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Violence Against Women Act Reintroduced: Will Congress Act?

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Speaker John Boehner joins House Republican Women in support of legislation (H.R. 4970) renewing funding for the Violence Against Women Act. May 16, 2012.

CREDIT: Flickr/ SpeakerBoehner

On Tuesday, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) reintroduced an updated version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that does not include the much-debated provision to increase the number of visas available for immigrants who are victims of domestic violence. However, it remains to be seen whether the updated version of the bill will gain the approval of the House. 

Earlier this month Congress failed to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill, rendering the 18-year-old and historically bipartisan legislation ineffective. The GOP-led House's refusal to extend protections to LGBT, undocumented immigrant, and Native American communities largely blocked the reauthorization and in the process jeopardized funding for shelters and programs for survivors of intimate partner violence.

Since the VAWA was first enacted in 1994, victims of domestic violence and rape didn't have to worry about whether their protection order would follow them from state to state if they moved, or whether their attacker would use their past sexual history against them in court. A major step forward that helped victims feel safer.

In short, VAWA worked. The Department of Justice estimating a 64 percent reduction in domestic violence from 1993 to 2010. But the unprecedented failure to pass VAWA may have disastrous consequences as funding for programs dry up.

Young people are particularly at risk if VAWA isn't reauthorized. It could result in the cutting off of financial lifelines to college campus programs geared to ensure dating violence and domestic violence incidents are included in campus crime reports. The Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education reported 2,385 incidences of sexual violence in college residence halls in 2010.

Time is ticking and it's up to the new Congress to do the right thing and reauthorize VAWA.

Advocates paint the debate as being about a bi-partisan human rights issue, not just a women's issue. "We as men should be the largest advocates for reauthorization as it will allow us to live in a world that is safe for all of our people," said Sacchi Patel, co-founder of MasculinityU, an organization that focuses on challenging the traditional idea of masculinity.

"To ensure that our sisters are safe and protected by law is not a women's issue, it's a human issue."

Molly Miller is a reporter for Campus Progress.

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