House Finally Passes Expanded Violence Against Women Act, With Extremely Minimal GOP Cooperation

In a conclusion to one of the most protracted and frustrating legislative gridlocks in recent memory, today the House of Representatives has finally passed the Violence Against Women Act – and it includes expanded protections for Native women and survivors in same-sex relationships. In what should have been a resoundingly uncontroversial vote, the bill passed with a 286 – 138 vote. The votes in its favor were made up of 199 Democrats and 87 Republicans.There were more Republicans voting against the bill than supporting it. Since the bill has already passed in the Senate, it now has only to move forward to President Obama’s desk; he has said he will sign the bill as soon as he gets it.

Activists Holds Rally For Re-Authorization Of The Violence Against Women Act

The bill originally lapsed in 2011, but when expanded protections were introduced that made it clear that queer survivors of abuse also deserved access to the support made possible by VAWA and gave tribal courts on Native land the power to prosecute perpetrators who abused Native women even if they themselves were non-Native, House Republicans balked at renewing the act. Conservative recognition of the gravity of abuse within same-sex relationships (or same-sex relationships at all) has never been adequate, and many Republicans felt that increased agency for tribal courts was unconstitutional. Eric Cantor proposed a counter-version of the bill which didn’t include any extra protections, which was soundly voted down by Democrats and some Republicans. Eventually, with the outcry of anti-domestic violence activists and supporters of women’s rights, a critical mass of Republicans were persuaded to support the version that the Senate had passed, largely due to the increasingly negative image the issue was giving the Republican party. (They are aware, perhaps, that a Republican presidential candidate hasn’t had a majority of women’s votes since 1984.)

The funding provided by VAWA is less than it has in previous years; there’s been a 17% decrease from 2005, the last time the act was reauthorized. While supporters are disappointed, they also acknowledge that with lower federal budgets overall, the decrease isn’t unreasonable. After President Obama’s signing of the bill, $660 million of funding for shelters, consent and anti-rape education, survivor’s advocates, hotlines, law enforcement training, and other programs can resume. This bill has also added stalking to the list of crimes which make immigrants eligible for protection regardless of citizenship status, and works towards education programs on sexual assault on campuses and attempts to deal with the backlog of rape kits.

Violence against women is an inarguable fact; it affects women regardless of political affiliation or voting record, although it’s an even worse epidemic for women in marginalized communities. Over the past twenty years, VAWA has played a large part in reducing domestic violence by two-thirds. There is no conceivable excuse for having allowed it to lapse as long as it did — and no excuse for the fact that a majority of Republicans still opposed it. Although the Violence Against Women Act can give us powerful tools and support to decrease violence, it won’t make violence disappear, and it’s still up to us as people to work to end it. And in the same vein, even though enough Republicans granted this issue their support for it to pass, it’s important to remember that it was largely political pressure, not a change of understanding, that accomplished it – and that most of their colleagues would prefer to see VAWA still under debate rather than helping women. It’s also our job to work to change that, and to bring about a political climate in which women’s lives are paramount, not an afterthought to petty Congressional power plays.

 

Avatar of Rachel

Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books as well as news and politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel currently lives in Michigan. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

Rachel has written 736 articles for us.

5 Comments

  1. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    Thank you for making this so easy to understand!
    I’m completely appalled that this would have such a strong debate against it. Do these republicans honestly believe that women shouldn’t have these protections? It isn’t even about special rights, you know? It’s necessary protections that all humans should be agreeing with.

  2. Thumb up 6

    Please log in to vote

    rachel, as always, you’ve broken down the politics and made the info easy to understand and digest. not that i necessarily want to be digesting what i just read…

    to be clear: obviously i’m psyched that this passed, finally. and i’m very happy that the “good version” as my friends and i have been calling it is the version that passed, rather than the watered-down bullshit the republicans were trying to introduce.

    however.

    so much of this is disheartening. you make it so clear that while this is an ultimate victory for our side (humanity? people who care about keeping all human beings safe? i don’t really know who wouldn’t be on that side but there you go) the thought-process that allowed this whole thing to turn into such a mess in the first place is still very soundly in place, and that’s a loss for us…”us” being everyone.

    i was going to pull the lines from your post that particularly troubled me (“There were more Republicans voting against the bill than supporting it.” and “There is no conceivable excuse for having allowed it to lapse as long as it did — and no excuse for the fact that a majority of Republicans still opposed it.”, to begin with) but i actually think your closing point is what is most important to take away from all this.

    you wrote:

    “It’s also our job to work to change that, and to bring about a political climate in which women’s lives are paramount, not an afterthought to petty Congressional power plays.”

    it is our job. this reminds me of the interview laura posted with sally kohn (my idol) where kohn said that she likes to stay optimistic about politics because at the end of the day it’s our job to hold our political leaders to high standards, even good leaders who we hope want the best for us (ie, obama). it is a citizen’s job to hold our leaders accountable. but i am feeling less hopeful than kohn managed to be, and reading this and carmen’s take down of college campuses ignoring and defending rape back to back has been pretty depressing.

    how do we change things? how do we win the fight as a whole, so to speak? this was a battle and an important one and i’m pleased with the outcome, but how do we make it so that american politics is not just a game and politicians can’t hold our rights hostage just to appease their constituents? furthermore, how do we change the minds of other citizens in this country who believe they “lost” in the wake of VAWA being passed? i want to feel happy and hopeful, but i more feel…at a loss.

    how do you convince a human that other human beings are worth caring about? all other human beings?

    and what are you supposed to do when you can’t?

    sorry to be depressing. this is where i’m at. i’m genuinely asking.

  3. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    “…even though enough Republicans granted this issue their support for it to pass, it’s important to remember that it was largely political pressure, not a change of understanding, that accomplished it – and that most of their colleagues would prefer to see VAWA still under debate rather than helping women.”

    This.

    It makes me so frustrated to see issues that should be no-brainers (like fucking protecting people from violence) turned into politically divisive issues. There is no conceivable reason that Republicans shouldn’t have supported VAWA in the first place. The fact that it was politics and not good common sense that finally convinced a minority of Republicans to vote in favore of this bill just reflects how much we need it.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.