What role should the federal government play in protecting women against violence? In 1994, Washington decided to take a strong stance against crimes against women by passing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This landmark legislation provided $1.6 billion to investigate and prosecute rapes, assaults, and other crimes that target women. The bill was popular enough to be passed again in 2000 and 2005, demonstrating that the US is determined to keep women safe from harm.
Or is it? This year there are some roadblocks against renewing the Violence Against Women Act. Most Republicans want to pass a different version with a reduced budget—down $136.5 million annually from previous levels. Republicans also argue against proposed expanded protections for same-sex couples, Native American women, and undocumented immigrants who have been battered.
The Republican version passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday, May 16, but faces opposition from the Senate, which favors a bill co-authored by a liberal Democrat (Pat Leahy) and a conservative Republican (Mike Crapo). Meanwhile the White House has announced it will veto any bill that restricts protection for women.
As the debate unfolds, behind-the-scenes information is beginning to cast a dark light on some of the forces fighting against the proposed changes in the VAWA. A number of conservative political groups recently sent Congress a letter arguing the VAWA conceals an attack on traditional moral values:
“This nice-sounding bill is deceitful because it destroys the family by obscuring real violence in order to promote the feminist agenda….There is no denying the very real problem of violence against women and children. However, the programs promoted in VAWA are harmful for families. VAWA often encourages the demise of the family as a means to eliminate violence.”
Who are the signers? One is Timothy Johnson, a North Carolina Republican who was convicted of felony domestic violence in 1996. Another signature came from Phillip Cook, CEO of an organization called SAVE (Stop Abusive and Violent Environments), whose treasurer started a company called Encounters International that matched American men up with Russian mail order brides—women who have little protection under current laws if their American husbands choose to batter them.
Which side will prevail? The VAWA has important implications for law enforcement that go beyond the budgeting issue. How should police respond to minority women who complain that they have been raped or battered? Do Native American women; lesbians, and female illegal immigrants deserve the same protection that heterosexual US citizens enjoy? Criminal justice professionals are closely watching the debate in Congress.
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Jean Reynolds, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of English at Polk State College, where she taught report writing and communication skills in the criminal justice program. She is the author of seven books, including Police Talk (Pearson), co-written with the late Mary Mariani. Visit her website at www.YourPoliceWrite.com for free report writing resources. Go to www.Amazon.com for a free preview of her book The Criminal Justice Report Writing Guide for Officers.