After its rejected renewal last year, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) passed on Thursday by a 286-138 House vote. Proposed earlier this month, the Senate’s bipartisan version passed after the House version recently lost by 166-257. Compared to the House version of VAWA, the Senate’s passed legislation includes protection for Native Americans, undocumented immigrants and LGBTQ individuals. It garnered support from all women, Democrats, and over half of Republicans.
VAWA was originally passed in 1994 and was reauthorized in 2000 and 2005. The purpose of VAWA is to improve criminal justice and community responses to sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. Through it, Congress is able to fund grant programs focused on helping victims and preventing sexual assault, such as STOP Grants, Transitional Housing Grants, Federal Victim Assistants and the Sexual Assault Services Program. The law itself provides services including the federal rape shield law, community violence prevention programs, funding for victim assistance programs, protection for females forced to leave their homes do to violence or stalking, immigrant aids, disability aids and legal aid for survivors. This past year was the first time VAWA was not renewed; Republicans opposed Democratic support on the basis of including specific legislation covering Native Americans, illegal immigrants, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals under the law.
Democratic leaders in the House questioned why their Republican counterparts refused to support passage of VAWA, even though the House majority leader Eric Cantor of Virginia said their goal with the House’s adjusted version of the law was to “make sure all women are safe.” Passage of VAWA will increase taxes for those with high incomes, but this does not justify the refusal to support anti-violence programs for all women in the United States, regardless of race, class or legal status. Before the Thursday vote, Democrat Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, who is a rape survivor, urged her colleagues to vote in favor of VAWA and support all victims of sexual assault by quoting Sojourner Truth, repeating, “Ain’t they women?” Thankfully, it worked.