Reauthorize Violence Against Women Act

Anything less could have deadly consequences

RIGHT NOW MANY hot button political matters are competing for our collective attention. Let’s move the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to the top of the list because it saves lives. This federal legislation critical to women’s safety is threatened. VAWA institutes protections aiding millions who face domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. It was slated to expire on September 30, but received a short-term extension  through December 2018 – instead of full reauthorization. Anything less than a five-year reauthorization has deadly consequences given the scope and gravity of current attacks on women’s rights and credibility.

Let’s act on our innate predisposition to protect our mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, and nieces because this is the basis for our humanity. VAWA spearheads prevention and intervention programs leading to systemic change and injects opportunities to earnestly confront social norms that serve as justification for violence against women.

Much like ratifying a woman’s right to vote was revolutionary, passage of the original VAWA legislation in 1994 propelled a radical shift in the rising crusade to end violence against women. Although drafting and passing the first iteration took four years, national conversations arose, altering perceptions about the magnitude of this abhorrent behavior and led to an understanding of the vast costs borne by taxpayers as a result of such violence.

VAWA, which must be reauthorized every five years, received bipartisan support in 2000 and 2005. The law reinstated the initial grant programs; expanded the mandate to tackle domestic and dating violence, sexual assault and stalking; and specifically took into account the needs of underserved populations. This cutting-edge legislation also launched child-witness-to-violence remediation programs and court training. Despite its successful life-saving track record, the legislation expired in 2011 for two years before Congress reached agreement on an extension. In light of the #MeToo revelations and other factors, we must not allow this obstructionist behavior to happen again.

This is neither a partisan issue nor solely a women’s issue. Stakeholders in VAWA legislation are widespread – victim advocates, police officers, prosecutors, judges, probation and corrections officials, health care professionals, leaders within faith communities, and survivors of violence against women. 2018 reauthorization proposes to expand youth education and prevention programs, housing policies that protect stable housing for survivors, prevent convicted domestic abusers and stalkers from possessing a firearm, and reduce the rape kit backlog.

AWA also funds a coordinated criminal justice response and augments judicial and law enforcement tools. In September, a group of 56 state, territory, and District of Columbia attorneys general sent a letter to members of Congress advocating for reauthorization and urging them to act swiftly. “If Congress allows VAWA to lapse, it will mean that millions of survivors will have nowhere to turn, violent crimes against women will increase, and perpetrators of these crimes will go unpunished,” the letter said.

Meet the Author

Deborah Hughes

President and CEO, Brookview House
VAWA is not perfect. Much work remains to address unmet needs and enhance access to protections. Our actions and voices can fortify and solidify or soften and dampen the movement to end violence against women. We must reauthorize this life-saving legislation to send a clear message that gender-based violence – including sexual harassment – is not acceptable and must end now.

Deborah Hughes is president and CEO of Brookview House Inc. in Dorchester.