REAUTHORIZING THE Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a critical task that merits thoughtful attention. It’s distressing — even sickening — that debate about this landmark law has devolved into one more election-year grudge match between Democrats and Republicans shamelessly using gender to try to score political points.
Now that the House and Senate have passed competing versions of a reauthorization, it’s time to work out the differences so as not to imperil a measure that has made communities safer for women and children. A good first step would be ending the ridiculous hyperbole that each side has employed to impugn the other’s motives.
The overheated rhetoric was on full display last week as the GOP-led House voted largely along party lines for a reauthorization bill that was vigorously opposed by Democrats who favored a different version passed by the Senate. “Let’s call this bill what it really is. It’s not the Violence Against Women Act, but the Open Season for Violence Against Women Act,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) at a news conference preceding Wednesday’s vote.
Oh, please. The legislation passed by the House, whose lead sponsor, Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Fla.), was herself once the victim of domestic abuse, has much in common with the Senate-passed bill. Both reauthorize programs that provide life- saving support to victims of domestic violence and at similar funding levels. Some 85 percent of the bills’ provisions are identical.
Differences center on provisions in the Senate version that would improve the existing program by adding protections for Native American, immigrant, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender victims of domestic violence. Republicans claimed Democrats included hot-button provisions to politicize the issue by making VAWA reauthorization untenable for Republicans.
The record does not support that charge. The Senate bill was the result of a careful effort beginning in 2009 in which law enforcement officers, judges, health-care professionals and service providers for the victims were consulted to identify gaps in the current law. Every time VAWA has been reauthorized, and this would be the third, it has been expanded to address unmet needs; the provisions deemed so controversial by House Republicans are seen by professionals who deal with domestic violence as logical next steps. Fifteen Republican senators joined with the Democratic majority to support the bill.
Both sides claim their only interest is fighting domestic violence and sexual abuse. Their rhetoric suggests otherwise. It’s time they get off their soap boxes and go to conference to reauthorize a law that everyone agrees must continue.