October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but unfortunately, one of our nation’s strongest protections for victims of domestic violence lapsed in February of this year.
Six months ago, the House passed House Resolution 1585 to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. The bill has been languishing in the Senate since then.
The Violence Against Women Act was first passed in Sept. 1994 and has been through several reauthorizations, which changed some provisions of the original law. The law was a result of the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 in Vienna and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the same year. The Vienna conference and the following declaration concluded that civil society and governments have acknowledged that domestic violence is a public health policy and human rights concern.
According to the United States National Intimate Partner Sexual Violence Survey of 2010, one in six women suffered some kind of sexual violence by their intimate partner during the course of their lives. Sexual violence and assault continues to be in the news on a daily basis.
The Violence Against Women Act was developed and passed as a result of extensive grassroots efforts in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with advocates and professionals from the battered-women’s movement, sexual assault advocates, victim services field, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors’ offices, the courts and the private bar urging Congress to adopt significant legislation to address domestic and sexual violence. The National Organization for Women, including its West Virginia chapters, were pioneers in addressing domestic violence and sexual assault in West Virginia.
One of the greatest successes of the act was its emphasis on a coordinated community response to domestic violence, sex dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. The courts, law enforcement, prosecutors, victim services and the private bar now work together in a coordinated effort that did not exist before at the state and local levels.
The Violence Against Women Act also supports the work of community-based organizations that are engaged in work to end domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.
The House bill to reauthorize the act stirred controversy this year by including a provision seeking to provide stronger protections, notably closing what some called the “boyfriend loophole.” Domestic abusers are currently prohibited from buying or owning a firearm if they’ve ever been married to the victim, lived together or had a child together. A dangerous ex-boyfriend or a dating partner was added to this definition as part of the new amendments.
The National Rifle Association opposed the expansion of the act, saying the offenses that could qualify as domestic abuse are “too broad and ripe for abuse” to extend the provision to stalkers, boyfriends and dating partners. We expect the NRA to lobby for profits for gun manufacturers by working to make this country the most heavily armed nation in the world. But we don’t expect our representatives in Congress to care more about profits of gun manufacturers than its own citizens.
When the house passed the bill to reauthorize the act by a vote of 263 to 158, there were 33 Republicans who listened to their conscience and voted in favor. West Virginia Reps. David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Carol Miller, however, were not among those more courageous Republicans. The benefits of an expanded Violence Against Women Act far outweigh partisanship and political posturing.
We urge Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to stand up for victims of domestic violence, instead of the NRA, act to have the Senate take up the House-passed HR 1585 and vote to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.