The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was signed into law in 1994 in the wake of the Anita Hill hearing and with bi-partisan support. Since that point VAWA has existed as a living, breathing document, constantly changing and moving forward to address the issues of each generation. As of now VAWA continues to help communities provide invaluable services for women who survived and continue to experience violence as well as provide avenues for justice for them.
VAWA is up for re-authorization every five years, at which time lawmakers convene not only to re-approve the law but to amend it so it may properly serve those it was created to protect. In 2005 and 2013 VAWA was altered to include special protections for immigrant and indigenous women, respectively, while retaining the protections already included before 2005. VAWA, the funding it provides, and the legal provisions it supports is set to expire December 21, 2018. Considering recent developments like the Bret Kavanaugh hearing and the assault and murder of women in Iowa, policies like this remain indispensable in creating safe and welcoming communities here and across the country.
According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) VAWA provides funding for six important programs which include transitional housing, criminal justice improvements and training , and grants that sustain programs which provide domestic violence hotlines, counseling, and shelters for women experiencing sexual and domestic violence. Without re-authorization, regular funding for these valuable programs would no longer exist, impacting their sustainability. These programs and services could end slowly as they run out of money. In a time when more and more women are coming forward, telling their stories and seeking help, a situation like this would lead to the alienation of more and more women as the protections they were previously eligible for begin to break down.
The issue of violence against women, in all of its forms and incarnations is not a political one. These issues find their foundation in basic humanity, in the security of freedom, safety and justice. A place where women live in fear for their lives and their safety is not a free place. A place where women fear speaking out regarding the harm done to them because of the potential for retaliation or because they know justice will elude them is not a just place or a safe place. To live in a place where accountability, the health and safety of all people, and general decency are not valued is not something any of us desire.
If VAWA isn’t reauthorized, we face the prospect of, at best, remaining with the 2013 version for another five years or at worst, losing funding for these services. Standing still while everything else moves forward is surely a movement in the wrong direction.