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  • Writer's pictureEmilie Surrusco

Time is running out – Reauthorize VAWA now!

It’s August and in Washington that means the city is empty. Congress is on vacation so the rest of us get to enjoy a reprieve from traffic, crowded restaurants and throngs of un-caffeinated staffers emerging from the Metro.

For domestic violence service providers and shelters in Washington and across the country, August has offered no reprieve and only an increased sense of worry. Because when Congress left town, they left without passing what used to be a no-brainer, non-contentious reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which provides crucial funding for many of the services that millions of battered women depend on to make it out alive.

Why? Because the Republican leadership has decided that nothing is more important that election-year politics, not even women’s lives. As Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization of Women, aptly explained: “GOP leaders are determined to replace VAWA with a bill that excludes certain types of people.”

Since 1994, VAWA has acted as the funding and policy backbone for the fight against domestic violence in our country. Each time VAWA has been reauthorized, new services have been added and new populations of victims identified. This time around, service providers and law enforcement agencies across the country cited the need to expand VAWA’s protections to include LGBT and immigrant victims, as well as victims of these violent crimes on tribal lands and college campuses. 

“So that’s what we asked Congress to do. Serve the most vulnerable populations,” O’Neill explains. “Don’t say that one victim is more deserving than another. Let’s make sure VAWA serves them all.”

The Republican leadership in Congress seized on this initiative as a way to attack Democrats in a presidential election year. I spoke more about this opposition in an earlier post, so I won’t go into it again here, except to say that not all Republicans are painted with the same brush — 23 Republican members in the House and all five female Republican senators had the courage to buck their party leadership and vote for the inclusive version of VAWA (and six Democratic members of the House voted against it). 

Congress only has a few more working days left before adjourning to devote their attention full-time to electioneering. We can’t let them get away with leaving millions of women’s lives on the line. This month, as your local member of Congress makes the rounds in your town (unless of course you live as I do in Washington and have taxation without representation), please tell them to reauthorize VAWA before it’s too late.

The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women has a great guide that outlines just how you can get the word out this August. Check it out here and spread the word far and wide – It is time to stop playing political games with women’s lives!

I’ll end with the words of Michael Bolton. Yes, that Michael Bolton. The one with the hair and the cheesy music. He also has daughters and for that reason, has become an outspoken advocate against domestic violence:

“Since when did we stop prosecuting men for committing crimes?” he said of the ability of some men to escape prosecution on Indian reservations. “We’re past this already and there’s a danger that we’re going to go backwards with the VAWA act, and I don’t want to see that happen.”

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