The Washington Post

Obama signs a strengthened Violence Against Women Act

Trafficking survivor Tysheena Rhames wipes her eyes during President Obama's speech about her before he signs the Violence Against Women Act. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

President Obama on Thursday signed an updated version of the Violence Against Women Act, a measure intended to promote state and local efforts to combat rape and domestic assault and which will extend new protections to gays, lesbians and Native Americans.

First authorized in 1994, the bill provides $660 million over the next five years for programs that provide legal assistance, transitional housing, counseling and support hotlines to victims of rape and domestic abuse.

In an emotional ceremony, held at the Interior Department to accommodate a large crowd, Obama was flanked by lawmakers and survivors of sexual abuse as he said that the bill transformed the way survivors dealt with abuse, providing a support network that de-stigmatized victims.

“One of the great legacies of this law is that it didn’t just change the rules; it changed our culture. It empowered people to start speaking out. It made it okay for us, as a society, to talk about domestic abuse,” Obama said. “It made it possible for us, as a country, to address the problem in a real and meaningful way. And it made clear to victims that they were not alone — that they always had a place to go and they always had people on their side.”

Obama signed the bill as the Justice Department released a survey showing a 58-percent drop in the rate of sexual assault against women and girls over the past 15 years. In 2010, there were 270,000 rapes or sexual assaults, down from 556,000 in 1995.

Women’s advocacy groups have credited the Violence Against Women Act with the decline.

There is still more to do, Obama said. He cited statistics showing that one in five women is likely to be raped in her lifetime, and one in three is likely to be abused by a partner.

Vice President Biden, who introduced the president at the ceremony and helped craft the original bill, praised the changes, which include expanding coverage to Native American women on reservations.

“Because of the people on this stage and in this room, every time we reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, we improved it,” Biden said.

The bill, whose authorization expired in 2011, became a flash point in last year’s elections as Democrats and women’s advocacy groups framed Republican opposition to the bill as part of a “war on women.”

With women backing Democrats over Republicans by double-digit margins in November, many GOP lawmakers reversed course when the bill came up again this year.

In the Senate, the bill passed 78 to 22 and in the House, the margin was 286 to 138, with 87 Republicans joining a solid Democratic bloc.

Some Republicans objected to the new domestic violence protections for gays and lesbians and the expanded authority granted to tribal courts dealing with non-Native Americans who are accused of a crime on a reservation.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) offered a separate bill that made no mention of same-sex couples and offered compromise language on the issue of tribal sovereignty. The two bills allowed a majority of Republicans to go on record as backing some version of the legislation.

Attorney General Eric Holder, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) joined Obama at the ceremony.

“I promise you — not just as your president, but as a son and a husband and a father — I’m going to keep at this. I know Vice President Biden is going to keep at it,” Obama said. “My administration is going to keep at it for as long as it takes.”

Discuss this topic and other political issues in the politics discussion forums.

Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for The Fix.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
New Hampshire has voted. The Democrats debate on Thursday. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Philip Rucker and Robert Costa say...
For Trump, the victory here was sweet vindication, showing that his atypical campaign could prevail largely on the power of celebrity and saturation media coverage. But there was also potential for concern in Tuesday's outcome. Trump faces doubts about his discipline as a candidate and whether he can build his support beyond the levels he has shown in the polls.
The Post's John Wagner and Anne Gearan say...
Hillary Clinton, who was declared the winner of the Iowa caucuses last week by the narrowest of margins, now finds herself struggling to right her once-formidable campaign against a self-described democratic socialist whom she has accused of selling pipe dreams to his supporters.
People have every right to be angry. But they're also hungry for solutions.
Hillary Clinton, in her New Hampshire primary night speech
I am going to be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.
Donald Trump, in his New Hampshire primary victory speech
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
See results from N.H.

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.