VAWA is Only the First Step

Emily Charlap, Public Policy Associate for Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND)

One of the things that makes our nation great is the notion of “liberty and justice for all.” Yet we haven’t quite achieved that goal. Women are disproportionately victimized in our own backyards, and measures must be put in place to ensure their liberties while seeking justice to hold perpetrators responsible for their actions.

Today, we hope that the House of Representatives will pass the bi-partisan Senate version reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) legislation which puts forth means toward the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women and imposes automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted. This marks a change of heart by House Republican Leadership who held up the reauthorization last year by refusing to bring the Senate’s version to the floor, passing its own version which left out important provisions, which stalled in bi-cameral reconciliations negotiations.

If ultimately successful, this year’s newly reauthorized VAWA contains clauses not included in the original legislation from 1994 or subsequent reauthorizations in 2000 and 2005, extending protections to LGBT and Native American victims of domestic violence, and shining more light on the prevention of sexual assault.

And just to complicate things, this is all taking place during the impending threat of sequestration – across-the-board indiscriminate federal budget cuts slated to take effect March 1 if Congress does not take action to stop it. Funding for programs that directly address violence against women, like domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, children’s services, prevention, community outreach, and other state and local programs that provide services for victims and families, are all on the chopping block. We need Congress to get its act together and figure out a balanced way to cut our deficit that will not sacrifice the well-being of American women. Maybe they should look at the Pentagon budget, where outdated programs that military leaders have said they no longer want or need somehow continue to receive funding. We need Congress to reshape federal budget priorities and AND the way we care for our female citizens.

This is a case where “almost” just isn’t good enough. We must do our part to make sure ALL American women are safe and secure, reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act is just the first step.


Congress: Pass a VAWA that includes Campus SaVE!

By Julia, Break the Cycle Intern

I graduated from college in May of 2012. And despite the fact that I now have to identify myself as an ‘alum’ for campus events, the passage of a Violence Against Women Act that includes Campus SaVE is still very important to me.

Some of this happens on the streets, in public spaces, and are committed by a stranger. But study after study shows that most people, most women, are harassed/assaulted/raped by someone that they know. And when you are in college, a lot of your life is confined to a campus and a limited number of people. For a number of years, a university campus is your school, your home, your work, and your social life. This means that people are going to be assaulted on campus. They will be raped on campus and they will be harassed on campus.

It’s a sadly common story, but I dare you to find a woman on a college campus who doesn’t know someone who has been assaulted, stalked, raped, or abused. Or who hasn’t experienced some degree of harassment herself.

It is the university’s responsibility to make their campus as safe as they possibly can. Campus SaVE will help universities in this goal.

If the Campus SaVE Act is included in VAWA, transparency, education, and accountability will all be increased on campuses and students will have a better chance at healing after they have experienced a traumatic event and everyone will be safer for it.

Make sure that everyone gets a chance at healing and justice, keep the pressure on Congress to pass a VAWA that includes Campus SaVE. Call your representatives today and demand Campus SaVE.

When Dating Violence Hits Close to Home

By by Madeline Shepherd, National Council of Jewish Women Legislative Aide

When I was a senior in college, the reality of domestic violence—and specifically teen dating violence—hit closer to home than any study or statistic ever could. I was preparing to graduate when another student killed his girlfriend, who was a sophomore at the time. Shock and sadness of indescribable depth enveloped our campus, a small community where you knew most of the faces you passed on the sidewalk. Overnight, we were pitched into a national debate about dating violence and mental health. Reporters roamed the grounds and snapped pictures of the candles and photographs assembled to honor the victim. We mourned as best we could, while the story was splashed across major news networks. Our paths have diverged, but every student present that day carries the memory we wish we didn’t share.

According to the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, three women are murdered by their partners every day in the United States. By my calculations that breaks down to one woman killed in the eight hours I spend at work; one for my time attending class, eating dinner, and relaxing with my roommates; and a third for the hours I’m asleep and preparing for another day.

February is Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness month. This name, important though it is, doesn’t do justice to the physical, mental, and emotional repercussions of what happened on my college campus and what takes place among young people every day across the country. Teen dating violence is more pervasive than most people realize. Every year, 1.5 million high school students across the United States experience physical abuse from a dating partner.

There are warning signs of abuse and ways to offer help and support to victims and there is even help for perpetrators-who can be found in relationships regardless of gender or sexuality.

Signs that someone might be abusive include:

  • telling a partner what to do
  • physically hurting a partner in any way
  • or isolating a partner from family or friends.

If you observe abuse or suspect a relationship is abusive, you can reach out and express your concern for the victim’s safety. By listening and acknowledging her feelings you can help a victim realize that abuse is not normal or justified. Focus on the victim, help connect her (or him) to resources in the community for help, and don’t contact the abuser, which could make things worse.

Every so often I think about the young woman at my school whose life ended so abruptly. We were at the same parties, shared mutual friends. She was an advocate and passionate about ending hunger and poverty. Nothing can bring her back; there is no caveat to this fact. But her story has impacted how I perceive violence, because it’s more prevalent than we would ever hope and can hardly imagine. That’s why legislation like the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), as passed in the Senate, is so vital. In fact, the Senate-passed VAWA actually improves and increases protections for victims of dating violence, particularly on college campuses. But wherever the violence takes place, no one in the United States should be left without resources or help.

The information here was gathered from Break the Cycle at LoveIsRespect.org, where you can find additional resources if you or someone you know are part of an abusive relationship.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

House can no longer ignore violence against LGBT community

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

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.

WHY WOMEN’S VOICES MUST “ROAR” IN MARCH, 2013

By M. DeLois (Dee) Strum, National President, The National Coalition of 100 Black Women

It is ironic that the month of March, established by the U.S. Congress, in 1987, as “Women’s Month of History”, may this year be remembered as the month in which the U.S. House of Representatives failed to reauthorizeone of the most powerful legal tools for the protection of ALL women against violence:  the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA.

On February 12, 2013, the U.S. Senate took up its version of VAWA as Senate Bill 47.
S. 47 did pass with strong bipartisan support, but unfortunately 22 male senators, (with all 22 members belonging to the same political party), voted against the reauthorization. Now we must look to the U.S. House of Representative to take up its version.  Even more members of the House object to very important parts of the Senate’s bill that will protect ALL women, not just some.

With data collected by the Department of Justice our members of congress should understand the necessity to strengthen laws against sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking:

  •  One in every four women and one in every seven men have experienced severe physical violence by a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend.
  • Each year in the U.S. , approximately 5.2 million women and 1.4 million men, experience domestic violence-related stalking;  the most common type of stalking and often the most dangerous.
  • One in ten high school students were physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend in 2009 alone.
  • One in five women and one in 71 men have been raped in their lifetimes, and nearly 1.3 million women in the U.S. are raped every year with these types of crimes often being under-reported.

 Many of these women are our mothers, sisters, nieces, aunts, friends and co-workers.

S. 47 includes the much needed funding for the prevention, prosecution, and victim services, with additional legislative supports for law enforcement, prosecutors offices and non-profits providing emergency shelters for women, and their families, as well as implementing educational campaigns to end domestic violence.

When the House returns to its legislative agenda, women everywhere must fight for VAWA’s legislative life.   This is especially true for African American women and organizations as violence against women in our community occurs far too often.

Our voices and actions must ensure that VAWA is reauthorized to the benefit of all women. Some House members object to sections of VAWA because it would equally apply to:

  • A woman who may be a member of the LGBTQ community;
  • Native American women living on a reservation, who suffer rape and or physical violence on the reservation;
  • “Un-documented”, or newly immigrated women, (who as a victim of domestic violence are fearful to seek law enforcement assistance because of the fear of deportation and prosecution).

The National Coalition of 100 Black Women (NCBW ) believes violence is violence, and “the law” should ensure that ALL are protected. NO perpetrator or entity should be able to interpret these potential exclusions as “permission” to abuse anyone.

As we approach Women’s History Month let’s make history once again! Please join NCBW and our allies in advocating for the 2013 Reauthorization of VAWA, fully enacted, and fully funded.  Please share the facts about violence against women with your family and church members, friends and colleagues. Visit the offices of your members of congress, write, email, and ask that they cast their vote in support of the Senate’s complete version of VAWA.

It is often said that “March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb”.  Women cannot be “meek as a lamb” on this issue; let’s Roar with one voice. Congress must pass an inclusive VAWA for all women. It is the only acceptable option.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

The National Coalition of 100 Black Women is an advocacy group for African American women.With sixty three member chapters across this country and a core mission focus in the areas of Health, Education, and Economic Empowerment through our strategic alliances and partnerships we are intentional about positively impacting the lives of our constituents; African American women and girls.

A VAWA For All Victims

By Shaina Goodman, Public Policy Coordinator, National Network to End Domestic Violence

Long before my day-to-day professional life involved advocating for the Violence Against Women Act – and before I even knew that VAWA existed – I believed in the importance of this bill.

As a college student, I volunteered at a transitional housing program for survivors of domestic violence and their children.  The women came to this program directly from emergency shelters and used their time in transitional housing to work towards safety and self-sufficiency.  In working with and advocating on behalf of these women, I saw firsthand how deep and complex their needs were.  In addition to healing from the physical and emotional trauma of being abused, these women were accessing numerous supports and resources – from legal assistance to help finding permanent housing to employment training.  As they navigated all of these systems, I saw their frustration and their sadness, and also their resolve and their hope. I saw them – and the incredible advocates that worked on the staff of this program – struggle for access to services, but also creatively and tenaciously piece together strategies for building a life after the violence.  What I didn’t know at the time was that VAWA was everywhere in the lives of these survivors; VAWA’s programs and funding supported and sustained nearly every resource that they accessed.

I carry the stories of the women, children, and staff that I met at the transitional housing program with me every day.  They stand out to me as examples of the importance and value of VAWA in the lives of people across the country.  And yet I also carry with me the stories of all of those that VAWA couldn’t reach – because, despite all of its successes, this bill does not yet provide services to all victims.  This reauthorization presents a critical opportunity to expand on the strengths of this legislation and extend VAWA to some of those victims that need it most.  There are Native American women – a population that suffers from shockingly high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault – seeking safety, and tribal courts that must be empowered to provide justice and hold offenders in their communities accountable.  There are victims living in federally subsidized housing programs that are too often discriminated against or evicted because of actions perpetrated by their abusers.  There are immigrant victims who need access to U visas so that they can live securely in this country without their abusers forcing them to choose between violence and deportation.  There are college students without access to prevention education or comprehensive campus-based resources.  There are LGBT survivors of violence who don’t have access to the same services and protection to overcome trauma and find safety.

It is the stories of all of these survivors that inform my work and are the reason why I advocate for the Violence Against Women Act.  They are why we need a strong, inclusive, bipartisan VAWA.  They are why we need a VAWA that safely and effectively protects all victims.  They are why we need a VAWA that supports the critical work of local programs and state coalitions in ensuring that victims have access to the services they need and deserve.  For all of them, we need VAWA now.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

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.

Prioritizing Campus Safety

There is a crisis at colleges and universities across the nation­. In just the first six weeks of 2013, a Huffington Post survey found 75 instances of sexual assaults reported on college campuses. This is outrageous, but we shouldn’t be surprised. A U.S. Department of Justice study found that around 28 percent of women are targets of attempted or completed sexual assault while they are college students.

Why is it, then, that on a recent Fox News roundtable, The Five, co-host Bob Beckel asked, “When was the last time you heard about a rape on campus?” Although Beckel’s question suggests his ignorance about the rampancy of sexual assault on campus, his comment is especially misguided given that the number of reported incidents is only a fraction of the actual number that occurs. The Department of Justice study finds the reported number to be between 2 and 13 percentof all assaults, depending on the circumstances.

Beyond the shame, stigma, and fear associated with reporting a sexual assault, victims’ hesitancy to come forward often stems from unawareness about the resources and protection available to them on college campuses. Under the Clery Act of 1990, American colleges and universities are required to disclose information about crime on their campuses, including incidents of sexual assault. Yet even under the law’s requirements, ongoing incidents — like the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill’s alleged underreporting of sexual assault to the federal government — highlight that we must do more.

Currently, schools are not required to provide prevention training to all students, nor do they have to have a public and comprehensive policy explain the resources available to students and the procedures students should follow when such an incident occurs. That’s why AAUW has been working to pass the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act, which was included in the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act recently passed by the Senate.

The Campus SaVE Act, championed by Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), would require all colleges and universities to create prevention programs for students. Schools would also need to report more than just the number of sexual assaults on campus — including greater transparency about dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking. Under the act, victims would also be provided with information on counseling, health services, school disciplinary proceedings, and legal options. By spreading awareness and expanding resources available to students, the act aims to reduce sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking on campus, while also encouraging victims to seek help and report the crimes.

Standing in the way of the Campus SaVE Act’s goals is the House of Representatives, where Republican leadership recently released its own version of VAWA. Notably absent from the House bill is Campus SaVE. For this and other reasons, AAUW simply cannot support the House bill.

Each day that VAWA is not reauthorized with campus safety measures means another day that victims go without the resources they need. We can’t wait another day, much less another year. We must pass the Violence Against Women Act now with the Campus SaVE Act included. Use AAUW’s Action Network to tell your representative you agree.

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member and AAUW Public Policy Intern Bethany Imondi. Imondi’s participation in the SAC is sponsored by Dagmar E. McGill in memory of Happy Fernandez and Helen F. Faust.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

We are not bargaining chips

By Ryane Ridenour, Generational Alliance

Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

It is infuriating that Congress cannot get this right. They are missing an opportunity to pass something that everyone agrees on and receive a pat on the back for doing so. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), enacted in 1994, not only recognizes the prevalence of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking—but it also provides funding for prosecution of crimes and includes cost saving responses and services to these instances. Win-Win?

It should be, but some elected officials are using specific communities—that should be covered—to stall the process for re-authorization. The LGBTQ community was removed from VAWA by leaving out “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from the list of populations that face barriers to victim services in the bill that was introduced by the House—which disqualifies LGBTQ survivors from receiving many benefits.

A recent study by the Center for Disease Control found that lesbians and gay men experience violence at the same or at higher rates than heterosexual people. Transgender survivors were almost 2 times as likely as cisgendered folks (peopled who were born with the same gender they indentify with) to report experiencing sexual violence.

If it is about being underserved, more than 61% of LGBTQ survivors are turned away from domestic violence shelters and almost 33% are wrongly arrested as the aggressor by law enforcement. If this is not enough to convince you, 85% of service providers working with LGBTQ survivors said they saw discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Because the statistics tell a different story, we can only assume that the House is excluding LGBTQ protections from VAWA because it means they have to admit that we exist and that we deserve the same protections as anyone else.

Tell Congress that LGBTQ people are not bargaining chips, and any effort to weaken or stall VAWA does not reflect the will of you or this country.

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.

Ryane Ridenour is the Political Communications Coordinator at the Generational Alliance. The Gen Alliance is a strategic collaboration of 22 national youth organizations that builds community and collective power for the emerging majority of young people of color, women, LGBTQ folks, and low-income communities. For more information on how VAWA will affect LGBTQ people contact our member, GetEqual.

Congress’ Opportunity to Protect All Women From Violence—We Say, Yes!

By Cristina M. Finch: Managing Director, Women’s Human Rights Program, Amnesty International USA and Adjunct Law Professor, George Mason University School of Law

On January 21, 2013, the National Mall in Washington DC was packed with thousands of eager people who witnessed President Barack Obama get sworn in for his second term.  During his speech, President Obama reminded us of our “vow to move forward together” on the challenges we face together as a country.  In the days immediately following, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives announced that the two chambers were jointly reintroducing the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a law that since 1994 has sent the message that violence against women is criminal and helped to ensure that the millions of women who experience domestic and sexual violence, dating violence, and stalking receive the protection and support that they need.

VAWA fell prey to partisan politics in the 112th Congress but today, the new Congress must seize this opportunity to reaffirm and uphold the right of all women to a violence-free life by reauthorizing Violence Against Women Act with provisions extending protections to Native American and Alaska Native women, immigrant women, and LGBT individuals.  The U.S. Senate did its part and seized this opportunity by passing a bipartisan and inclusive VAWA on February 12, 2013. Now is the time for the House to do the same; support and pass an inclusive VAWA that includes all communities.

The new Congress is presented with the opportunity of a new start to expand and solidify the United States’ commitment to ensuring that all individuals are treated equally.  The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act is one step closer to realizing the fundamental principles the United States stands upon.  The United States can and must move forward together to end violence against all women once and for all.

Take action by calling the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and telling your Member of Congress to support an inclusive VAWA! You can also take action online at: www.aiusa.org/vawa

Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.