By Mark O’Brien
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America
WASHINGTON, United States — By a more than 3-to-1 margin, U.S. senators voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act on Tuesday, expanding the anti-domestic-violence protections to include lesbians, immigrants, and Native American women for the first time.
The 78-to-22 vote authorizes $659 million during the next five years for various programs, including more attention to sexual assault prevention and efforts at reducing a backlog in processing rape kits. The issue now moves to the House of Representatives before the law takes effect.
Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron, CEO of the YWCA, released a press statement saying that House members should followed the Senate’s lead “so that YWCAs across the country can continue to provide safe harbor for the many women who seek protection from violence.”
Sarah Schmidt, Chairwoman of the Lesbian Superpac, went a step further, calling on supporters to lobby their representative.
“This is a hugely important moment for women and LGBT people across the country,” Schmidt said in an email to Women’s eNews. “We all deserve protections against violence.”
The act expired in 2011, which stalled efforts to strengthen its federal programs. While both chambers of Congress passed renewal bills last year, the two sides were unable to reach a compromise bill that could become law.
This year, House Republicans appear more willing to ensure the issue succeeds. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R–VA) has led an effort to negotiate the House bill, according to the Associated Press.
Among those who have reached out Cantor is Vice President Joe Biden. In 1994, Biden—then a senator from Delaware—successfully helped negotiate the original Violence Against Women Act.
An apparent sticking point with the renewal is whether tribal courts will be allowed to prosecute non-natives who are accused of assaulting Native American women on reservations. Republican senators argued that would be unconstitutional, but their efforts were defeated. But observers say this issue could be a hurdle still, as lawmakers try to reconcile the Senate version of the bill with a House version that is likely to pass.
All 20 women members of the Senate voted for the VAWA bill, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D–VT), which also drew support from 23 Republican votes. The Senate also voted 93 to 5 to include a provision that targets human trafficking, and 100 to 0 to include a provision that ensures child sex trafficking victims are eligible for grant assistance.
For further information, please see:
All Voices — Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Clears Senate in Significant Gender-Split Vote — 12 February 2013
Huffington Post — Senate Approves Anti-Violence Against Women Act — 12 February 2013
Women eNews — VAWA Passes Senate, Turning Attention to House — 12 February 2013
The Paramus Post — Rape Survivor Demands Congress Extend the Violence Against Women Act Immediately — 11 February 2013