides of the aisle—similar to the original VAWA, which President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1994, and its subsequent reauthorizations in 2000 and 2005—despite calls for opposition from some conservative Republicans and interest groups. The VAWA reauthorization passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a strict party line vote of 10–8, marking the first time since its passage that VAWA legislation did not emerge from committee with bipartisan support. VAWA must be reauthorized in 2012 in order to ensure the continuation of its programs, which take “a comprehensive approach to violence against women by combining tough new penalties to prosecute offenders while implementing programs to aid the victims of such violence.”
Since its original passage in 1994, VAWA has been hailed as saving countless lives. The rate of homicide victims killed by an intimate partner has decreased 29%; however, women continue to make up the same proportion of victims of fatal attacks by an intimate partner as they did before VAWA was passed. Rates of reported nonfatal intimate partner violence have decreased 53% in that time. While progress has been made, instances of domestic violence, intimate partner abuse, sexual assault, and stalking remain staggeringly high. Almost two-thirds of female homicide victims are killed by a family member or intimate partner. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 1.3 million people were raped in 2010 and nearly one in five women has been raped in her lifetime. In addition, in 2010, over five million people were stalked. The CDC estimates that over 1 in 3 women and over 1 in 10 menhave experienced “rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime.”
Both the 2000 and 2005 reauthorizations of VAWA expanded the number of populations served by its programs. The 2000 reauthorization increased protections for undocumented immigrants, survivors of sexual assault, and victims of dating violence. It also enabled “victims of domestic violence that flee across state lines to obtain custody orders without returning to jurisdictions where they may be in danger . . . [and] improved the enforcement of protection orders across state and tribal lines.” In 2005, additional attention was paid to underserved populations. Similarly, the Violence Against Women Act of 2011 increases focus on segments of the population who do not benefit from existing laws and programs as much as necessary, including young people; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals; undocumented immigrants; and Native American women living on tribal land.
Young people are particularly vulnerable to dating violence—one in five females and one in seven males who ever experience violence at the hands of an intimate partner will first experience intimate it between the ages of 11 and 17—and theViolence Against Women Act of 2011 addresses this problem. Its streamlined Saving Money and Reducing Tragedies through Prevention (SMART) grant program will provide funding for programs devoted to “raising awareness and changing attitudes about teen dating violence . . . preventing, reducing, and responding to children’s exposure to violence at home . . . and helping men to serve as role models in preventing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.” The legislation also provides funds for reducing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking on college and university campuses.
Conservative ire is focused on the provisions in the Violence Against Women Act of 2011 that address LGBT individuals, undocumented immigrants, and Native American women living on tribal land. The legislation specifies that services must be extended to LGBT individuals who experience intimate partner violence or rape, as many providers focus primarily on male–female attacks or exhibit bias against LGBT survivors. In addition, many institutions do not provide adequate training on the specific needs of the LGBT population, although evidence suggests that “intimate partner violence occurs in the relationships of LGBT people at about the same rate as in heterosexual relationships, or in approximately 25 to 33 percent of all relationships.” Despite these facts, Republican senators Charles Grassley (IA), Orrin Hatch (UT), Jon Kyl (AZ), and John Cornyn (TX) deemed the bill’s focus on LGBT individuals “a solution in search of a problem.” Republicans also claim that increasing the number of visas given to undocumented immigrants who cooperate with prosecutors in order to convict their assailants from the current cap of 10,000 to 15,000 will lead to immigration fraud. More than the allotted 10,000 visas have been requested in each of the past two years. These objections prompted Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to address the Senate floor:
I ask my friends on the other side, to the victim in a same-sex relationship, is the violence any less real, is the danger any less real because you happen to be gay or lesbian? I do not think so. If a family comes to the country and the husband beats his wife to a bloody pulp, do we say: ‘‘Well, you are illegal. I am sorry. You do not deserve any protection?’’ No, we do not. And 9–1–1 operators and police officers do not refuse to help victims because of their sexual orientation, or the country in which they were born, or their immigration status. When you call the police in America, they come regardless of who you are.
Finally, Republicans object to a provision giving Native American tribes “special domestic-violence criminal jurisdiction to hold non-Indian offenders accountable in very limited circumstances” for crimes that occur on tribal land.
Despite the vocal opposition, the bill gained its 60th cosponsor on March 22, 2012, which will clear the way for it to be considered by the full Senate.
Jonathan Weisman, “Women Figure Anew in Senate’s Latest Battle,” New York Times, 14 March 2012, accessed 24 March 2012, <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/15/us/politics/violence-against-women-act-divides-senate.html?_r=3&pagewanted=1&hpw>.
Amanda Terkel, “Violence Against Women Act Becomes Partisan Issue,” Huffington Post, 14 February 2012, accessed 24 March 2012, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/14/violence-against-women-act_n_1273097.html>.
Michelle Black et al., National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report (Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, November 2011), accessed 24 March 2012, <http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_Report2010-a.pdf>, 18.
U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women, memo.
Black et al., National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 49.
Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2011: Section by Section Analysis, Office of Senator Patrick Leahy, accessed 24 March 2012, <http://www.leahy.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/SectionBySection-ViolenceAgainstWomenReauthorizationAct.pdf>, 9.
Why It Matters: Rethinking Victim Assistance for LGBTQ Victims of Hate Violence & Intimate Partner Violence (New York: National Center for Victims of Crime and the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, March 2010), accessed 24 March 2012, <http://www.avp.org/documents/WhyItMatters.pdf>, 5.
U.S. Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, The Violence Against Women Act of 2011 (S. Rpt. 112-152), 12 March 2012, accessed 24 March 2012, <http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CRPT-112srpt153/pdf/CRPT-112srpt153.pdf>, 39.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, “The Violence Against Women Act of 2011,” Congressional Record 158:43 (15 March 2012), accessed 24 March 2012, <http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CREC-2012-03-15/pdf/CREC-2012-03-15-senate.pdf>, S1702.