On February 12th, the Senate passed S. 47, a bill that reauthorizes the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) by a 78-22 margin. VAWA is our nation’s response to domestic and sexual violence and provides the greatest source of programming and funding for survivors of domestic and sexual violence in the United States. The bill is inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT), immigrant and Tribal survivors. These underserved communities were determined to be priorities of the more than 2,000 victim services advocates across the country who worked for the past two years to create a bill that reaches all victims.
VAWA will now be taken up in the House of Representatives. Many members of Congress have expressed their opposition to the inclusion of LGBT survivors of violence. Some have suggested that they don’t know if LGBT survivors of violence even need to be included in VAWA. These arguments suggest an inevitable impasse, conditions that we saw in the 112th Congress. But although much of the markings of this process seem the same, I think there is one critical difference between the 112th and 113th Congress: A CDC Report issued on January 28, 2013 just 25 days after the 113th Congress was sworn into office.
On this day the Centers for Disease Control released the first nationally representative prevalence estimates of sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence among those who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual in the United States and the results were stark. Lesbians, gay men and bisexual people experience sexual and intimate partner violence at the same or higher rates as heterosexual people. Nearly 44 percent of lesbians and 26 percent of gay men have been the victim of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner over the course of their lifetime. The CDC found the following prevalence for lifetime prevalence of intimate partner violence, including physical assault, rape or stalking: bisexual women (61 percent), lesbians (43.8 percent), bisexual men (37 percent), heterosexual women (35 percent), heterosexual men (29 percent), and gay men (26 percent). The CDC did not include transgender people, however, one study shows that transgender survivors of violence were almost 2 times as likely to report experiencing sexual violence and transgender people of color were almost 2 times as likely to report experiencing threats or intimidation from intimate partners.
This news is not new news but it is significant. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs has reported on IPV for more than 15 years and found that intimate partner and sexual violence were epidemics in LGBT people’s lives. But our studies were the work of advocates doing the front line work with survivors of violence and never meant to be representative of the prevalence throughout the United States. The CDC, with a mission to prevent violence and injuries, and reduce their consequences, does measure this prevalence and, more than that, is an ‘official,” governmental word on this issue.
And now we know what we have always known really: this violence is real, it harms the LGBT communities and it can no longer be ignored. It is no longer theoretical – the U.S. government tells us the problem is real. So now that our country has defined the problem, our country now has an obligation to solve it. There is a way to address this problem through VAWA. Congress has been divided on this issue and much of the resistance to explicitly including LGBT survivors in VAWA have been predicated on the idea that we don’t know there is a problem. Now we know. And with this knowledge we have an obligated to act. We also know the way in which we can address the issues.
Refusing to explicitly include LGBT people in VAWA is no longer defensible. We can no longer hide behind the idea that we don’t know. We have always known but now those who must have ‘unbiased proof’ have it. And it’s time for the House to do the right thing for all survivors of violence.
Stapel is the executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP).
Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.