New Congress should focus on passing VAWA

By Sharon Stapel, executive director, New York City Anti-Violence Project

In a year where we have seen much progress from the White House and from the Department of Justice in addressing the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) survivors of violence, there is one national body that has failed to act. The 112th Congress has left much undone and has been slow to compromise or propose solutions to a myriad of issues and concerns facing the country – including for LGBTQ survivors of violence.

The 112th Congress failed to pass a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA, the nation’s response to intimate partner and sexual violence, has transformed the country’s response to these issues from a “private matter” to a recognized public health and social issue. VAWA has dramatically reduced intimate partner violence: the Department of Justice estimates the reduction at 64% from 1993 to 2010. VAWA has historically been passed by both Houses with full, bipartisan support and, even acknowledging the 112th Congress as the least productive Congress since the 1940’s, the failure to pass VAWA is unprecedented.

The problem is, of course, the resistance by some House members to include the needs of Tribal, immigrant and LGBTQ survivors of violence. Despite tremendous progress in the Senate, which passed a bipartisan bill that explicitly addressed the needs of these communities this past Spring, the House has refused to include all survivors of violence in their version of the reauthorization bill. Ultimately, an agreement could not be reached by the 112th Congress.

As an aside: this does not mean that VAWA no longer exists – VAWA is alive and well as it does not sunset. However, the appropriations provisions within the legislation, along with the ever-evolving understanding by advocates in the field about what survivors need, mean that reauthorizing the legislation itself, with better and more targeted responses to violence, makes sense.

In this reauthorization process, the idea that we should exclude anyone from protection from violence is patently ridiculous. The arguments that “the real VAWA” was meant to protect “certain” victims, as was made by the House when their bill was introduced excluding LGBTQ people from explicit mention, is blatantly homophobic. There is no question that LGBTQ people experience intimate partner and sexual violence at the same rates as any other community, and face additional obstacles when seeking support. To address, and end, this violence we must be able to explicitly name the problems – and the solutions. There is no credible justification for wanting to exclude LGTQ survivors – or Trial or immigrant survivors – from the protections that VAWA offers against domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. In a world as diverse as ours, we cannot afford to ignore any survivor of violence, and the only VAWA for the changing nation is one that includes all survivors.

The 113th Congress has now been sworn in. After a frustrating year of cliffs, inaction and partisan bickering, many are hoping that the 113th can get done what the 112th could not. We cannot afford to ignore the needs of any survivor of violence – that there has to be enough safety for everyone – and we expect the 113th Congress to represent the needs of all survivors. We look forward to the members of congress  working together in 2013 to make the world a safer place for everyone.

Stapel is executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

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