In recent years, we’ve become accustomed to headlines about powerful men abusing their power and invading women’s right to securing, privacy, and safety. #MeToo, Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump. These very words have become synonymous with violations of women’s rights and safety. Women’s voices have been silenced and berated for revealing their experiences, and our elected officials have failed to adequately protect them from abuse.
In March, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The act was introduced by then-Sen. JoeBiden and signed into law by President Clinton in 1994. This federal law serves to protect and provide resources for women to respond to sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking. VAWA utilizes various federal departments to distribute funds to services supporting survivors and fighting to end sexual violence. Although it is meant to be reauthorized every five years, the last full reauthorization occurred during President Obama’s administration in 2013.
This piece of legislation has been crucial in prioritizing the safety of women, and its reauthorization is essential. Historically, this bill has been a bipartisan effort, widely supported in both houses of Congress. However, when the most recent renewal bill passed through the U.S. House of Representatives in March of 2021, an astounding 172 Republican representatives voted against the reauthorization.
According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021 includes provisions, focusing on many of the priorities of the domestic and sexual assault movement. The bill takes a holistic approach, addressing the complex realities of survivors’ lives.” At a time when media stories revealed the scope of the sexual harassment and abuse problems women face, one would think that our elected representatives would prioritize passing legislation to protect them. Instead, Congress is paralyzed due to polarization among the two political parties.
Some provisions included in the reauthorization of VAWA include amendments to improve transparency and visibility, closing the “boyfriend loophole,” and address restorative practice. Closing the “boyfriend loophole” will provide survivors of gender-based violence with more security and it will take deadly weapons away from convicted abusers. Previously, VAWA only prohibited partners who were married, or shared children and had been convicted of domestic abuse or stalking from buying firearms.
The new legislation would extend these prohibitions to anyone convicted of domestic abuse or stalking. In the proposed bill, Congress also adapts the previous legislation to include an increased focus on restorative practice. These restorative practice provisions allow for non-carceral responses and center just outcomes on survivor-based healing. These provisions permit the accused perpetrator of the crime to take accountability for their actions and work to restore justice and safety to the harmed individual and community.
Some points of contention over this bill include opposition to the new legislation expanding prohibitions against firearm possession. The proposed amendments bar intimate partners who have been convicted of misdemeanor crimes, including stalking, from obtaining firearms. This amendment provides more protections to victims of gender-based violence and works to pre-emptively stop more serious crimes from occurring. While this is designed to reduce violence, Second Amendment supporters, including the National Rifle Association have pressured the GOP to oppose this amendment. As a result, gun rights advocates pose a real threat to the passage of the Act. Gun violence is a pressing issue that our representatives must work together to combat. The proposed amendment to VAWA does not jeopardize law abiding gun owners’ rights; rather, it is a clear and level-headed resolution to a long-standing problem.
As citizens interested in the safety and well-being of our neighbors it’s essential that we encourage our senators to pass this reauthorization. All of the proposed amendments work to improve safety, support, and justice for women in our communities. Gender-based violence is a non-partisan issue. With this proposed legislation, we can uplift women’s voices, and direct support to institutions that tackle this serious societal problem.
Isabela Montes De Oca is student in Economics and Public Policy and Law at Trinity College.