Congress must reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act

Domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and harassment: they fill emergency rooms and morgues, prevent employees from working, terrorize children and interfere with their ability to learn. They drive up health care costs, contribute to crime and cause lasting damage to families and communities.

The statistics are staggering. One in five women and one in 59 men are raped in their lifetime, and one in four women and one in seven men experience serious physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. Additionally, in the first 11 months of the pandemic, calls to the New York State Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Hotline increased 34% over the previous year.

It is high time to do much more to end this violence and protect our communities. This means reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act with meaningful improvements that improve our nation’s response to gender-based violence. It means moving forward – never backward and never standing still.

Sexual and gender-based violence is a pervasive and systemic problem in our society that requires systemic action. Recognizing this, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994 to improve the nation’s response to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and harassment. VAWA has been reauthorized three times since then, in 2000, 2005 and 2013; each reauthorization has made vital improvements to the previous law.

VAWA funds victim services, including crisis intervention, domestic violence and sexual assault response, shelter services, legal services and advocacy, housing for survivors, community interventions and other important services. It also funds prevention efforts and population-specific programs, including programs designed to meet the needs of communities of color, seniors, rural communities, people with disabilities, young adults, LGBTQ people, and adults. other marginalized groups.

The law’s authorization expired in 2018 and again in 2019; this is the third Congress that has so far failed to enact a comprehensive reauthorization of VAWA that meets the identified needs of survivors and communities. The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021 (HR1620), passed by the House of Representatives last March with strong bipartisan support, provides targeted resources to communities of color; creates additional pathways to justice beyond criminal legal responses; improves economic protections; provides safe and affordable housing options; restores tribal jurisdiction so that tribes can hold non-Native perpetrators accountable; increase resources for prevention; fills dangerous legal gaps in existing federal domestic violence gun laws; maintains vital protections against discrimination; and continues to invest in programs that save lives.

On February 9, the senses. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, introduced a companion bill in the Senate that reflects a bipartisan consensus that the government must do more to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence.

COVID-19 has turned the lives of every person in America and around the world upside down and has led to an increase in gender-based violence. Now more than ever, we need Congress to prioritize reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act with critical improvements and no backtracking. Stopping domestic and sexual violence and protecting victims must be a priority for all of our elected members of Congress. There’s no time to lose. The Senate must act.

We call Sense. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer to co-sponsor the soon-to-be-introduced VAWA Reauthorization Bill and vote for it on the floor. Their constituents are counting on them to do the right thing.

Chel Miller de Troy is the director of communications for the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault.