July 20, 2012
Please call AND email your member of Congress right away, and urge him or her to oppose the victim-shaming, perp-shielding House version of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, and support the inclusive, bipartisan Senate version of this lifesaving legislation. Time is slipping away, so please make those calls and send those emails right away!
With only six working weeks before Congress goes home to campaign for re-election, very little time is left for final passage of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. But in the latest twist in a War on Women that gets uglier every day, anti-VAWA extremists are holding up the bill in hopes of either forcing acceptance of the House version or blocking reauthorization altogether. NOW is adamanly opposed to the House bill because it undermines efforts to hold perpetrators accountable and has rightly been called racist, exclusionary and homophobic for its exclusion of underserved survivors whose needs are addressed in the Senate bill.
The act has already expired, and the prospect of the legislation stalling out this year and starting all over again in 2013 has advocates and service providers understandably frustrated. But we are not giving up. We are not going back. And if we cannot change the minds of those who say we have to swallow the House bill or take nothing at all, we will surely change their faces this November.
The inclusive Senate bill passed with a bipartisan supermajority vote of 68-31, with 15 Republican senators joining all Democrats to vote in favor. The ugly House bill barely squeaked through on a party-line vote of 222-205, with nearly all Democrats plus 23 Republicans voting against it. The two chambers ought to use the strong bipartisan Senate bill as their starting point for reconciling the versions, and under more normal circumstances, we believe they would do just that. Indeed, under normal circumstances VAWA would be reauthorized with near-unanimous support in both chambers, as has happened in the past.
But these are far from normal times. Republican leaders are in the grip of Tea Party extremists. Since the beginning of the 112th Congress, they have launched wave after wave of ideological attacks on women's rights and well-being. Now they are going after VAWA. Don't let them get away with it!
NOW urges activists to take time during the next two weeks and also over the August recess to call upon their members of Congress. Urge them to work with their colleagues to get the Senate version of VAWA approved -- as quickly as possible -- and sent to President Obama for his signature.
Here are some of the more glaring examples of the regressive provisions in the House bill (H.R. 4970):
- Partially dismantles and downgrades the Office on Violence Against Women, placing many provisions under the generic Office on Justice Programs, weakening the integrity and focus of the ONLY federal office dedicated to addressing violence against women
- Imposes burdensome paperwork and audits and requires program funds to be directed away from direct services, technical assistance and financial training
- Erodes important provisions for immigrant victims' safety, allowing abuser access to the self-petition process, where they can block the victim's access to this critical remedy for battered immigrants
- Rolls back provisions for culturally specific services currently in VAWA
- Excludes key improvements in current law to address the specific needs of communities of color
- Rolls back current law by changing "shall" to "may" in language requiring that recipients of STOP program funding consult with community stakeholders, including victim service providers, law enforcement and prosecutors
- Rolls back and makes a fundamental shift in VAWA with the new tribal protection order amendment; since 1995 VAWA has recognized the authority of Indian tribes / tribal courts, and the bill's expansion of the role of the federal bench to perform a tribal function is an erosion of tribal authority
- Removes notice of VAWA housing rights to victims BEFORE eviction
- Imposes a mandatory minimum sentence for sexual assault and rape, eliminating judges' sentencing authority; long sentencing will reduce reporting, and defendants with means will be able to avoid this sentence and plead to a non-sexual assault crime
In short, the House bill is so bad that President Obama has vowed to veto it -- and NOW is declaring a vote for the House version to be a vote against VAWA.
Shamefully, having failed to get bipartisan support for his bad bill, House Majority Leader John Boehner is now using a bogus procedural hurdle to block the Senate version from the reconciliation process and is signaling to advocates that we have to swallow the House bill or nothing at all. But our message to Boehner and his enablers in the House is simple: Women are not fooled. The Senate version of VAWA is the real VAWA, and it should be passed into law -- now.