Congress should renew the Violence Against Women Act in order to uphold the protections it offered to women
Cases such as the gang rape incident in India, the offenses of Jimmy Savile in Britain and the rape of a 16-year-old in Steubenville, Ohio have again brought the issue of rape and sexual assault to the forefront of society. One would assume that the increased attention to this issue would increase legislative attention. On the contrary, Congress failed to renew one of the main pieces of legislation implemented to protect women, the Violence Against Women Act. The legislation was meant to enforce and implement policies — by providing funding — to prevent violence against women while also providing services for those who were raped, sexually assaulted or abused.
Provisions in the act included expanding protection orders to be upheld in all states, and providing training for officers, prosecutors, judges and others involved in such situations to better respond and handle violence against women. In addition, the act established the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which is a helpful resource for mitigating domestic violence. According to the White House, the Act, since implemented in 1994, has shown to have contributed to a decline in domestic violence: domestic violence declined 67 percent between 1993 and 2010. Homicide of female partners declined 35 percent between 1993 and 2007. Furthermore, the Act renewed focus on the severity of domestic violence among states, resulting in states taking greater action to protect women. For example, now, in all states, stalking is considered a crime. Yet, despite all the success of the Violence Against Women Act and its positive influence in ensuring that states take greater responsibility in protecting women, Congress failed to renew the legislation in 2012.
According to NPR, the legislation was passed by the Senate with bipartisan support, but opposed by the House because of the certain new provisions. These provisions would have increased protection for LGBTQ individuals as well as illegal immigrants and Native American women. One of the crucial points for the opposition was the expansion of authority to tribal courts, which would now be able to hear the cases of those who commit rape on reservations but are not part of the reservation itself.. Despite the Senate approving the legislation back in April, the House failed to reach a compromise in 8 months.
I can understand the concern with expanding the authority of tribal courts. But, at the same time, the non-reservation men who commit rape are often free of any punishment for their crimes because federal and state courts fail to adequately address the situation, according to the Huffington Post. Considering that 86 percent of the women raped on tribal grounds are violated by men who are not part of the community, expanding authority for tribal courts is perhaps one of the more effective means of addressing this issue.
In addition, this legislation provided federal funding for organizations that gave assistance to victims of rape. While funding was not a matter of contention in the House, funding will nevertheless get cut because the bill didn’t pass. Without this funding, prominent state organizations like the Ohio Domestic Violence Network cannot effectively function, limiting the help victimized women can get.
This legislation has often been credited for bringing focus to the issue of violence against women and has contributed to a decline in domestic violence, as stated earlier. Without this or similar legislation in place, there is the danger of hindering further progress on the issue. As a result, I advocate reintroducing this legislation this year.
_Fariha Kabir’s column appears Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at