by Qudsia Jafree
Field and Policy Coordinator, YWCA USA
Today, the House of Representatives will vote on H.R. 4970 to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Enacted 18 years ago, VAWA has been nothing short of life-saving for millions of women and children across the nation, providing a comprehensive, streamlined and national response to the crimes of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking.
Each reauthorization has enjoyed bipartisan support, rallying members from both sides of the aisle around the common cause of protecting some of the most vulnerable women in their constituencies. And, each reauthorization has been crafted using data that was evidence-based, victim-centered, and trauma-informed to ensure that the bill is effective, efficient, and far-reaching in its scope. It is these very considerations that have led to tailored measures and provisions throughout the years to include traditionally underserved communities, such as immigrants, young women on college campuses and trafficked women.
That will all change, should H.R. 4970 pass today. Critical provisions to protect some of the most vulnerable women in our communities – immigrants, Native women, and the LGBT community – will be stripped from the bill. Instead of crafting legislation that takes into account the insidious dynamics of abuse and assault in some of our most vulnerable communities, H.R. 4970 has unfortunately served as a platform for certain members of Congress to espouse their political rhetoric in this election year.
Let’s be clear: supporting provisions in VAWA that protect immigrant women is not a betrayal to your traditional, party-line stance on immigration. VAWA is not an immigration bill – instead, it is legislation that addresses the unfortunate reality of the pervasiveness of violence in ALL of our communities. With a national population estimated around 37 million, immigrants are an integral part of our communities.
Immigrant women are threatened with deportation, separation from their children and revoking of their visa or naturalization applications should they decide to leave an abusive home. Many immigrant women require multilingual services when filing for protective orders, appearing before courts, participating in trainings on financial empowerment and receiving therapy for the trauma they experienced. This is not about border control and your party stances on immigration; this is about recognizing that stripping VAWA of key accountability and confidentiality measures deliberately puts an entire segment of your constituents in real danger.
Supporting provisions in VAWA that protect LGBT women does not translate to your endorsement of same-sex marriage. It is about recognizing that LGBT women experience a higher threshold of challenges when seeking safety from violence. The lack of specific protections for LGBT women is alarming: 45 percent of LGBT victims are turned away from domestic violence shelters, and 55 percent are denied protective orders. This means your constituents systemically being denied services and protections based on their sexual orientation.
Supporting provisions in VAWA that protect Native women is not about giving tribal governments power over non-tribal courts. It is about recognizing that 34 percent of Native women – one in three – will be raped in their lifetimes; 39 percent will be subjected to domestic violence in their lifetimes; and on some reservations, Native women are murdered at more than ten times the national average. It is about realizing that the epidemic rates of violence in Native communities occur because of flaws in the system because non-Indians cannot be prosecuted in tribal courts – a fact many non-Indian abusers have systemically exploited. Fifty-five percent of Native women are married to non-Indians and 88 percent of all violent crimes against Native women are committed by non-Indians.
As of today, over 200 national organizations have come together in strong opposition to H.R. 4970. Last night, President Obama issued a statement stating that he will veto H.R. 4970 if it passes in the House of Representatives today. Opposition to this bill is not about political rhetoric in an election year – it is about valuing and protecting the lives of ALL women and children, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or geography.
The YWCA urges the House of Representatives to do the right thing and vote against H.R. 4970 – millions of lives depend on it.