The Violence Against Women Act was enacted in 1994 and has been reauthorized twice with bipartisan support. No one in Congress has ever wanted to be branded the pro-domestic violence party. Yet this week, the Republicans and Democrats entered into a bitter feud that fuels talk of the GOP’s purported "war on women," and gives Democrats like Representative Judy Chu of California an opportunity to bust out phrases like, "It's not the Violence Against Women act, but the Open Season for Violence Against Women Act." From the perspective of the GOP, approving a new version of the act would help protect immigrants and homosexuals from intimate partner violence, and in 2012, that simply cannot stand!
In April, the Senate passed legislation that expands services for immigrants who are domestic abuse victims and specifies that people who are gay, lesbian, and transgender are covered under the law. After a bitter fight on Wednesday, the House passed its own version of the bill, which removed the new provisions in the Senate's legislation, in a 222 to 205 vote.
Throughout the debate, the GOP's refrain has been that the bill already protects everyone, so there's no need to name specific groups. Sounds pretty logical! Yet the GOP is ignoring the fact that immigrants and LGBT people won't be adequately protected under the House's version of the law. Per the Christian Science Monitor:
The House bill does not allow for a path to citizenship for illegal women who have been abused and agree to cooperate with the police investigation of the crime. Moreover, it holds the cap on temporary visas offered to women cooperating in legal investigations to 10,000, below the Senate’s increased 15,000 level. Republicans say the citizenship provision is akin to amnesty for illegal immigrants, and expressed fears that the Senate bill will lead to an epidemic of immigrants staging elaborate fake domestic violence situations to get away from their non-abusive partners.Democrats, on the other hand, say that women fearing deportation may never come forward to take abusers off the street under the House bill.
The intent behind specifically naming lesbian, gay, and transgender victims is to prevent law enforcement from using the vague language in VAWA to exclude them from services. Studies have shown that these groups experience domestic violence at the same rates as the general population, but victims are far less likely to seek help.
The American Bar Association, Human Rights Watch, and leaders from 31 religious groups, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Association of Evangelicals, have all spoken out against the House's bill. President Obama has threatened to veto the House bill, and now Congress needs to hash out a compromise between the two versions of the bill, ensuring that the debate will stay in the news.
This post has been edited since it was initially published.