How will the Violence Against Women Act fare in Congress?

February 5, 2013

North Carolina’s Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan was talking about her meeting at a domestic violence shelter with a mother who had escaped an abusive situation and a counselor who recalled a conversation with the woman’s young son. He could now sleep with both of his eyes closed, he had told the counselor.

“They deserve more from Washington than political games and brinkmanship,” Hagan said during a recent call with reporters about the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). “Too many important issues have gone unaddressed in Washington.” After disagreement over the bill last year, a new version is being considered in Congress this week.

There are hopes that the bill – from lead author Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and co-author Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) — will fare better than similar legislation that last year was approved by the Senate but stalled in the House. With the strong support women gave Democratic candidates in 2012, there is also a belief that Republicans have more incentive to compromise.

At issue last year were expanded protections for immigrant, LGBT and Native American victims that Democrats favored. A House version without those new provisions passed but did not get the support of the Senate or White House.  While the new bill keeps those protections, it removes a provision that would increase “U visas,” making legal and work status available to immigrant victims. That change was described as procedural since only the House can originate bills that raise revenue, and it was also seen as a way to remove opposition to the reauthorization.

On Monday afternoon in the Senate, both Leahy and Crapo spoke in favor of legislation, while Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) pointed to another point of disagreement, the issues of trying accused non-Native American abusers on reservations in tribal courts, which brings up questions of sovereignty and constitutional rights. He expressed confidence that compromise could be reached and voted along with the majority of senators for the motion and discussion to proceed.

A statement by the administration released on Monday said it “strongly supports Senate passage of S. 47 to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a landmark piece of bipartisan legislation that first passed the Congress in 1994 and has twice been reauthorized.  VAWA transformed the nation’s response to violence against women and brought critically needed resources to states and local communities to address these crimes.”


(Susan Walsh, File/Associated Press) Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is urging Senate reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

Leahy said in a statement, “The bill closely mirrors the bill that was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate last year, and is the result of close consultation with law enforcement officials and the dedicated experts in the field who are so committed to saving the lives of many women around this country.”

“The legislation provides a lifeline for women and children who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault,” Hagan said in the call. “Since its original passage the incidence of domestic violence has actually decreased by 53 percent in the United States.”

While funding for programs has continued, Hagan listed specific services supported by VAWA, and she brought reinforcements. Joining her on the call were Monika Johnson Hostler, executive director of North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault, who has extended her advocacy efforts to Washington, and Sgt. Darrell Price, a 33-year law enforcement veteran now with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s sexual assault cold case unit.

Price said a small VAWA grant has aided in the prosecution of cold cases, alleviating a backlog in the court system. Funds from the law also help educate first responders in evaluating domestic violence situations, he said. As opposed to what you see on television, Price said, “Police officers become officers, then become detectives and generally move on to other units or get promoted, or sometimes they just burn out. You constantly have to educate new detectives on recognizing specific patterns.”

In the bill, Hagan said, is a provision she included, the VAWA health initiative, which would raise awareness among health care providers so they can more easily detect women who have been victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. This year’s legislation also incorporates provisions, she said, to give law enforcement the resources to help reduce the backlog of untested rape kits.

“We need to get this bill through the Senate and we need to send a clear message to the House that anything short of passage is unacceptable,” Hagan said. “Until that happens, the well-being of women and children in North Carolina is hanging in the balance.” She said she was “committed to working with my Republican and my Democratic colleagues as well as with groups across the state to get this legislation passed.”

North Carolina’s other senator, Republican Richard Burr, was one of 31 who voted against the Senate bill last year, and has not said how he will vote on reauthorization in this session. But he did vote in favor of proceeding with consideration of the motion.

In North Carolina, a public-private partnership has started a two-county, one-year pilot domestic violence awareness campaign, “eNOugh,” to educate and to spur community action. It’s led by a task force of community organizations and leaders, with volunteers representing corporate, law enforcement, legal and marketing and communications partners. “The eNOugh campaign will serve domestic violence victims immediately, and we also will measure community learning and behavior so that we have a better understanding of where we need to educate, inspire and connect,” said Jill Dinwiddie, eNOugh co-chair and former executive director of the N.C. Council for Women. “Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women,” she said, and called that statistic “staggering and unacceptable.”

Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3

Mary C. Curtis is an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C. She has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3
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